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Kompendium

Beneath the Waves

Review by Alison Reijman

Kompendium is a huge musical project masterminded by Rob Reed, main-man of the very classy British prog band Magenta. Reed’s musical dream has been to create an album on the scale of something like Jeff Wayne’s Music Version of War of the Worlds with the prog sensibilities of someone like his hero Mike Oldfield. Then, when this was all in place, engineer and mix it in such a way that it is best heard on headphones in a darkened room.

Just a quick word needs to be said first about the beautiful album cover and accompanying which has been designed by the aforementioned War of the Worlds artist Geoff Taylor, who this time has evoked the album’s theme, a story about love, loss and redemption. The booklet also highlights the stellar cast of musicians which Reed has drawn together, not just from prog but also from the classical worlds. They include Steve Hackett, Nick Beggs, Nick Barrett (Pendragon), John Mitchell and Francis Dunnery (It Bites), Troy Donockley (Iona), Jakko Jakszyk and Mel Collins (King Crimson), Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and B J Cole.  Helping with the string arrangements is Dave Stewart, best known for his work with bands such as Egg and Hatfield and the North. The masterstroke here was to bring in Steve Balsamo, who once played the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, as the male lead and teaming him with Angharad Brinn, a Welsh schoolteacher, who has a voice of stunning purity. Together, they cast their musical spells over a collection of twelve songs, which fuse prog, folk, classic rock, Celtic and classical with great intricacy and magic.

Beneath the Waves is a terrific achievement and very much a labour of love for Reed. The beauty of this album is that it has the potential to be heard and enjoyed by those outside the prog community.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Exordium

This starts with a Richard Burton-type narration by Guy Harris. The emotion in his voice is picked up by the plaintive Uilleann pipes of Troy Donockley at the start of this achingly lovely overture. During the course of it Karla Powell’s oboe, Cole’s steel pedal guitar, Barrett’s searing guitar and Shan Cothi’s stunning soprano voice all rise in turn above the swelling melody before the two singers enter. Add to all this the wonderful Celtic chants of Synergy Vocals, who will re-appear throughout and then channel it all through 5.1. The effect is startling.

Lost
“Lost” begins with a delicate French horn, Balsamo picking up the sung narrative of the story in a lilting melody which sweeps along, gathering momentum and picking up new elements. Those new elements include beautiful harmonies from the English Chamber Choir and chants from Synergy. The musical tempos keep shifting with some classic prog and folk motifs coming in the way.
Lilly
Steve Hackett’s plucked nylon guitar at the start of “Lilly” sounds like a harp and with the accompanying cello, it provides a spine-tingling moment. When Brinn’s ethereal voice is added to the mix, it becomes the kind of song which could make grown men cry with its combination of prog god and angel.
Mercy of the Sea
An a capella choir start to “Mercy of the Sea” then goes to a gorgeous Celtic vibe through Donockley’s pipes and Harrison’s driving  beat  before Balsamo opens his pipes, bending and reshaping notes at will. Then Dunnery comes in with a sublime, understated guitar before it all returns to the rhythm and the pipes.
The Storm
Crashing waves and thunderclaps raise the curtain for the album’s centrepiece. The cut is a huge swirl of Irish melody, Latin chanting, shanty singing, violin and pipes, and layer upon layer of guitars provided by Jakko Jakszyk, Mitchell, Reed’s bandmate Chris Fry and Hywel Maggs. It is full of twists and turns, reflecting the restless nature of the sea at its most unforgiving.
Beneath the Waves
Acoustic guitar and pipes lead into a chant with heavy drums and choir for “Beneath the Waves.” It’s punctuated by a Mel Collins’ sax solo, and somewhere in the mix, there is Beggs’ Chapman stick producing some amazing sounds at a much deeper level. Balsamo continues to hit notes that have not yet even been thought of while Neil Taylor adds a creamy guitar solo.
Sole Survivor
This starts with seagulls screeching and waves lapping before Fry joins on nylon guitar.  A cello accompaniment providing a melancholy backdrop against which Balsamo sings with such weariness.
Alone
The choir hums the intro to “Alone,” giving it a sparse feel made more so by Reed’s simple piano accompanying Balsamo. It’s a passage which needs no embellishment because of the raw emotion it conveys and which ends with Shan Cothi’s uplifting soprano voice.
Il Tempo รจ Giunto
The most surprising track is “Il Tempo è Giunto,” which features the rich tenor voice of Rhys Meirion. Reed’s piano brings a great new texture and feeling of pathos to the story, especially when the choir returns.
Moment of Clarity
This returns to the rock groove headed by Neil Taylor on guitar before Balsamo enters, against a string accompaniment. The gospel voice of Tesni Jones and another killer sax solo from Collins that makes it feel like ballad.
Back to the Sea

Beautiful tinkling piano and restrained guitar from Jakszyk allows Balsamo to turn “Back to the Sea” into a sung meditation as the story draws to a close.

Reunion

This comprises a gentle piano and pipes over which Brinn and Balsamo sing to end the journey on a lovely musical duet, as some of the many themes such as the chant and B J Cole’s pedal steel guitar make a final curtain call.

 
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