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Ton Scherpenzeel - The Lion's Dream CD (album) cover


Ton Scherpenzeel


Crossover Prog

3.96 | 9 ratings

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4 stars To some, Ton Scherpenzeel needs no introduction as a stellar member of 2 bands that have shaped progressive music, Dutch masters Kayak as well as the legendary Camel. His style is absolutely less flamboyant than the usual keyboard virtuosos of the genre we all adore, being content as a master of orchestral coloration and discreet musical splendor. In fact, his reputation is cemented by the ability to compose, orchestrate, arrange and produce, a diverse talent that can be relied upon at all times to provide help to his good old friends (including the 2014 tour with Camel in relief of ill keyboardist Guy Leblanc). I have personally a long and storied love affair with baroque and renaissance music, ever since I first witnessed the sparkling notes emanating from a harpsichord, which explains going gaga over material such as Gryphon, Gian Castello, Bededeum, Motis, Patrick Broguiere, Faveravola, Shine Dion, Malicorne, Vital Duo and even Blackmore's Night. Then, seeing Gentle Giant live in 1974 was also quite a revelation, the boys in the band all dressed up like raconteurs and troubadours!

"The Lion's Dream" is therefore a new medieval prog chapter that desperately deserves recognition, the artwork induces images of knights in jousting form, damsels in pointed veiled hats and flickering torches illuminating dank stone walls. Ton handles all the instruments with the exception of strings and flute, as well as enlisting a tremulous female voice (Marjolein Teepen) as well as a lush male counterpart (Silhouette's Brian de Graeve). A suite of 15 short and brilliant snippets of a time long gone by, but still resonating as a charming reminder of a lifestyle fraught with both blood-drenched danger and courteous chivalry. From the very first notes, one is transported back in time to some musical version of a Breughel painting, a medieval feast of sounds and stories, woven with methodical genius and involving a slew of classical instruments, the pied-piper flute leading the procession. "The Cycle" shows off sterling character, both playful and layered, simple melodies yet also complex vocal harmonies. One definitely has a sense of castles and knights, ascot and gavotte, minstrels relating some Chretien de Troyes fantasy while the banquet table populates goblets of hydromel and suckling pig roasts. "From the Throne to the Scaffold" even dares to wink at such prog classics as the immortal "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" from Lord Wakeman, arguably progressive rock's first solo album masterpiece. Here the mood is gracefully elegant, serenity and worship battling perfidy and treason. The somber violins lead the way to the chopping block, where the hooded executioner awaits. Contrast that with the cheerful lilt of "Paying the Piper", a Robin Hood-ish romp through the forest that exudes a scintillating sense of adventure and heroic courage. "Woe and Alas" offers up a high-pitched choir of harmonic voices that wink strongly at the Gentlest of Giants, washed by clanging keyboard flutters and a spirited disposition. The title track evokes the classic court and country dances such as quadrilles, jigs, saltarellos, chain dances, pavanes and farandoles, a common social occurrence in all European kingdoms of the time and the music certainly defines this universality of dance, which was initially frowned upon by the pious church but a powerful tool in the expression of love (Chansons de geste) that could not be chained by the inquisitors. "Ayre" is as Great Britain as it gets, a romantic harpsichord and flute duet that evokes the most solemn expression of devotion and belonging. The air (pun) is light and eternally bright, surely a variation on a classic theme depicted parishes on the Isle of Man, at the confluence of Ireland, England and Scotland. This theme bleeds nicely into "Relics from a Distant Age" with its distinctive high-pitched vocal work that is immediately agreeable to the ear, followed by the orchestral powerhouse that is "Jest of Fools", a straightforward classical arrangement of medieval music led by a stringent violin. Both "Lost Horizons" and "Dead Bird Flies Forever" continue on the cinema- scope endeavor, providing depth and content, keeping the quest alive and pulsating. And so it goes on to the end, little nuggets of seamless talent, with various degrees of skill in broadening the sonic palette, hitting a high point with the sensational "Gryphons and Unicorns" that have a distinct Candice Night feel which really hits the spot, as well as the vocally hypnotic "Sanctuary", which delightfully revisits Octopus, Free Hand and In a Glass House.

A thoroughly enjoyable escapist adventure, certainly original and memorable. A soundtrack of the middle Ages, still a grand source of fascination and inspiration for musicians worldwide.

4 Feline reveries

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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