|Minasian, David: Random Acts of Beauty
Posted by Alex Torres, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-12-16 11:24:09
David Minasian's debut album will be a delight for fans of classic English bands Camel and Barclay James Harvest, with particular emphasis on their pre-1978ish periods. There are other influences in there, of course, most significantly "classic 7" Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, but rarely has an album been such a homage to one's favourite heroes: it sounds as though Andy Latimer (Camel) had teamed up with John Lees and Woolly Wolstenholme (Barclay James Harvest). [Incidentally, sad news, Woolly died on 13th December – RIP Woolly.]
Minasian is a well known composer and director who has penned hits for films and directed over 60 films, including Camel's Coming of Age concert DVD. This is his first album of progressive rock.
The album includes a rare modern appearance by Andy Latimer, who has been recovering from a serious illness, on vocals and guitars on "Masquerade". Having Latimer work on the album, at such a time, is not only an honour but a compliment to the quality of Minasian's music Although Minasian considered asking Wolstenholme to produce the album, he eventually produced it himself. There are other musicians joining him on the album; most notably his son Justin, who plays electric lead and rhythm guitars, as well as acoustic and classical guitars. The line-up is completed by Guy Pettet and Don Ray Reyes Jr., who share the drumming duties, and Nick Soto, who guests on rhythm guitar on "Chambermaid".
The lushness of this soundscape is indicated by the range of instruments that Minasian himself tackles. Through keyboards alone we get grand piano, mellotron, harpsichord, moog, pipe organ, organ, cello, violin, oboe, flute, recorder, clarinet, French horn, cornet, dulcimer, sitar and voices! He also weighs in with guitars, bass, drums, percussion, as well as doing the lead and harmony vocals!
Those fans familiar with Camel and Harvest-era Barclay James Harvest (BJH) will find this music easy to understand. For those others, my attempt at describing it is in the next few paragraphs, before returning to some points about the Camel/BJH influences.
There are three key elements, which are inextricably linked: slowness of tempo, melody and lushness of orchestration. The majority of the music is instrumental: there are sung verses in four compositions but, even in these, long instrumental passages. Genre-wise, I'd put it into symphonic progressive rock.
The tempo, for me, is vital to this sort of music. I do not know of any other canon of work in the rock sphere, other than BJH's, which has such a slow tempo. Like in BJH's music, the slowness may be off-putting for some fans, as the "rock" rhythmic element is restrained by it. Its advantages, however, are that it gives the music huge breathing space to allow the beauty of the melodies and of the arrangements to shine. And, as both the melodies and the arrangements are divine, the tempo is spot on! The complexity is such that one needs more than a couple of listens to fully appreciate its beauty but allowing oneself that luxury means that successive listens bring intense satisfaction. Despite the complexity of the music, at any one time the density of the instrumentation is sparse and thinly layered, but constantly evolving: the emphasis is on the attractiveness of the sonic textures and timbres, on the attractiveness of the melody; very much so over the rhythm because at such a slow tempo the rhythm does become like the human breath – it's in this sense that it actually allows the music space to breathe; it allows the listener to bask in its beauty.
The use of the harpsichord has been stated elsewhere as bringing a mediaeval feel to some of the music, and this is partly true, although it's not a major effect; not compared with bands like, say, Blackmore's Night that specifically go for a mediaeval feel. A more significant feature is the fact that the compositions all feature extended lead guitar melodies (solos).
Finally, a couple more notes on the Camel/BJH influences. Compositionally, the primary influence is from Camel, as BJH's music does not feature any complete instrumentals and it was only in their Harvest era (pre-1973) that it featured long instrumental sections within compositions. However, Wolstenholme's 21st century music with his band Maestoso comes closer: for instance, listening to the run of three songs "Abendrot"/"Overture Marsch Burlesque"/"Pas de Deux" (two instrumentals and a gorgeous, sung melodic number) from Grim, one can imagine them fitting easily onto Random Acts of Beauty. The long guitar solos are in a style very similar to BJH's John Lees's live style - yes, even Latimer's solo ends up sounding like Lees, perhaps it's the slowness of the tempo, although there might be an argument for saying that it's similar to his own solo on "Ice" from I Can See Your House From Here - although Justin adds a couple of fast flourishes the like of which do not appear in Lees's playing, either because he can't or doesn't want to.
Like all of the best albums, Random Acts of Beauty overall has a very cohesive feel; the compositions fit well together and Minasian has hit upon and maintained a "key" soundscape that pervades the music. In this sense it's very much like, say, Camel's Moonmadness. That's a hell of a compliment, by the way, and Random Acts of Beauty well deserves it!