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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Leonardo - The Absolute Man CD (album) cover


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5 stars This project is one of the best concept album I ever heard. Wonderful, in the music and in the lyrics. The balance between the band members is perfect! Listen to it and have an idea of what is a modern progessive concept album.
Report this review (#18117)
Posted Monday, January 5, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars There's a kind of cosmic harmony at play here: "Leonardo -- The Absolute Man" is an ambitious, far-reaching work of art about an ambitious, far-reaching artist. This remarkable record is a progressive rock opera about visionary Renaissance man Leonardo DaVinci, composed by creative Magellan mainman Trent Gardner and performed by a constellation of prog stars, including James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Steve Walsh (Kansas), Josh Pincus (Ice Age), and Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery). But prog fans should heed the full album title, including the words "Original Cast Recording." This is not merely a concept album; it actually has the flow and feel of a musical, with the expected theatricality and lyrical/storytelling emphasis in the vocal melodies.

Despite its melodic nods to Broadway, "Leonardo" flies as a prog epic because of the consistently stellar performances and Gardner's wonderful compositions; highlight tracks include the dramatic, panoramic overture "Apparition," the chugging, metallic prog of "Reins Of Tuscan," the grand, Queenly pomp of "Mona Lisa," the sweeping ballad "First Commission," and the squealing synth and biting guitar of the instrumental "Il Divino." Throughout, the featured vocalists are truly outstanding and the instrumentation smartly blends the sharp edges of progressive rock and the smoother spectacle of musical theater. The result is a rock art in a gripping hybrid style, somewhat like a turbo-charged version of early Alan Parsons Project classics... but different.

Because of its scope and innovation, "The Absolute Man" is atypical, even by progressive rock standards. For open-minded fans of melodic prog, however, it is an emotional triumph that commands repeated listens.

Report this review (#18118)
Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Trent Gardner is becoming the absolute progressive artist by showing up on recent collaborations with Steve Walsh, Explorers Club, Mullmuzzler, several tribute albums, and his own group Magellan. The Absolute Man was a few years in the making, and anxiously anticipated by this writer. The entire larger-than-life recording is devoted to the life of Leonardo DaVinci. The main musicians are Trent Gardner (keyboards) Wayne Gardner (guitar), Patrick Reyes (bass), Steve Reyes (guitar), and Jeremy Colson (drums). Some of the special guests include James Labrie, Robert Berry, Steve Walsh, and Josh Pincus. All of them have their own groups and projects on other Magna Carta releases. Gardner gives an eloquent and intelligent tribute to DaVinci in the liner notes. He states that the music merely scratches the surface of DaVinci's greatness as an artist, inventor, scientist, and everything else that made him the absolute man.

Now on to the music, that's what this is really all about. The ultimate interpretive listening experience can speak volumes. How in the world do you convey the importance and greatness of an individual such as Leonardo DaVinci? Its not an easy task mind you. The point is driven home at the curtain call, as Gardner does a fine job leading the impressive cast of musicians down the road of Leonardo's storied life. It all begins with a regal and classical air with the instrumentals "Apparition" and "Aria For Italy." Gardner's keyboards lead the way and it all gives you a feeling of building suspense and emotion. Progressive music has a way of making those feelings happen rather quickly, and this CD is no exception. There are eighteen tracks in total on this CD. Just when you think that the atmosphere will change and become more intense it falls off. About half way through the CD the songs turn off into an almost pop like direction. I don't understand why this happened because the project really gathers a good head of steam and then it just stops. There are a few tracks towards the end were the magic is regained but something changes drastically at the point were the entire feeling and musical direction should be making an upswing. Perhaps I had far to long to wonder about what this was going to be like. I first heard of this project around two years ago and it intrigued me. For the amount of disappointment that I did feel there was more than enough satisfaction and great prog-rock to enjoy. I tip my hat to Trent Gardner for his adventuresome spirit and the courage to experiment and reach out to find new avenues for his creativity. There were times that this music sounded like Yes and Styx making a song together, it was very exciting. I expected much more, but you can't always anticipate what will develop during the course of recording when you place high expectations upon an album. That I take responsibility for, and I do realize that every album I listen to is not going to blow me away, although mostly all prog-rock music from Magna Carta does. This was worth the listen and the reflection upon a great man and a soul for the ages.

Report this review (#18119)
Posted Monday, January 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars I can`t say it is the most great album of the prog Histry, but it sounds good, it hasn't that thing that makes a great album come to an EXCELLENT album, but, wethever, is good. If we think that Lenardo is one of the most amazing man in the History, this album make something to catch somepart of this greatness but is not enought good to say: "hey!, it's beauty!"...
Report this review (#44948)
Posted Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Oh my God how can this be possible? A really nice piece of art and has very few reviews!!! Ok the sound on this record isn't cristal clear but the music really deserves a listening. Here the medieval-feel has been very well developed. There are memorable parts (the trumpet phrase on Apparition), Superb vocal melodies (Reins Of Tuscan), Musical dexterity (Inventions).

Here the story is really well presented. We have very dramatic vocals througout this disc. Even here there is a Queen Rip-off (Mona Lisa) Nice!!! The guitar and drums seems to be strongly influenced by Dream Theater.

The group of vocalists is really interesting, great choices: Mike Baker, James LaBrie, Steve Walsh, Josh Pincus, Davey Pattison...

A Masterpiece? Maybe

Highly Recommended

Report this review (#113543)
Posted Monday, February 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This LEONARDO -THE ABSOLUTE MAN can be considered to be a culmination of TRENT GARDNER's imagination and capacities to compose somethimg really amazing!I think that any MAGALLAN album didn't had so much majesty and beauty like this album,the fruit of the brain of a very gifted musician ,surrounded my some monster artists which made of this album one of the most remarcable concept albums in the history of prog music!Maybee you think I am using too big words,I don't think so,and my arguments are the brilliant conception of the whole story,the monumental musical arrangements and the best that Gardner has dome in all his musical career!It says thet a musician only once is touching the absolute in terms of inspiration and perfect composition!Well,this was the moment for Gardner!He was so inspired in choosing all the characters ,musicians to play his compositions and the brilliant MAGNA CARTA musicians,from the vocalists of SHADOW GALLERY-the dearly missed MIKE BAKER,plus vocalists from ICE AGE,UNDER THE SUN,CAIRO,MAGELLAN among others,not to forget to mention aces like STEVE WALSH,JAMES LABRIE,LISA BOUCHARD from MASTERMIND -a great surprise,and the multitalented ROBERT BERRY!This album is a monument a masterpiece and a major must in every collectioneer of prog rock concept albums!We need many auditions to fully understand the majesty of this huge work and the planetar dimension of LEONARDO DA VINCI too,a pure genius!ITo sum up,this album is ,maybee,the most representative and valuable MAGNA CARTA release,a musical triumph for the American label,and the most mature,complete,ambitious and performant TRENT GARDNER work!Almost close to perfection!Perfect production,perfect musicianship,perfect compositions , perfect artwork and perfect unity of all what means passion for a true art called PROGRESSIVE MUSIC AT IT'S BEST!!! 5 STARS with cloosed eyed and free mind!
Report this review (#259782)
Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Andy Webb
Retired Admin
2 stars We've seen it all before

Trent Gardner is a known name in the progressive rock community. The instigator of a large number of projects, bands, and supergroups, he is one of the more prolific members of the prog rock community (although not nearly as much as say Rick Wakeman or Senmuth). He is most well-known for his band Magellan, but he has also started the supergroup Explorer's Club, he has worked with James Labrie on his solo project MullMuzzler, he has worked with Jack Foster III for his solo project, and he has made a vast number of collaborative concept albums, which we have here. Leonardo: The Absolute Man is what the title implies: a concept album about the great scientist, inventor, artist, and thinker Leonardo Da Vinci. Gardner recruited a number of well-known prog rockers to make this album, including his former workmate James Labrie, his brother and bandmate Wayne Gardner, and Kansas veteran Steve Walsh. Gardner fills out the lineup with a large number of session musicians (most of whom are "nobodies" to the prog world). The music of the album sadly is quite similar to the vast majority of Gardner's other works: grandiose and complex (but overall kind of cheesy) compositions, full of lush synthesizer runs, wide soloing across the instrumental board, and powerful (but seemingly strained) vocals. This album, although containing some nice tracks, is very much just more of the same.

One thing that really annoys me across the board with Gardner's music is his insistence on using orchestral voices from his keyboard, most of which have a horribly cheesy MIDI twinge going for them. While the orchestral pieces Gardner writes may be symphonically and music theoretically phenomenal, full of lush counterpoint, various parts and movements, and other classic twists, the use of his keyboard to execute them irks me. If he can hire such a vast amount of singers and studio musicians, he could at least hire a few orchestral musicians!

The music that's not an attempt at classical on the album has a very similar vibe as the former. Gardner is obviously a wonderful progressive rock musician and composer, but his execution isn't the best there is, and I have to say mostly due to his keyboard atmospheres. The compositions in their own right aren't bad; they are traditional Gardner-esque compositions, full of compositional flares and influences from classic prog giants such with plenty of modern twists and turns thrown in. However, for some reason this style kind of grates on me. Although I enjoy much of Magellan's output, this album still has some cheesy quality that grate against my skin. Tracks like "Reins of Tuscan," "This Time, This Way," and "Inventions" are slightly better and are highlights for the album, but overall I feel the album is lacking in depth and quality.

In the end, the album isn't bad. It has a nice concept, a well-arranged production, and some really nice moments. Labrie does a great job vocally on this album, which can be a rare thing to find outside of his work with Dream Theater. Amongst the slew of tribute, concept, and supergroup albums Gardner has done, I can't say this is the best, but in the end it is a good album. 2+ stars.

Report this review (#491746)
Posted Thursday, July 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Review Nş 117

"Leonardo - The Absolute Man" is a very personal project of Gardner's brothers, who created the musical project Magellan, and where all music and lyrics were composed by the creative Magellan's man, Trent Gardner. If you're familiar with the music of Magellan, you will know that Trent Gardner's composition are not of the usual chorus and verse type of songs, but complex epics, with developing melodies and reoccurring themes. Their music is quite heavy and usually takes some time to grow on you. The same goes for this new project of both Gardner's brothers.

This project is about the life of one of the greatest figures of the Renaissance period and one of the greatest men of all time, Leonardo da Vinci. This project represents a very personal point of view and a tribute of Gardner's brothers to him. As we all know, Leonardo was an Italian polymath man, who studied a significant of different subject areas such as painting, sculpture, architecture, music, science, mathematics, engineering, anatomy, geology, cartography, botanic and writing. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man. He is also considered to be one of the greatest painters of all times, and perhaps he also can be the most diversely talented person that ever has lived. I completely agree with Trent Gardner's idea that the life is unfair because some have everything and others have nothing. But for Leonard's happiness, we can say that, in life, Leonardo had almost everything we can get from life.

"Leonardo - The Absolute Man" is a conceptual album with the format of a rock opera performed by a great constellation of progressive rock singers. The cast of the singers is very extensive and corresponds to figures who took part in the life of Leonardo. So we have in this musical project: James Labrie (Dream Theater) is Leonardo da Vinci. Davey Pattison is Ser Piero da Vinci, the father of Leonardo. Michelle Young (Glass Hammer) is Caterina, the mother of Leonardo. Lisa Bouchelle (Mastermind) is Mona Lisa, the subject of Leonardo's favourite painting. Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) is Giovan Francesco Melzi, a personal friend, companion and apprentice of Leonardo. Chris Shyrack (Under The Sun) is Ludovico il Moro Sforza, one of the powerful princes of Renaissance in Italy. Bret Douglas (Cairo) is François I the King of France. Josh Pincus (Ice Age) is Lorenzo de Medici, the man who ruled Florence. Steve Walsh (Kansas) is Bartolemeu Calco, the advisor of Sforza. Trent Gardner (Magellan) is Andrea del Verrocchio, the master of Leonardo. Robert Berry (Three) is Salai, the protégé and also the "adopted son" of Leonardo.

Beyond the singers, we have also the musicians. But when we look at the musicians we realize that Gardner's "Magellan" Bros, Trent and Wayne, are who really conduct the whole work. So, the line up of the musicians on this album is Trent Gardner (keyboards and trombone), Wayne Gardner (guitar), Patrick Reyes (guitar), Steve Reyes (bass), Jeremy Colson (drums), Luis Maldonado (guitar and bass) and Joe Franco (drums and orchestral percussion).

"Leonardo - The Absolute Man" has eighteen tracks. Of all, there are ten vocals tracks and eight instrumentals tracks. The structure of the work is like a rock opera. The characters sing depending on their roles and the music accompanies without too much protagonism. And I'm surprised to see Gardner's great sense of the composition structuring different intensities depending on the moment. But mainly this album has lots of melody. Vocally, this is a stupendous project, and all the participants really shine in their solo spots. Sections that feature Labrie and Pincus together, and Walsh, Shryack, Baker and Douglas, are quite good. The Magellan stamp is always present, especially in the chorus sections, where the Gardner vocals are full force. The women of the group, Young and Bouchelle, also turn in fine performances as well. Musically, there are some neat keyboard passages, very orchestral sounding, and some heavy guitar riffs here and there, but this is mainly about the vocals and the story behind it. I'm sure it must have taken Trent Gardner a while to put this all together and find the right singers to fill each part, but the end result is quite polished and enjoyable.

Conclusion: First, a word about Magellan and Gardner's brothers. I'm a big fan of Magellan. Magellan represents the second wave of American progressive rock music. About Gardner's brothers I've always respected and admired them. Their great fascination for the great values of culture was once more proven with this work. They had already done it with the choice of the name Magellan. Ferdinand Magellan (Fernăo de Magalhăes in Portuguese), was the name of a Portuguese navigator. He was the first man to complete the first circumnavigation around the world. As unfortunately the brothers are no more within us, here is my homage and tribute to them. "Leonardo - The Absolute Man", is an ambitious project where the concept works very well. It has great music and lyrics and is a very well balanced and modern work. The choice of the singers was very good and they made a perfect rock opera. The complex compositions and arrangements may take some time to get into, but at least you won't get bored. This is an album not to be missed.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1713318)
Posted Sunday, April 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Leonardo - The Absolute Man" is a rock opera project which initially began as an idea of head of the Magna Carta label Pete Morticelli. Morticelli turned the project over to Trent Gardner (Magellan, Explorer's Club) who wrote, recorded, and produced the album with the aid of a cast of vocalists and musicians. The hope for the project was that it one day could work as an original cast recording for a stage performance. "Leonardo - The Absolute Man" is a concept piece telling the story of the life of famous renaissance painter/scientist Leonardo da Vinci. James Labrie (Dream Theater) sings/plays the part of Leonardo, while other roles are filled by artists such as Steve Walsh (Kansas), Michelle Young (Glass Hammer), and Lisa Bouchelle (Mastermind). It´s quite a massive project that took Trent Gardner several years to complete.

Stylistically the music is a combination of heavy/hard rock, classical, jazz, and progressive rock/metal with both male and female vocalists performing parts. The vocals arrangements (which include choirs) are quite exquisite, and the same can be said about the instrumental part of the music. The playing is also tight, and it´s just overall an incredibly professional sounding release.

The sound production is also professional, polished, and well sounding, suiting the music perfectly. So there´s almost only positive things to say about "Leonardo - The Absolute Man". A bit more gritt and a little less polish could probably have provided the album with some edge, which is the only thing I´m missing here. At times it all becomes slightly too polished and nice, but I´m sure that´s a matter of taste. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#2116384)
Posted Tuesday, January 8, 2019 | Review Permalink
2 stars Leonardo, The Absolute Man is an ambitious multi-singer prog rock opera orchestrated by Trent Gardner, the mastermind of Magellan, where he played keyboards, trombone and vocals. For this project, Gardner recruited his brother Wayne (Magellan's guitarist) and the rhythm section of US proggers Dali's Dilemma (Jeremy Colson on drums, Patrick Reyes on rhythm guitar, Steve Reyes on bass). The line-up is completed by a dozen singers, each interpreting a different character in the saga of Leonardo da Vinci, the famous Italian polymath who lived during the High Renaissance. The vocalists are drawn from the US prog rock/metal scene and feature some notable names, such as Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery), Robert Berry (3 with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer), Dream Theater's James LaBrie (in the role of Leonardo himself), Michelle Young (Glass Hammer), and Steve Walsh (Kansas).

As a huge fan of Ayreon, Avantasia, Kompendium, and Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus, I am a sucker for this type of multi-singer productions, so I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth in Gardner's magnum opus. Alas, although there were a couple of tasteful bites here and there throughout the 63+ minutes of the album, overall the experience left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

Given the quality of the line-up, there is obviously nothing wrong with the musicians' performances, which are all of high quality. The music itself is also generally pleasant. Unsurprisingly given that Gardner is the project's mastermind, the songs are very much keyboard-driven and filled with lush and spacious orchestral arrangements, but they do not lack bite and the music can rock too, when necessary. This gives the album an overall musical-like flavour, which I find suitable for this type of productions. However, differently from many Broadway musicals, the music here is much more complex, both in terms of songwriting and arrangements. Gardner often chooses the untrodden path when it comes to deciding how his compositions should progress, although at times he can also let the music open up into beautiful melodies, like on the chorus of "Reins of Tuscan", on the soulful ballad "Mona Lisa", on the grandiose "First Commission" and "This Time, This Way", and the initial part of the piano-driven ballad "Shaping the Invisible".

Sometimes, however, there is a sense of over-indulgence in the sheer amount of technical complexity and cleverly-constructed arrangements that permeate the 18 songs of the album. I have the impression that, by trying to showcase his progressive chops, Gardner at time completely lost sight of the song itself, leading to overly difficult episodes such as "Apprentice", "Inventions" or - perhaps the most notable example - the second-half of "Shaping the Invisible", a song that starts beautifully with a soulful performance by LaBrie accompanied by the piano, before progressing to a dreadful, messy crescendo that approaches cacophony, completely ruining the atmosphere of the song.

I was also mildly disappointed by the vocal parts. It is not about the singers' performances per se, which are all good (special praise goes to LaBrie, Walsh and the two female singers Michelle Young and Lisa Bouchelle). Rather, my issue is about the way the vocal parts integrate with the music. There are two problems, in my view. First, as with the musical background (and perhaps because of it), I sometimes felt that the vocal melodies were overly difficult, sacrificing immediacy and euphony in favour of technicality ("Heart of France", "Apprentice"). Second, many of the singers involved in the project have a rather similar timbre and it is really hard to tell them apart. This is a major shortcoming, in my opinion, as one of the things I appreciate the most in this type of multi-singer projects is the variety of the vocal performances. This is almost completely lost here, with only Steve Walsh possessing a distinctive timbre that sets him apart from the rest of the male vocalists. In truth, Leonardo feels a lot like a LaBrie-dominated project, with many other singers that sound a lot like LaBrie extras.

Overall, although there are a few moments of brilliance (above all, the two male-female duets "First Commission" and "This Time, This Way"), Leonardo was a mildly disappointing release for me, with too many dull moments and shortcomings. If you, like me, are a fan of multi-singer rock/metal operas, it may still be worth to give this album a try, as the objective quality of the musicians involved is high and there are a few standout episodes here and there throughout the 60+ minutes of the record. However, anyone else would do better by trying some of the other rock/metal operas that exist out there, like anything by Ayreon or, if you want something less metal, the awesome Nostradamus record by Nikolo Kotzev.

Report this review (#2582453)
Posted Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Review Permalink


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