This delightful album was unleashed on the world via Bandcamp last November, but to very little fanfare, perhaps because of its Russian connection. But if that’s the reason, it’s a shame, because it really deserves to be heard. Gleb Kolyadin is of course best known as being half of that esteemed chamber prog duo iamthemorning, and The Outland is his third solo album.
His self-titled debut was an eclectic mixture of styles, and in retrospect perhaps tried to cover too many bases, whilst the second was a series of piano sketches which were probably not originally intended as a follow-up album. The Outland is different again, and to my mind is his most sophisticated and satisfying solo release so far. Whilst it encapsulates different styles, from modern classical to romantic, via jazz and progressive rock, it does so with a natural flow, a compositional arc which makes sense. There are no awkward juxtapositions or stylistic leaps, but rather an ebb and flow which feels right. Gleb’s usual partners in crime are present and correct in Gavin Harrison on drums and Vlad Avy on guitars throughout the album, which certainly helps foster this cohesion which binds the record together so well. Augmenting this trio are a number of great musicians who provide rich colour and texture to the compositions.
The scene is set with the lengthy opening piece Voyager, an ambitious but hugely entertaining track. It begins with a playful and light melody on grand piano which is then doubled on flute by Eliza Marshall. It is a lively dancing melody, straddling prog and jazz with ease, joined by Vlad Avy on subtle guitar, and the ever sympathetic drumming of Gavin Harrison. A lush string section introduces a classical romanticism which is both unexpected and delightful. Kolyadin makes sparing use of electronic keyboards to add more modern colour and change the tone before playing variations on the theme as the piece progresses. It’s a bit of an epic, and finishes with the strings and choir as they bring the piece to a rousing conclusion. The happiness exuded by this track belies the fact it was written during lockdown, in a country now at war, and if anything, this music has to be a welcome escape from the day to day realities of an unhappy world. These circumstances make the resulting joy of this music all the more sweet.
Ascension begins gently, Gleb joined now by Grigory Osipov on marimba and Ilya Gindin on clarinet as the track ebbs and flows rather like waves or the wind as notes rise and fall. Harrison propels the piece and Zoltan Renaldo’s upright bass provides just the right gravitas. Towards the end, Kolyadin introduces pauses to the theme, and the piece feels as though it will gently fall away completely, but it’s a prelude to an explosive ending with Gindin’s blinding clarinet solo combining with the most strident piano so far, the keys taking a good hammering.
After this tour de force, a breather is required, and is supplied with a sublime solo piano piece, Cascades, which is an apt title as Gleb shows why he is master of the grand piano as notes stream forth like a wondrous waterfall, gradually becoming slower and more gentle until they become still. Mercurial picks up the pace again, this time with Tony Levin on upright bass on a jazz flavoured piece of prog which gathers pace and intensity as Gavin Harrison shines brightly alongside his old Crimson teammate!
Apparatus proves to be the rockiest composition on the album, with some quite heavy guitar riffing in places, and further strident keyboard hammering, but it is never allowed to get out of hand and it provides the perfect foil for the closing piece, Hermitage. The title sounds to me like the place Kolyadin goes to escape the real world and invent music to soothe his soul, and the soul of anyone who cares to listen, because ultimately, that’s what this record is about; a process of healing, nourishing and cleansing the mind, preparing us for reconnecting with an imperfect world. Hermitage has the same lightness of touch, a sense of innocence almost, as opened the album. The sympathetic string arrangement isn’t overbearing, but supports the melodic sweep as the tune dances once again, with handclaps and ‘cheerful dancing’ from the mysterious Mr Konin! Strings and choir lend a movie soundtrack feeling as we build to a joyous conclusion.
So that’s it; six pieces of music, all complementing each other with Kolyadin’s grand piano at the heart, forming an overarching arc of creativity which cannot be ignored. It is an album with a twinkle in its eye and a playful smile on its face, but with a depth of sophistication just below the surface. It is a world away from the often mournful and dark side of iamthemorning, but just as bewitching and satisfying. What will his next journey be like I wonder? Something completely different I’ll bet.
01. Voyager (10:32)
02. Ascension (5:50)
03. Cascades (5:41)
04. Mercurial (6:00)
05. Apparatus (5:13)
06. Hermitage (7:46)
Total Time – 41:02
Gleb Kolyadin – Grand Piano, Keyboards
Vlad Avy – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Gavin Harrison – Drums
Tony Levin – Upright Bass (track 4)
Tim Lefebvre – Upright Bass (track 5)
Zoltan Renaldo – Upright & Electric Bass (tracks 1,2 & 6)
Evan Carson – Bodhran, Percussion
Grigory Losenkov – String Arrangements
Eliza Marshall – Flute
Grigory Osipov – Marimba, Vibraphone
Svetlana Shumkova – Hang Drum
Ilya Gindin – Clarinet
Mr Konin – Clapping, Cheerful Dancing
Plus Strings Ensemble and Collegium Cantus Choir
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 4th November 2022 (streaming), 10th May 2023 (physical)
Digital release 4/11/22
Physical release on CD/vinyl 10/5/23