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ESP - Invisible Din CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.06 | 42 ratings

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4 stars ESP is basically a two-man band comprised of guitarist/producer/multi-instrumentalist Tony Lowe and drummer Mark Brzezicki, ably supported with a stellar cast of collaborators. Lowe first came to my attention as the guitarist for the live launch of the 2015 David Cross and Robert Fripp CD Starless Starlight (which Lowe produced) where his understanding and appreciation of one of the most classic and memorable progressive rock melody lines was on display. Along with Cheryl Stringall he's also the co-founder of Sunn Creative, their socially aware record label (it operates on ethical business principles which include a commitment to environmental and social issues.)

Brzezicki is best known for his work with Big Country, though prog fans will associate him with Procol Harum; he's well regarded in drum circles and boasts an impressive session CV. These two musicians assembled some great names from the prog scene to play on the album including early exponents and more recent practitioners; they all made guest appearances at the live launch gig in London in a line-up enhanced by keyboard player Mickey Simmonds because Lowe, who played keyboards on the recording, confined himself to guitar.

Simmonds cites some classic prog influences and I recognised his name from Camel's Harbour of Tears album (1996). Also on stage were bassists Steve Gee and Phil Spalding, each performing roughly half the set; vocalist John Beagley; David Jackson on saxes and flute; Yumi Hara on harp; and David Cross on violin.

Lowe explained that the concept behind Invisible Din was that "the songs evoke a man's childhood memory of illness and a ghostly, healing presence of beauty as he ventures into the realms of the astral world. The music and lyrics encompass the yearning we have for that elusive other, the dream partner, crossing the line between reality and fantasy as he ventures into the unknown." On repeated listening it's obvious the concept stands up really well. There's a Floydian feel to some of the material, partly down to the exacting production values but also because the work is remarkably melodic; something that was less noticeable during the live performance.

It's evident that the band is a really tight-knit outfit, with densely layered lines of largely instrumental prog of the highest order. There are three lead instruments available at any one time playing over a solid, busy rhythm section. The lyrics are concise but well constructed and the vocal delivery, by Lowe, Brzezicki and Beagley is sympathetic to the storyline and pitched to convey appropriate emotions: reflection; elation; longing. The keyboard patches are accurate reproductions of 70s analogue sounds and I can detect influences as varied as early Genesis, post-Gabriel Genesis, UK, a little Pawn Hearts-era Van der Graaf Generator and maybe some 10cc art-rock. I'm not suggesting the sound is derivative in any way and if I were to suggest a sonic comparison, I'd plump for one of the modern Italian symphonic prog acts because of the use of the flute.

With the launch of Invisible Din in 2016, I thought that ESP represented a new standard-bearer for symphonic progressive rock. Subsequent releases have veered more into post- or alt-rock territory though they have maintained good-sized chunks of symphonic prog, the content perhaps reflecting the changing line-ups; all are worth adding to the collection though Invisible Din is the one any symphonic progressive rock fan would enjoy.

Four and a half stars

Agnenrecords | 4/5 |


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