Under the name Legacy Pilots, Hamburg-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Frank Us has been making a name for himself for a number of years. After debut album Con Brio in 2018 and the well-received Aviation in 2020, The Penrose Triangle has just seen the light of day. And I must say right away: the result exceeds my wildest expectations. It’s one heck of an album that Herr Us has produced, together with his friends: ‘With a little help from my friends’ must be his personal anthem, because – brace yourself – this is the list of friends who contributed to the new album…
Todd Sucherman (Styx) and Marco Minnemann (Aristrocrats) on drums, Pete Trewavas (Marillion) and Lars Slowak play bass guitar, while Steve Rothery (Marillion), Eric Gillette (Neal Morse) and Ricky Garcia handle the electric guitars. In addition, John Mitchell (Frost*, Lonely Robot, Arena), Jake Livgren (Proto-Kaw) and friend and compatriot Finally George have been hired to do lead vocals. Centipede Frank Us takes charge of keyboards, guitars, bass and both lead and backing vocals.
An impressive bunch, that has to be said, but then the music is equally impressive. It moves somewhere between Emerson Lake & Palmer (especially the keyboards), Alan Parsons Project and UK, but it also resembles similar projects like The Samurai of Prog, David Minasian and the countless albums by Billy Sherwood & Co, only infinitely better than the latter in particular. Both in terms of compositions, sound and production, the German has outdone himself this time. We are presented with approximately 60 minutes of sheer quality music by ‘The Squad’, as Us likes to call his musical companions. He himself is the squadron leader, the pilot who has to steer it all in the right direction. And land everything safely back on the ground.
Frank Us has given the new album the intriguing title The Penrose Triangle, which is an impossible figure, named after the British mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose. The triangle is an optical illusion and is often applied in the work of well-known Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, among others. I am a great admirer of Escher’s work, but I had never heard of this figure. Neither had I recognised the artwork on the album cover as such.
That certainly does not apply to the vocalist on the opening track, the extremely recognisable voice of John Mitchell is the anchor for the rocking Better Days. The infectious up-tempo neo-prog is provided with a solid foundation by the rhythm duo of Lars Slowak (bass) and Marco Minnemann (drums). Not forgetting the keyboards and guitar parts by Frank Us himself. The song is a co-production of Us and Mitchell. This also applies to Ghosts of the Ocean, with the same Slowak/Minnemann rhythmic backbone, but this time with a starring role for guitarist Steve Rothery in this ballad-like song. I sincerely wish it had lasted just a little longer. Not a bad start of the album.
On Heaven Must Know, the pace slows down somewhat, the clear singing voice of Frank Us surrounded by his own accompaniment (keyboards and guitar). I especially like the tasteful keyboard parts. Mad Kings is again top notch (neo)prog in the vein of Kansas and Styx, not surprisingly with Proto-Kaw singer Jake Livgren (nephew of Kerry) as vocalist. A ‘shredding’ Eric Gillette, the heavy drums of Todd Sucherman and the Keith Emerson-like keyboard parts turn this heavy song into a small gem.
On the instrumental As Dominos Fall, German guitarist Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Garcia takes over the six-string monster from Gillette. The ’80s keyboard sound of ELP, both the Yamaha CS-80 and the characteristic Hammond, are clearly audible. Another Livgren (no relation) on vocals, this time it’s Liza who takes over the microphone from Jake on the peaceful and melodic Coast Cards. Finally George takes care of the lead guitar, Slowak’s melodic bass part fits in well with this swinging, Toto-like song. A different rhythm section this time, Pete Trewavas and Marco Minneman now form a ‘couple’ on Shadowplay. Vintage keyboards are interspersed with heavy electric guitar, all by Frank Us, in this rocking instrumental.
But the best is saved for last. A Change of Mind consists of three parts and starts ominously with a sequencer, electronic keyboards and piano. Modern sounds with an unmistakable eighties topping. Marco Minnemann is again seconded by Pete Trewavas. “If you’re getting closer to an object, things may not be what they’re looking like”, sings musical buddy Finally George in his pleasant, somewhat dreamy style, a clear reference to the album title. It’s the prelude to a more than ten-minute top-notch prog song. An instrumental bridge with wonderful drumming, tasteful keyboards and guitar lead to a finale with strong vocals by George and the central theme. This is truly brilliant!
And it’s not over yet because closing song A Compendium of Life is even better. Bassist Slowak and drummer Todd Sucherman return to provide solid backing for a song on which Frank Us can excel, especially as a keyboardist. Wonderful symphonic rock music, influences from ELP with a modern twist, but I also hear the complex jazz/prog of UK resounding in this instrumental piece which could easily have been the contemporary continuation of these iconic prog trios. Keith Emerson would have absolutely agreed with me. Part 2 is more subdued and even has a partially acoustic feel. Frank Us at his best. He effortlessly merges Yes and ELP in the closing piece without going overboard.
Especially striking are the melodic compositions, the clear and tight production and the excellent balance between keyboards and guitar. Of course, it helps if you have two top drummers to keep everything together. But despite the star cast, it is mainly Captain Frank who keeps the aircraft in the air, and he knows how to navigate in a masterly way. Both take-off (Better Days, Ghosts of the Ocean) and landing (A Change of Mind, A Compendium of Life) are absolute highlights, but the entire flight is very enjoyable. If Pilots of Legacy can maintain this upward trend, ‘the sky is the limit’.
01. Better Days (4:55)
02. Ghosts of the Ocean (4:55)
03. Heaven Must Know (5:50)
04. Mad Kings (5:34)
05. As Dominos Fall (6:19)
06. Coast Cards (5:52)
07. Shadowplay (5:08)
08. A Change of Mind (10:11)
09. A Compendium of Life (9:39)
Total Time – 58:23
Frank Us – Keyboards, Guitars, Lead Vocals (tracks 3 & 8), Backing Vocals (1,3 & 4), Bass (7)
Todd Sucherman – Drums (tracks 3,4,6 & 9)
Marco Minnemann – Drums (tracks 1,2,5,7 & 8)
Pete Trewavas – Bass (tracks 5 & 8)
Lars Slowak – Bass (tracks 1-4,6 & 9)
John Mitchell – Vocals (tracks 1 & 2)
Jake Livgren – Vocals (track 4)
Liza Livgren – Vocals (track 6)
Finally George – Lead Vocals (track 8), Backing Vocals (3), Guitars (6)
Steven Rothery – Solo Guitar (tracks 2 & 3)
Eric Gillette – Guitars (track 4)
Ricky Garcia – Electric Guitars (track 5)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 22nd October 2021
– The Penrose Triangle (2021)
– Aviation (2020)
– Con Brio (2018)
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