Drummer Gavin Harrison is a seasoned professional, probably most famous for his tenure in Porcupine Tree and then King Crimson. At the moment The Pineapple Thief are the lucky ones to employ this most talented of stickmen. Antoine Fafard is a musician notable for his bass playing on such albums as Mystery’s The World Is A Game but mostly his own solo jazz and fusion inspired compositions, notably with Canadian band Spaced Out. A prolific performer, this current collaboration is between these two rhythm sessioners and a variety of traditional orchestral instruments.
Violin, viola, and cello are the main co-conspirators here, whilst the final two tracks combine this drum and bass match with a full orchestra. Antoine Fafard’s drummer buddies have included Gary Husband, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Terry Bozzio on previous albums, but none have had a co-credit, so this record is a true collaboration of musical ideas from the two players.
Music wise, you’re getting a lovely rounded, minimally mic’d up full kit (everything is hit at one point or another), a clean bass guitar (in whatever flavour and string count) with the traditional instruments given equal billing as far as mix and spectrum are concerned.
As a rule, the minor keys and relentless drum fills are akin to an angst-ridden run through a scary wood at dusk (being chased by a baddie). The tracks could be notices pinned the occasional tree trunk. The first one is Transmutation Circle and should have served as a warning. Violin and viola bickering with the cello but at around the 2:30 mark the jazz saps out of the branches when Antoine Fafard competes with all the bass guitarist greats with his first solo, using notes that lesser players have never noticed were there before.
The album (and your run) continue in a similar manner until Proto Mundi (also the title of one of Fafard’s solo albums) where hints of light are burning through the mist. At nearly 11 minutes long, the showmanship of Gavin Harrison’s skill would probably cause any pupil at Drum School to take up cookery instead.
Anyway, the budget is left relatively unspent until the last two tracks, Holding Back The Clock, and finally Chemical Reactions, which is also what the album is called, when The Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra – all 66 of them including another five percussionists – join in to add the real reasons to buy into this album. At times the penultimate track feels like lost pages from ELP’s Pirates or something John Barry might have written if the screen’s aspect ratio was wide enough.
However, the one track to rescue from the waves is the last one. It’s the entire last eight-and-a-half minutes of a Bond movie where James Fretless battles Smerch’s complete army of instruments and the tuned percussion, from the hammer-armed SWAT team, are unleashed into the fight. All are literally driven around by the powerhouse and main rhythmist with his incendiary playing. The fact that the orchestra is based in Ostrava in the Czech Republic gilds the spy lily analogy with a bulletproof shield, maybe in a cello case, skiing down a mountain? Pick your own picture.
As an instrumental album, this is certainly one of superb originality combined with the world class playing of all involved, and Gold medal performances by the two main protagonists. Even in today’s smart speaker dominated means of reproducing modern music, there is still scope for a decent old school sound system to truly bring out the majesty of a room-sized drum kit, oceanic trench-sized bass playing, and “only the best will do” orchestral players trained with the precision of a medical laser. If you’re after something a little different for the weekend Sir, then may I recommend the Chemical Reactions long player? You’ll be shaken, but not stirred, so enter the wood at your peril.
01. Transmutation Circle (5:06)
02. Atonic Water (4:51)
03. Vision Of A Lost Orbit (4:53)
04. Pair Of A Perfect Four (5:23)
05. Proto Mundi (10:43)
06. Singular Quartz (4:55)
07. Holding back The Clock (5:54)
08. Chemical Reactions (8:31)
Total Time – 50:16
Gavin Harrison – Drums, Marimba (tracks 1–5), Drums (tracks 6-8)
Antoine Fafard – Fretted 6-string Electric Bass, 8-string Electric Bass
Maria Grig – Violins, Viola (tracks 1–5)
Jonathan Gerstner – Cello (tracks 1–5)
Jerry Goodman – Acoustic Violin, Electric Violin (track 6)
Avigail Arad – Cello (track 6)
Reinaldo Ocando – Marimba, Vibraphone (track 6)
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra – Conducted by Anthony Armore (tracks 7 & 8)
Record Label: Harmonic Heresy
Date of Release: 11th December 2020