"Relocator" Does Not Need Derek Sherinian
Relocator does not need Derek Sherinian.
Let me explain. Some history is in order.
Relocator is the creation of Michael Pruchnicki and Stefan Artwin; between them they penned their self-titled debut album. Both men reside near the city of Nuremburg, Germany - an ancient city that was once considered to be the trade capitol of The Holy Roman Empire.
It is a city whose history is rich in the experience of being at the crossroads of human invention and artistic frontiers for over 400 years - how can one not be influenced by the long shadow that it casts? It is a conundrum, a microcosm of nations, modern with a deep respect and reverence for the past though with an excitement and passion in its designs for the future.
Nuremburg's economy has always had the interesting dichotomist interplay between the industrial and mechanical arts and the fine arts: why at one point the city was known as the "industrial heart of Bavaria" - and this was after playing host to the advances and premieres of such humanistic endeavors as astronomy and printing. Europe's first known print shop was opened here, leading to the publication in 1515 of Durer's charts of the northern and southern hemisphere star fields as well as the introduction of Copernicus' famous, groundbreaking heliocentric model of our solar system, first seeing print in 1543. Nuremburg is also known for the quaint commodities of gingerbread and toys. Eclectic that, no?
This is all to say that these men and their music are reflections of this iconic, fascinating city and its pageant of disparate characteristics and personalities. Relocator's music is clean, muscular, and modern with an architectural lineage dating back to Nuremburg's old world baroque period that emphasized melody and harmonic clarity through contrapuntal form - as if capturing the very essence of the nexus that was Nuremburg - and as captured in the work of famous past resident/citizen Johann Pachelbel (1653 -1706).
Stefan Artwin has characterized himself as "being (more) a composer than a guitarist" on his website (www.stefanartwin.com) which makes him a kindred spirit of Pachelbel, though like fellow regional composer Mozart (an Austrian), he has taken the complex baroque form of this ancestral city and, through incremental repetition of themes and phrases, has produced deceptively simple yet complex arrangements for a more modern world - for a more modern Nuremburg, you could say.
Rather than take you through a song by song breakdown of the entire album (I'll leave that for you to experience), I would rather like to concentrate on the opening song "Red Vibes", composed by Stefan Artwin, as a perfect example encapsulating what I'm trying to illustrate.
Relocator opens the album with an anticipatory, galloping attack of Michael Pruchnicki playing the bass displaying the liquid dexterity of John Myung (Myung would love to have this kind of a mix), an introduction to the crystalline yet deep flowing river of bottom end upon which much of this album is built, amidst Stefan Artwin's tasteful, yet elusively solid foundation of guitar providing the landscape over which washes of Derek Sherinian's keyboard paint the background with dabs of soaring swirls and eddies.
The band quickly segues into a pounding, metronomic transition to a Derek Sherinian led jam that seems to slam us back in our seats and jettison us forward along the new Nuremberg-Ingolstadt-Munich High-Speed line; I was reminded of the clean, blue streaking train tunnel photograph of Marcus Keller that is actually used to highlight the band's namesake and title track, "Relocator", from the album book. It's an intoxicating introduction at the 1:17 mark. It is the sound of a cool, clean modern city on the move.
And then Stefan introduces a romantic theme that quickly engulfs the senses and seems to takes us on evening stroll down the ancient tree-lined streets of old Nuremburg, in the shadow of Spittlertor-Tower, where Bartek Strycharski's plaintive violin joins us and picks up on the theme with lovely grace and charm, only this time adding a dimension of nostalgia.
At 2:10 the "streaking tunnel" theme is reintroduced, though this time Bartek's electric violin joins the rush, an incremental repetition and development of the earlier established old world versus modern world vibe, giving the impression that we have left the cool blue tunnel and are now rushing headlong through the architectural remnants of the past - though having their place as standing monuments, they have assimilated with the new city - and Stefan soon emphasizes this statement as he takes the reins on the theme and plays a muscular, assured riff that seems to leave no doubt.
We arrive at a funky, jazzy, cosmopolitan interplay amongst the boys at approximately 3:10 - you can almost picture yourself in another cool blue venue, perhaps a modern club in the Hauptmarkt with paintings from the "Relocator" album book hanging under dim spots on the darkened walls - into which Bartek comes in with yet another refrain of reminiscence and memory of bygone days which Michael is soon to gather up and take under his arm, his bass line picking up the pace and ushering us out as if to say, "we shall not linger with our sights set on the past".
From here we have nearly a full minute of Derek's space symphonic pyrotechnics, rising and falling, constructing and deconstructing, all tumbling down and rebuilding itself as the band keeps pace to finally culminate under Frank Tinge's barrel roll of drums gathering it all in and herding the boys on into song's the climactic movement.
This is where, at the 5:15 mark, I would have loved to have heard a recapitulation of Stefan's "romantic" theme with Bartok playing amidst a swell of cellos and violas - a quick nod to the baroque musical lineage - just briefly until 5:30 and the full stop - from which then the band roars back to the future with Stefan's guitar leading the way rushing towards the end of the line and the song.
Now. Back to Derek Sherinian.
I understand the cache and marquee value of having someone of this caliber playing on the album; but I feel that at times Derek's keyboards - though breath-taking and masterful in and of themselves - rendered the album too sterile and futuristic and therefore impersonal at times, or rather, apart from the personality of what I find Relocator to be as outlined in my thesis. I would personally love to see Relocator take full command of their compositional roots and build upon the unique strengths and vision which is not only their heritage but is coursing through their very veins. It would be wonderful to hear more of the string family - violin, viola, cello and bass - incorporated into their music. In fact, on many occasions throughout the album, I could hear Bartok Strycharski playing Sherinian's lines, and I frankly would have found it more compelling if he had. Now, I am not espousing a radical change in Relocator's approach in regards to keyboards - I think that it's fundamental to their unique, "old world/new world" sound - I simply don't see the need to be as flamboyant (for lack of a better term) with them.
So, I guess I should say that they don't need someone like Derek Sherinian.
But, hey, that's just me. Who the hell am I to say? This is a wonderfully complex and compelling album that is recorded with depth and clarity and punctuation and is well worth the money and place within any music lover's collection. A superb debut. 4 out of 5 stars.
Buy This Album NOW!
Relocator is an instrumental tour-de-force of progressive instrumental music. It's a celebration of the joy of the interplay between a group of musicians who are clearly at the top of their game, pushed to the boundaries of chopsville by the ever-remarkable and interesting soundscapes and twiddling of former Dream Theater keyboardist, Derek Sherininan.
It definitely takes a few listens for the hooks and melodies to sink in, but once they do you will be humming them all day. And banging your head. And tapping your toes. And pressing play again and again and again. Everything about this CD stands out. And just because Derek Sherinian is present, don't let it fool you into thinking he steals the show. Yes, he is a great player, but he is also surrounded by other great players, on all instruments, and that elevates this disc to an entirely different level than what you would expect from a relatively unknown group of musicians.
The album opens with the hard rocking "Red Vibes" a journey into clean guitar tones over eerie soundscapes, and when the violin solo kicks in at just before the two minute mark, you'll know you are in for an eclectic ride. By the end of the song when you hear the sweep arpeggios and syncopation of the rhythm section, you will surely be trying to move your jaw back into the upright position.
"Biosphere" features some of the heaviest riffing on the album, interspersed with some of the most killer keyboard soloing I've ever heard from Mr. Sherinian, whose mark is all over this CD. The breakdown at 3:48 is particularly cool, and I find myself rewinding to the beginning of this section quite a bit. Seamlessly wandering from cool, quiet laid-back, almost jazzy interludes to cacophonic episodes of frantic and frenetic aggression, the song takes you on a ride you will not soon forget. And even though it is nearly 8 minutes long, it feels more like 5.
"Relocator," the title track, features some extremely tasty guitar playing. I am not sure why from the beginning this sounded vaguely familiar to me. It could be the Sherinian influence, I don't know. I really love the ultra-heavy riffing that starts around 2:30 and the turnarounds in this song are great. The section that starts at 3:17 features some fantastic guitar soloing, somewhat reminiscent of old-school Eddie Van Halen. And before long we're back in to the main them of the song, but this time the bar seems to have been raised and everyone is really, really jamming.....great ending to a terrific song!
"Proxima" didn't really catch my interest until the 2:24 mark, where it gets very quiet and the main riff kind of builds back up. Upon repeated listens, there was a payoff as I started to understand the way the song moves. There is something very urgent sounding about this song. The entire track makes me want to get up and go do something. The soloing that kicks in at about the 4:00 mark is just mind-blowing. And soon after that you'll find yourself, as you often do while listening to this album, banging your head to the beat.
"Aavishkar" starts out with some extremely cool and exotic sounding clean guitar. Enhanced by the presence of the violin and the wah effect on the guitar during the intro riffing, this song is probably one of my personal favorites. One thing that I think can happen with instrumental albums is the album can start to sound repetitious after a while, and Relocator do a terrific job of avoiding that pitfall, because each and every song on this album has its own unique sound and identification. This particular song has some of the heaviest riffing on the entire album, and the inclusion of some very interesting leads on top of that stuff as well as the extremely ethnic, almost Egyptian sounding stuff that is included in sections like what starts around the 3:30 mark, I could eat this up all day long. This is a track I have often played more than once when listening to this album. The buildup of tension during this section raises the hair on the back of my neck! I don't want to give too much away with this review, but this may be the centerpiece of this album. I would even use the word masterpiece to describe this song.
"13 Reasons" has an interesting intro, using some very unique keyboard sounds, but before long the familiar sounds of Sherinian's keys and the pounding rhythm section are in and there is a lot here to sink your ears into. One thing I love about the guitar playing on this album is the interesting choice of notes and scales. Many instrumental albums like this are laden with guitar and keyboard solos that, after two or three tracks, sound exactly like the solos on previous songs, or at least vaguely similar to solos on previous songs, and this album never does that. For some reason, the bass guitar playing on this song really stood out to me as well. Some monstrous bass riffing and patterns really enhance this tune and indeed the entire album! And the bass tone is outstanding as well, always cutting through, but never overwhelming.
"Urban Blue" opens with a very, very cool bass riff. This song really demonstrates what a tight rhythm section can bring to the table. A groove-filled exploration of head-banging riffage and some of the best, jazz-tinged turnarounds on the entire album. As a musician I listen to this song and I know that it took a lot of practice to learn these bass lines and riffs. And the tightness of it all is extremely impressive and obviously a very enjoyable listen. Very tasty guitar solo here as well!
"The Alchemist" at 11:33 is the longest track on the album. Strangely, when it's over, you wonder where all of the time went. From the soft tones of bass/keys/clean guitar during the intro to the way it molds that intro into an off-kilter riff interspersed with stinging keyboard laser beam strikes from Sherinian, this song meanders through rough and beautiful soundscapes....quiet moments, crazy moments and everything in between. Classic Sherinian solo at 3:30 really launches the song into an entirely new realm of playing, and it really never seems to come down from there, only improving over time.
All in all, this is one of the absolute BEST instrumental progressive rock albums in my vast collection. It is the opinion of this reviewer that this album stands head and shoulders with such monstrous works as Liquid Tension Experiment's "II" or any of Sherinian's solo albums under the Planet X moniker. I also think it's worth noting that while the influence of Sherinian is unmistakable, this band has its own identity, which is well deserved. They sound, to this reviewer, like Relocator songs, and I for one, can't wait to hear the next album this band puts out.