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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Don Schiff

Peering Over Clouds

Review by Gary Hill

Over the years several musicians have started using The Stick - an instrument that combines both guitar and bass like ranges into one instrument. The Stick is played with both hands fretting, thereby allowing the musician to create both deep waves of sound that would traditionally fall into the bass guitar domain and higher end guitar like sounds - simultaneously. While many Stick players seem to use the instrument to create sounds that are as far away from those two instruments as they can get, Schiff seems to attempt to reproduce those type textures more often than not. The result is a very cool soundscape. This disc is an instrumental prog album that leans heavily on fusion. It is much less hard rock than the work Schiff has been known for playing with Erik Norlander, Lana Lane and Rocket Scientists, but awesome nonetheless. This is a definite winner for fans of Stick, bass guitar and instrumental prog in general

Track by Track Review
Peering Over Clouds
This starts off slowly and dramatically, but as it moves on it becomes a fast paced frantic instrumental prog jam that has a great groove.
Winds of Fire Winds of Change
As one would expect from the title, this one moves quick and changes quite a bit. It's another prog instrumental that is very effective, feeling quite fusionish in its approach. They certainly pack a lot of musical changes into five and a half minutes!
Under The Olive Tree
Schiff originally performed this as sideman on Lana Lane's work. Here he takes on the cut with a different arrangement. This one comes in very mellow and carries forward in sedate and pretty tones, then shifts only slightly upward into a bluesy mellow groove. They eventually burst into a cool jazz-like section that, although more energized, is no where near frantic. They drop it back to the sedate, then repeat the process, but this time the faster segment has a lot more energy and emotion, exploding out with a triumphant texture. Nothing on this track stays around long, though. It drops to just stick, and then they eventually work this into a new jazzy excursion that has a very slight Latin tinge. As this moves out into harder edged (but still no where near metallic) it is incredibly strong. It drops back to mellower modes for the outro. This ends a bit too abruptly for my tastes, though.
Secret World
Another quick paced fusion like approach, this one has a fun bouncy texture too. Schiff's playing (great on the whole album) is simply phenomenal here. Anyone who is a fan of stick or bass guitar should own this - even if for just this one track (although there are plenty of other examples of killer work on show). This will not disappoint. This one moves through a few moods and modes and is a standout track. It gets pretty heavy later.
Inside the Color of Dreams
This starts with deep bass and guitar type chord strum sounds and builds ever gradually. This is another that has a definite fusion like texture and some very tasty musical flavorings. This is a very cool groove. It drops down to the sedate to end.
Tomorrow's Magic
This is a bluesy harder rocking groove that feels a bit like a fusion take on Deep Purple, Rainbow and Led Zeppelin. It runts more to a Satriani like mode at times, alternating between these two styles in a highly satisfying fashion.
Reflective View
Backwards tracking starts this in a quick intro burst. They settle in on a mellow but energetic jazzy groove to carry it forward. This has a few moods and modes and moves quite nicely. It is a solid, if not standout cut. Still Schiff lays down some cool bass work here. Another backwards burst ends it.
From Where the Past Began
This starts much more sedate and builds gradually in a pattern that calls to mind both mellower fusion and Jimmy Page just a little. This has some cool, slightly bluesy runs at times. This is a smooth and oh so tasty track that ramps pup to more expansive and powerful fusion prog later.
Eighth Wonder
This is a fun and tasty jam that has both a cool melodic pattern and a great groove. At times this feels like something that might appear on a Steve Howe solo album. This is both energetic and relaxing in this first segment. It then shifts gear as if a member of Monty Python's Flying Circus had said, "And now for something completely different." This new segment is more pure fast paced fusion and moves through a number of changes. Schiff lays down some killer bass lines then explodes the track out into the most metallic segment of the disc. This crescendos, then keys herald in a new mellow reprieve before it moves into a neo classical dissonant movement that gets more melodic at times while still maintaining the same general riff. This ends abruptly then Schiff puts forward a killer bass grove that eventually moves to the high end of the stick. This roller coaster ride is quite cool.
A Whiter Shade of Pale
I have to go on record as being a huge fan of this classic Procol Harum cut, the only real cover of the CD. Schiff lays down an inspired, evocative and very beautiful instrumental rendition. This gets quite energized at times.
Talking In Tongues
This one comes in as another fast paced fusion jam. It is one more that feels like Steve Howe's solo work at times.
Between Sound and Silence
The way this cut came about is interesting. According to Schiff's liner notes Erik Norlander "gave me an interesting suggestion of writing a piece that had a repeating line, but on each round one note is left out." The result is a short, but very intriguing piece of cool instrumental prog.
Crossing The Lines of Reason
Fast paced riffing starts this and carries it forward at first with just stick. As it moves on, this becomes a more fully arranged take on the same musical foundation. It drops back to a bass solo after a time, then percussion comes in and this takes on a killer funky fusion texture. Eventually the arrangement fills back out, then drops down to mellower modes. They build it back up gradually weaving intriguing lines of melody overtop. Then it turns into near Crimsonian weirdness for a while. They ramp back up to energized fusion with modern KC leanings. This then cuts back to ambient strangeness for a time, then the previous section returns with a vengeance. They work through several incarnations of this. This killer is a great closing volley - both dynamic and potent.
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