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Steve Brockmann and George Andrade - Airs - A Rock Opera CD (album) cover

AIRS - A ROCK OPERA

Steve Brockmann and George Andrade

 

Crossover Prog

3.49 | 12 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lazland
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Airs - A Rock Opera

"Opera. A dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble."

Rock opera. The above, but in a rock music setting. This is what is presented to us in Airs - A Rock Opera by the duo of Steve Brockmann & George Andrade. Thinking of some of the more famous exponents of such an art form, namely The Who, Queen, The Kinks, Jeff Wayne, and David Bowie, amongst others, they have a pretty hard job of living up to what is probably the hardest type of concept and recording to pull off successfully.

Have they done so? The answer is an emphatic yes. This is an exceptional album, both in terms of its music and, as importantly, the story behind it.

The heart of the story lies in tragedy, as with most of the finest operas. Owen Doane, whose family have lived and held important positions on their small island since 1664, rolled through a stop sign and drove a car carrying a mother and her nine year old daughter into a stone wall. The girl, Hannah, ends up paralysed from the waist down and, thus, confined to a wheelchair. The family business, pulling stone from fields before harvest and building walls after milling grain, collapses under the strain of supporting Hannah's needs.

The opera follows Owen as he returns home from prison and embarks on a journey of initial confrontation with his family, and thence to a journey of personal redemption utilising the inspiration of the beautiful wheelchair bound girl, his former girlfriend, and the wind and the air by flying his father's "magic" kites. At the close, he is free, at one with the air.

It really is very moving, and reminds me strongly of some of the finest American fiction exemplified by John Irving (albeit without the sexual variations!).

The music, performed by Steve Brockmann, who is a longstanding and highly respected German multi-instrumentalist, with guests, is every bit as good as the story which lies behind it, with the words provided by George Andrade, the lyricist behind the excellent Anabasis debut album in 2011.

There are five movements in the work, and I would say that it is essential that the work be listened to as a whole, rather than in pieces. Only by having the whole story do you even begin to appreciate the beauty behind it.

Musically, there is a great deal going on. The opening suite, Fateful Days (the longest on the work at 7:37 minutes), is a pastoral masterpiece, with a gorgeous piano accompanying the incredible Paul Adrian Villarreal describing Owen's journey home by sea, full of reflection and regret. I was, in truth, hooked as soon as I heard this. It is one of the strongest openings to an album I have heard in a long time.

There is, though, plenty more going on. The music, as a good opera should, reflects the mood of the story. So, on Kites we have a mournfully poignant acoustic guitar and piano informing us of Owen's aching regret and fear of meeting his Maker. Flight, a true highlight, is grandiose, with a tremendous riff and great drums backing Cornelius Kappabani as Owen. When Owen battles with the kite, the synths take over, soaring into the air with the kite itself.

There is pure opera on Current Events, with Owen and his bitter brother (bitter at the loss of the family business and fortune which had stood for so many centuries because of Owen) verbally sparring. The riffs and rhythm section are dark and heavy as Owen leaves home.

Annabelle, the track dedicated to Owen's former love, who loves him still and suffered the loss of an arm through cancer, is a very complex track, and, in parts, is about as near to the pomp, majesty, and commercial sensibilities of neo-prog as the album gets.

Singer Floor Kraavijanger excels as Annabelle with Gordon Tittsworth as Owen on The Center. It is clear that she still loves him, and the gentle opening sequence reflects that, before the piece becomes heavy to reflect the intimate and heated discourse between the lovers.

For me, though, the biggest delight in the whole album is the introduction of Hannah, the girl wheelchair bound owing to the accident, on the track which bears her name. If, like me, you are an absolute sucker for a gorgeous female rock vocalist, then check out Antila Thomsen's performance, which has at its heart a lovely, delicate, and fragile beauty. Here, Owen helps Hannah achieve flight with the kite herself, and the dramatic backdrop to this sets the scene perfectly.

On Airs, there is, to me, a passage of music that appealed to the late 1960's/early 1970's fan inside me, with music evocative of the Deep Purple, Kinks, and Who music of that period.

She Flys is gloriously happy as the wish of flight is fulfilled.

On Grounded II, we have some prog metal in all of its fiery glory, with passages that bring to mind the best of Iron Maiden, without ever being stereotypical.

For fans of the symphonic, check out the lovely Kites II, which starts with a lovely piano piece, before a soaring guitar solo takes centre stage.

Speaking of which, Spock's Beard fans will absolutely enjoy Flight II, in which Alan Morse delivers just about the perfect guitar movement. Morse does not, however, have the entire track to himself. Kappabani excels as Owen, singing and describing perfectly a loud, proud man who will find his freedom in the air.

When we get to Owen, the closer, we have a denouement as gorgeous as the opening track, one which tells us of the freedom attained by Owen, at one with the air, with the accepted past now well and truly behind him.

So, a massive mixture of music here, ranging from the pastoral, to the symphonic, to the operatic, to the downright loud and proud metal, each reflecting the story they tell.

All of the vocalists put in great performances, and I should provide a special mention for Jochen Ohl who is excellent on drums throughout. I must say, though, that this album will ensure that I seek out more of Steve Brockmann's work, because he proves himself to be an incredible multi-instrumentalist. His keyboards, especially, would grace the presence of any major prog band on the planet today, they are that good.

There will be people reading this review who will, no doubt, be tempted to pick up a free download on a pirate site or a cheap one on one of those Russian sites. Please don't, and not just because of the argument (extremely valid as it is) of artists deserving to be paid properly for their work. There is, actually, a more fundamental reason, and that is that this album is as much a work of literature as it is music. The story of Owen is one that has deeply moved me, and will, I feel, appeal to those of you who enjoy the best of modern American literature. If you get it legally, you get the sumptuous booklet with the full story and lyrics.

To summarise, this is an excellent piece of work, and I for one sincerely hope that it does not prove to be a one-off collaboration by these two, because they clearly excel in each other's company.

At the start of this review, I mentioned some classic artists. This album might not be iconic in the fashion of Tommy, War of the Worlds, Preservation, or A Night at the Opera. I'll tell you what, though?It most definitely is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath, and takes the dear old Rock Opera to fresh heights in a modern rock setting.

lazland | 4/5 |

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