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Griot - Elisabeth CD (album) cover

ELISABETH

Griot

Eclectic Prog


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4 stars An Epic Spiritual Journey

'Elisabeth' Beats on the Oaken Doors of Greatness

Everything about this album- sumptuous instrumentation, mastery of the musicians with their instruments, breadth of vision and depth of scope, interweaving of tonalities, textures, the painstaking, time-consuming, patient sculpting hour after hour of precision and power and passion, obsessive attention to every minute detail, every massive and grandiose swell, every sweep of the melotron, the thoughtful use of acoustic guitars, the punchy and hard-driving bass, those crisp, tasteful, powerful drums...

Everything in these sixty-two minutes and fifty-four seconds reveals the blinding, blazing talent of two key musicians, around whom they have gathered a host of supporting players and singers.

Beats HARD on the Oaken Doors

João Pascoal and Sérgio Ferreira have put body, soul, mind, and spirit, hours, days, weeks, and months- in fact, YEARS to bring this to life. They have spared nothing, left no stone unturned, swept the path clean again and again, started afresh, pursued with relentless zeal the impossible quest for perfection- and they come awfully damn close.

It's about as Perfect as it gets.

'Elizabeth' follows the concept, then completes it, begun with the Griot debut, 'Gerald'. Lyrics speak of pathos, loss, betrayal, unquenchable love, willingness to sacrifice life itself, longing for wholeness.

Where 'Gerald' told of a simple man on a quest, 'Elisabeth' picks up the pieces, faces soul-shattering challenges, and refuses, REFUSES to stop, to hold back, to surrender- unless it is full-throated love.

That's Why I Say 'Spiritual'

Not in the sense of some kind of cult or organized human religion. Rather, of the soul- the quest of the indomitable spirit.

Music

It is, after all, music we progressive rock lovers seek, yearn for, travel many miles in search of, spend many dollars to obtain and then nearly memorize.

Music- and here João and Sérgio deliver, in spades, and rushing streams, and raging rapids.

Let's see...in one track we might have a simple acoustic guitar set the stage, only to have jazz-tinged melancholic sax wailing, then to the grandiose melotron sighing with the sort of throbbing bass, driving drums, and heavy guitars that would make progressive metal guys swoon, only to subside into gentle piano or organ, and soon a soaring synthesizer going wild...

A music lover could get lost in the garden of earthly delights. One could revisit, repeatedly, and find more within. The listener can only shake her or his head in bemused wonder.

So, What is the Caveat?

For me, what keeps this album beating at the oaken doors, yet not quite forcing them open- yet (I am convinced these two creative souls will find a way), has to do with the vocals.

Most of the vocals are handled by one singer, and sooner or later I became distracted because although the vocals were on pitch, the melodies were numerous, timing impeccable, I longed for some variety, some drive, some passion.

Most of these vocals had a breathy, wistful quality- and there were simply times I wanted edge, the singer and the listener pushed to the brink that the music led us to. And then over- as the two ill-fated lovers chose to do.

My rating

It should be obvious I am more than impressed- I am elated, astounded, delighted. We are in the presence of greatness. The masterpiece is still to come...and this one comes pretty darned close. 4.25 blazing beacons.

Report this review (#2410824)
Posted Saturday, June 6, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first minute and a half of this record constitutes a bold statement of intent: this record is going draw from all 4 corners of the prog world and serve up a genuinely diverse listening experience. Robert Fripp's mellotron, Keith Emerson's organ and piano, and even Misha Mansoor's extended range guitar riffing all manage to find their place somewhere in this record. I am sure there are influences that I can't even begin to recognize and appreciate. And yet all of it is pulled together into a tasteful tapestry that is still, somehow, thoroughly modern sounding.

Although formally the brain child of Portuguese musicians João Pascoal and Sérgio Ferreira, Elisabeth relies heavily on contributions from musicians from all over the world. A global project in scope, the album continues to push its ambition by incorporating a mini-novel to accompany and further flesh out the story told by the music. I am a poor evaluator of literature and so will refrain from passing any judgement. But I certainly respect the attempt at cross pollinating different art forms.

For all the record's strengths, I do have one gripe. Vocalist Maria Branco who performs the lead vocals on all the tracks but the last is clearly a talented and competent singer. But her versatility is limited which is a problem for a record as diverse as this one. For the softer and jazzier passages, Maria's voice shines. But as the music progresses to heavier passages, her delivery stagnates. There were several points on this record where I found this jarring.

In sum, this is definitely one of my favorite records of the year thus far and is essential for prog fans of any stripe looking for good new music to in which to sink their teeth.

Report this review (#2411448)
Posted Monday, June 8, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars Elisabeth, the second album by the portuguese Griot, is a very interesting conceptual work, an impeccable production, where progressive and jazz styles are merged, but which give them their own space to make them recognizable. There is no musical instrument that is in excess, each one has a reason to be and add value to the compositions.

The best of the work: the intense and painful A Weak Foundation and Retrospection, where the terrible losses of mother and father generate a devastating effect on the central character, the thoughtful Unearthing the Past, and the powerful and hopeless Making Amends. But undoubtedly the tension remains present throughout the development of the entire album.

On the other hand, in my opinion Elisabeth has a debt on the vocal part. Although Maria Branco's voice is consistent and of good tone, doesn´t leave the mold. It may work at times, but it's probably not what many of the great sound constructions require, taking away from drama rather than enhancing it.

All in all, Elisabeth is a very good album and highly recommended for those who like the genre.

Report this review (#2417682)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2020 | Review Permalink

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