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Norlander, Erik: Hommage Symphonique

If you were expecting a follow-up to Erik Norlander's excellent Music Machine, go to the latest release by his band, The Rocket Scientists. Their newest CD is in very much in the vein of Music Machine, while this one is nothing like it. See, this one is all cover songs. Covers, y'know? Playing music originally written and recorded by someone else. And there are schools of thought on covers:

  • Some people consider them to be a cop-out, believing the artists were too lazy - or simply unable - to go through the creative process and develop their own music.
  • Others might be more accommodating, citing the fact that some of the most genuinely creative artists - including those in the progressive genre - have done covers many times, to great effect, and showcasing their own skills in the process. Heck, it's been done by acts like Rush, and by Dream Theater, and ... by Lana Lane.

So what's your take?

There are songs here by Rick Wakeman, Procol Harum, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, Chuck Mangione and King Crimson - so Hommage Symphonique is an hommage to symphonic music originally recorded by some of the world's best - and whether you love covers or hate them, you have to consider this: You already know the music - so when you hear it covered by Erik Norlander - one of the world's more capable keyboard wizards - it's far easier to pick up his flair, his creative embellishments, and his interesting interpretations. And that in turn may give you a better handle on the man's musicianship. These songs are mostly keyboard-rich pieces to start with - and Norlander's use of classic instruments brings a credibility and sincerity to his arrangements.

Erik Norlander, Lana Lane and The Rocket Scientists are at the hub of a group of talented artists, who collaborate in varying degrees in the various projects - ensuring a continuity of strong musicianship, yet allowing each project to maintain its own identity. With each song on Hommage Symphonique the vocals interpret (but don't immitate) those of the original singers, and Kelly Keeling does a remarkably credible job on the Jon Anderson and Greg Lake originals.

The selection of music is certainly complex enough to present a huge challenge - yet Norlander and his guest artists have met that challenge admirably. They don't stray too far from the originals, yet there's plenty of creativity here - and despite the differences between the original songs and the artists who recorded them, Erik manages to maintain a certain cohesion through the whole piece - it's neither 'all over the place', as you might expect, nor does it have a 'samey' quality - in fact it's a surprisingly fine listen.

5 stars for the musicianship, 2 stars for creativity, but in fairness, another half star for the creativity and flair that was applied to each arrangement.

Track Listing:
  • Conquistador (Procol Harum)
  • Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight (Rick Wakeman)
  • Turn Of The Century (Yes)
  • Pirates (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
  • Clasp (Jethro Tull)
  • King Of The Universe (Electric Light Orchestra)
  • Children Of Sanchez Overture (Chuck Mangione)
  • Starless (King Crimson)

Added: February 13th 2008
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Score:
Related Link: The Artist's Website
Hits: 9312
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Norlander, Erik: Hommage Symphonique
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-02-13 06:34:43
My Score:

It was during the course of 2007 that we found a number of popular artists releasing cover albums or as some fans would refer - "re-interpretations of previously established themes". Erik Norlander, a noted Progressive Rock keyboard virtuoso, would toss his own hat into the mix before many of the year's offerings would be released so the idea was still rather fresh when it came down to it. Fortunately for those who had followed his level of Prog-Rock genius this project would be a decidedly different undertaking and present people with a unique look at the motivations that led to it. For "Hommage Symphonique" he would present music that was already on a grand scale and up the ante just a little bit more by blending in more of the symphonic elements that he is an apparent master of. The musician is well-qualified to do this as one can hear with the work done on his wife Lana Lane's albums along with that of the Rocket Scientists. Norlander seems to be able to approach the tasks with ease based on his not only being a musician/composer, but also based on his talents at recording engineering and production. The song selections stand at eight and if you think you are being cheated or that this is a short album you are quite wrong since featured is music by bands like King Crimson, Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer to name a few. Progressive fans know very well just how long some of these groups' compositions can be so it was clear that Norlander had his work cut out for him. The journey begins with Procol Harum's "Conquistador" and I liked it, but admit to never really following the band outside of the hit songs that I grew up knowing. Next up is a Rick Wakeman classic entitled "Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight" and he really knocks you out with his rendition in a fashion that I feel would even impress Wakeman. The battle that is portrayed on the keyboards and synthesizers is quite dramatic and makes this one of the better songs on the album. Joining Erik for the recording is singer Kelly Keeling, drummer Greg Bissonette and Don Schiff who plays NS/Stick, bowed guitar and contrabass. It should also be noted that a number of wind, horn and string instruments are present on the album and additional guitar comes at the hands of Rocket Scientist's Mark McCrite.

After listening to this album I am pretty convinced about the talents of Kelly Keeling who transforms himself into both Jon Anderson and Greg Lake for the sake of the recording. It's true he is so dead on during the vocal parts that you would think the original singers stopped by the studio to contribute to the recording. Norlander does keep the original themes of the tunes intact however and doesn't seem to deviate from how they sounded in the first place outside of adding in that symphonic vibe. Fans will be pleasantly surprised to hear an early song from ELO but perhaps the most raised eyebrows will come from the inclusion of jazz great Chuck Mangione. His "Children Of The Sanchez Overture" is surely not what anyone was expecting on such a release. The song was a refreshing addition even though I wondered how he would have done on the widely popular "Feels So Good". I think it would have been cool to hear all the horns as done with keyboards and synthesizers. Perhaps for volume two should that ever be on the planning table. The release comes with booklet that offers up a couple of photos and some personal comments from Erik himself. I think that this one should appease the fans of the bands that are featured in the compositions. It's also good because it is loaded with songs that are not the run of the mill expectations that can often be associated with such a release. Make sure to follow Erik's work on his other projects as well since he has some great stuff.


Norlander, Erik: Hommage Symphonique
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-01-05 10:06:58
My Score:

Hommage Symphonique by Erik Norlander is sort of a companion piece to his wife Lana Lane's Gemini, both being covers albums of prog, classic, and hard rock songs that are near and dear to both musicians. Erik's choices here are mainly in the progressive rock realm of the glorious 1970's, and he and vocalist Kelly Keeling, drummer Gregg Bissonette, and Stick maestro Don Schiff work wonders on these prog classics. Along with some help from guitarist Mark McCrite and a few horn, woodwind, and cello players, the group joyfully gives new life to songs such as Procol Harum's "Conquistador", the ominous "Starless" by King Crimson (featuring wonderful Mellotron from Norlander), and the upbeat & symphonic "Pirates" from ELP. Norlander's flashy synth work perfectly recreates Rick Wakeman's staple "Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight", and the guys turn in great performances on such lesser known fare as ELO's "Ocean Breakup/King of the Universe" (personal favorites of mine from the early ELO catalog) and Jethro Tull's "Clasp". However, it's singer Keeling who pulls out the most emotional and heart wrenching performance of all here on the Yes classic "Turn of the Century", showing what wonderful range he has. In fact, as good as the instrumentalists here are, it's Keeling who comes closest to being the MVP of this album, as he captures the spirit of each of the original singers from these pieces but injects his own personality over it. Who knew he had this kind of variety in his repertoire? Kelly's always been known as a very good hard rock/metal singer, but here he shows a wealth of talent.

Oh yeah, and the guys turn in a stunning and surprising take on the Chuck Mangione jazz/pop hit "Children of Sanchez Overture", which is worth the price of admission alone. If you listen to only one covers album for the next year, this should be the one. Well, make that two and check out Lana Lane's Gemini as also, as they make a fantastic 1-2 punch.

Norlander, Erik: Hommage Symphonique
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-01-04 09:25:50
My Score:

Give Erik Norlander credit for not recording a typical tribute album. For one thing, the virtuoso keyboardist doesn't rely on the same tired material as other artists when they cover, say, Yes or Jethro Tull. And who else would dare try a Chuck Mangione song? Only the most faithful fans of the artists to which Norlander pays homage on Hommage Symphonique will likely be familiar with all of the material he's chosen here. Secondly, he pays his respects to each song while remaining true to his own symphonic-rock tendencies. Norlander's stamp is all over this record, even though he penned none of the songs. From the packaging to the execution, Hommage Symphonique lives up the standards Norlander has set for his own releases and those by his wife, symphonic siren Lana Lane, and his band, Rocket Scientists. In fact, Rocket Scientists Don Schiff and Gregg Bissonette back Norlander on these tracks, with Kelly Keeling sounding like at least five different vocalists and a quartet providing such acoustic instrumentation as woodwinds, cello and brass to add depth and texture. All involved seem to be enjoying themselves, taking their time by covering just eight tracks spread across more than 66 minutes.

Hommage Symphonique is worth repeat spins even if only to hear Keeling's phenomenal chameleon-like performances which is more than I can say for most tribute albums




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