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John Holden - Kintsugi CD (album) cover


John Holden



4.09 | 28 ratings

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5 stars John Holden is a British composer, arranger, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has an uncanny relationship with the progressive rock community, in that he can clearly enlist some top shelf fellow artists of the highest calibre to collaborate with him on his musical quests. His three previous albums, Circles in Time, Rise and Fall and the debut Capture Light, have made quite the impact as they have been universally acclaimed for consistently raising the bar with superlative efforts, undoubtedly crowned by this 4th album Kintsugi. Some of my favourite players are here, from the incredible Dave Bainbridge and Michel St-Pere on guitars, the illustrious Frank van Essen on viola and violin, my current drummer of choice Henry Rogers, talented keyboardist Vikram Shankar as well as a slew of first-rate vocalists, such as Sally Minnear, Iain Hornal, Joe Payne, Peter Jones, and Jean Pageau. There are a few key storylines that seem almost directed at me, namely history, culture, and fate.

So, the stage is set for another exhilarating progressive musical adventure that seeks only to inspire one to overt escapism, and "to fire the imagination". No prisoners are taken on the tragic and exceptionally epic "Achilles" as the first notes instill all the bombast and pageantry associated since time immemorial with Homer's Illiad, the most famous of all Greek mythology warriors, whose heel was the only vulnerable part of his body. Within mere seconds, the listener is transported to some fabled space, where acoustic guitar, rippling piano, vocals chants combine to set up the sorrowful vocals from Joe Payne as the glorious hero's story unfolds. Rogers enters the fray, elevating the symphonics with delicacy and subtlety. Holden rips off a few blistering thunderbolts as if Zeus himself was behind him, the second volley heavier, grittier as it dances along with the slippery synths. Just like his storied life, all tragic ebb and conquering flow, the victorious mood wanders from mountain to valley, towards a destiny with the Gods.

In contrast, the soothing pastoral ballad, "Ringing the Changes", has piano and Sally Minnear's lovely vocals to admire, a very typical English folk song that is both endearing and effortless. The bells ring indeed. A perfect intermezzo before the title track kicks in, Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with fillings highlighted instead of being "camouflaged", respectfully restoring what was once broken, a clear metaphor for spiritual healing or renewal. One of the busiest musicians in prog handles the vocals with his usual impressive timbre, Peter Jones certainly understands emotion and his voice conveys it to perfection. Majestic, soaring effortlessly and ultimately a classic, the terrific electric guitar solo is sheer mastery, as Van Essen adds his orchestral ornamentation to the arrangement.

The chugging "Flying Train" refers to the landmark elevated suspension railway with hanging cars built in 1901 in the German town of Wuppertal, considered even today as a technological marvel. This is an instrumental affair that unites a variety of moody textures, dense orchestral atmospherics, train effects (bass and drums) as well as soft flute and ornate piano. A soundtrack for a monorail! Truly wunderbar stuff!

Culture : "Xenos" has to do with xenophobia (and not another chapter of Greek Mythology !), as our global world struggles to come to terms with identity, acceptance and societal needs to adapt in a more binary sense. This is a subject matter that hits home with me as I went to an international school in Switzerland whose motto was "Be proud of your heritage but respect those of others. Iain Hornal (ELO, 10cc) handles the microphone here, in a breezy, spacious musical context, perhaps aiming to a more conciliatory tone. Peter Jones' lustrous voice reappears for one more suave performance on "Against the Tide", a more conventional prog-pop song that is accessible, laden with solid playing , a rolling bass line in particular and a fiery sax solo courtesy of the lead vocalist. The mood is reminiscent of Ace's smoky hit single "How Long" (Paul Carrack was the singer), snapping fingers not withstanding

Fate: "Peggy's Cove" has a profound meaning for me, as I missed Swissair flight 111 that crashed off this Unesco Heritage sight on September 2, 1998. I had cancelled my seat the day before? Suddenly, my life was in overtime mode (or bonus tracks if you want) and altered everything?. It is a beautiful, windswept, picture postcard type of place, with a memorial to those who perished there, did not see my name there when I visited years later but one of a schoolmate of 30 years previous. There is no such thing as random or coincidence. The track here is a fitting personal remembrance, a Celtic-tinged ditty sung by Minnear with the necessary grace and serenity. Gulp!

History again: The longest track, "Building Heaven" is the grand finale and a most appropriate one indeed. Acoustic guitar, piano and strings prepare the banquet table for the feast to begin. The construction of this piece defines why prog can have such a foundational effect on the listener, it is clever, crafty, intricate, persuasive, and more often than not, drop dead beautiful. The city of Coventry was razed by a Luftwaffe bombing raid that even gave birth to a verb in the French language (Coventriser), a tragedy made worse only because it came out much later that the British government knew of the impending raid of 300 hundred bombers via its decoding of Ultra, the Nazi Enigma cypher but did not know the exact target for that night. The track is a solemn rendition of faith and fate, as both male and female vocalists espouse the virtues of defiant courage, resolute determination, and the will to rebuilding lives from the ashes. The mournful tone is pungent and obstinate , just like the resistance to the arial enemy. The sizzling guitar work from master musician Dave Bainbridge is simply outstanding, as I have been a huge fan of his since the Iona days, all the way up to his stunning solo work as well as with Lifesigns.

Sandwiched by two epic historical pieces, this work really consecrates John Holden as a force to be reckoned with, a passionate and consummate artist whose vision should continue to shine with more works of this stature. With a little help from (my) friends.

5 golden repair kits

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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