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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Navigator

Live in Tonawanda, New York, August, 2007

Review by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill

There is, perhaps, nothing more exciting than hearing a great new band for the first time. Those of us who have become true audiophiles through the years revel in our knowledge of the little inside stories and seemingly “by chance” coincidences that have allowed really good musicians the opportunity to meet and create new musical ideas, forms, embellishments, and derivations. Still, this writer believes in no coincidences. The date was August 25th; the site was Gateway Park along the Erie Canal in Tonawanda, NY. I was there to review Kansas, but a brief encounter weeks earlier between my son and a local progressive drummer named Rob Thurman had led me to want to review Rob's Niagara Falls based band, Navigator.

I consider myself to be a “prog junkie,” and anyone who knows me well considers me to be a bit of an encyclopedia on the usual suspects....you know, Yes, Genesis, Rush, etc. My aural standards are very high, so I was very pleasantly surprised and then downright stunned at the high quality original material being created and performed in my own backyard. Navigator will not send anyone running for the concession stands to buy a hotdog. That's because these guys are the real deal. They perform material which is not just good; it's downright excellent and very refreshing to listen to.

The band opened with "Call to Conscience." With the piece progressing at about 150 bpm, the opening is in 5/8 time followed by a groove section in 11/8, and Thurman's presence is felt with the double bass on his expansive Yamaha kit. He's an excellent wrist player with shoulders that barely move as he fluidly negotiates his kit. The melody line, in 7/8, is pleasant, symphonic, and somewhat ambient. The song is extremely reminiscent of an early Genesis sound. The vocals were clean, in tune, and solidly centered. This is an interesting piece with a very positive and soothing vibe. I love the aggressive playing that doesn't get bogged down in metal theatrics, but rather focuses on musical integration in a wholistic sense. It could be argued that Randy Schul's bass lines were understated through the show, but it completely works from a musical standpoint. I love when musicians can perform as a single entity without becoming ostentatious. With Navigator, everything just seems to fit.

"Season of Life" was more guitar-centric. In common time at about 120 bpm, the basic formula of the piece is a 4 bar descending minor chordal passage with syncopated phrasing. Marcangelo Perricelli's vocals were stellar, Al Bonato's keyboard chords rich sounding, and I really noticed how beautifully tuned Thurman's toms are in the drum kit. Very tasteful throughout, I also enjoyed the Simon Phillips style drum fills at the end of the piece.

"Sword of Endeavor" opens with full symphonic, ambient colors from Bonato's synth. This flowed into adagio B-3 sounding chords with crescendos on cymbal rolls, then overlaid with a guitar leading line, finally into the drum fill transition to the main melody. The partially compressed vocals sounded very cool. Schul's bass was smoothly reminiscent of Randy Tico from Matrix, and Bonato's solo sounded somewhere between the styles Ryo Okumoto and Jeff Lorber. I certainly appreciated the tasteful alternating of keyboard to guitar, and the sostenuto ending was filled with Billy Cobham style tom fills. This is a cool tune.

Next, Navigator performed a cover of the Genesis ballad, "Afterglow,” with one of Thurman's percussion students as the guest drummer. The piece is relatively simple, but as we know, simple does not mean easy as the parts are all exposed and errors stand out quite starkly under these conditions. But, no audible breaks disturbed the performance, the tempo was rock solid dead on beginning to end, and the band sold the piece perfectly.

"Through a Scheme" may be my favorite piece of the evening, and I really want to hear the studio track in great detail because it is so musically interesting. Structured with a 6/8 feel primarily carried by the B-3 sound played on the Korg and lyrically pleasant and subtly intense, Thurman added his touch by playing with that oh-so-pleasant 2 versus 3 feel that would make Steve Gadd proud. This is a five star piece in my opinion.

"Overload" is written in 5/4 with a strong backbeat on two and syncopated organ on beats 4 and 5. Once again, the vocals are squarely placed, lyrical, emotionally conveyed with technical proficiency, nice guitar phrasing over the top and a solid bass line. Navigator's music continued to sound fresh in a retro kind of way. There was absolutely no overly indulgent playing. The band continued to stay true to their form, and every piece drew an increasing response from the crowd as more people filled the outdoor concert area.

Multiple time signatures and textures dominated Navigator's final piece of the evening, "Unveil the Prize.” I really think this particular chart would do very well on internet radio. The melody is catchy, but the piece was driven by the uniquely dulcet chordal changes that cleanly flow with the creative accented parts throughout the piece. I found myself thinking that if the vocals were removed and an electric violin added, one might believe this was Jean Luc Ponty's band, especially when the double bass is added toward the end of the piece.

A large ovation was enjoyed by the band. Although the set had to be slightly shortened due to storms which delayed the start of the concert, Navigator could very well become a progressive force to be taken seriously in the future. I highly recommend this band! The group has two CDs released plus they have participated in a Christian prog project that included the likes of Neal Morse and Rick Wakeman, among others. Please take the time to visit their website and the band's official Myspace page. I believe this music has universal appeal and is a must add-to-the-collection for the serious prog audiophile. They are also busily writing at this time in preparation for a third CD, which may have a bit of a metal edge and some crunch to it, which would suit younger listeners well and also create some different ideas that would simply add to the already fine repertoire of this excellent band.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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