Well, it must be the arrival of spring! I must say I was beginning to become a little reticent about these reviews: it's been largely an uninspiring slog since Karcius's Episodes some two months ago. And so it was that The Music of Andrew Gorczyca was like the very welcome arrival of spring: warm, sunny, with the promise of longer days, sitting in the evening sunshine with a glass of wine, the sweet scent of flowers wafting into the house, like faith renewed. Ah, music!
Reflections - An Act of Glass is not your ordinary music CD so I want to get one thing straight right from the off - the music is excellent and really enjoyable and it's going to be getting quite a few spins from me this year and, life permitting, in future years too. It's important to get this across because the album's origin is such that you could be forgiven for being unduly lenient as a listener, given that it is a labour of love in honour of a sibling's too-short life. All compassion aside, Reflections - An Act of Glass is an excellent album.
Genre-wise, I'd put Reflections - An Act of Glass into "crossover prog" although there might be an argument for slipping it simply into "prog-related". The music is full of "pop" sensibilities but is then tweaked with a progressive wand. The tunes are catchy and short but suffused with clever arrangements and excellent musicianship; the tempo throughout is medium to fast, except for "How Can We Go On This Way". The result is gorgeous music that is easy to listen to but yet complex enough and well played (and sung) enough to keep you coming back again and again for more. Andrew Gorczyca's influences are listed on his MySpace page as Rush, Yes, King Crimson, Spock's Beard, Neal Morse, The Police and UK. I guess you'll hear those on Reflections - An Act of Glass, along with some others like Manfred Mann's Earth Band, but the music has its own identity; this is no one band's clone or tribute album.
It's worth delving a little into the album's story. Andrew Gorczyca passed away in 2004 at the tender age of 40, leaving behind a legacy of home-recorded songs that his younger brother Chris, having been the rhythm section's drummer-half to Andrew's bass during his life, saw merit in and strove to bring into the public arena. Reflections - An Act of Glass is the result of his worthy effort and has taken him four long years, during which he has galvanized input from no less than eighteen progressive rock players, recorded the music in twelve different studios located in six different American cities! You'd be forgiven for thinking that such an endeavor, worthy as it is, would result in music that was bound to sound disjointed, lacking in the cohesiveness that a purpose-formed steady band could achieve. Like me, you'd also be very wrong. You just cannot "see the join" - this music sounds fresh, as if created by a tight, inventive band, infused with the synergy of common shared ideas. There may be different vocalists and different players on the various tracks, but it doesn't cause a problem. This may be because the list of invited musicians is truly impressive, and they have stamped their quality on the project: Adrian Belew: guitars, vocals; Bryan Beller: bass; Nick D'Virgilio: vocals; Shawn Farley: bass, guitars; Randy George: bass, keyboards; Wil Henderson: vocals; Phil Keaggy: guitars; Mike Keneally: guitars; Ted Leonard: vocals; Dave Meros: bass; Rich Mouser: guitar; Rick Musallam: guitars; Ryo Okumoto: keyboards; Billy Oskay: violins; Greg Strickland: bass; Marc Ziegenhagen: keyboards. Andrews Gorczyca's brother Chris himself plays drums and percussion throughout (and excellently too, the drumming is very enjoyable, Chris has done his brother proud), as well as occasional keyboards. Andrew is listed as a vocalist on Chris's website (http://chris-g.com/) but I'm not sure which track he appears on as I don't have the full track-by-track artists' listing (the album's MySpace page has a blog entry listing the musicians playing only for each track uploaded to the page).
And what of the individual songs themselves, other than the generalities I've already mentioned? Well, there's not a weak song amongst this collection but I describe some of the highlights below:
"Tell Tale Heart" (Nick D'Virgilio on vocals) gets the album off to a fine start with the infectious lilt of its keyboards (Chris Gorczyca) and guitars (Rick Mouser, Rick Musallam). It develops into a second phase introduced by a "heartbeat" on bass (Dave Meros') and which boasts some fine guitar and keyboards solo work (Randy George). "How Can We Go On This Way" (Adrian Belew on vocals) has a slower tempo and a pretty melody that carries a big hook, which I can't dislodge from my mind at the moment. "Lost In It All", with Will Henderson on vocals, sports some impressive violin work from Bill Oskay. "Curiosity Song" (Adrian Belew - vocals), which is currently battling it out with "Lost In It All" for the accolade of my favorite track off the album, has a delicious little acoustic guitar break in the middle (Mike Keneally), just a few bars long but as sweet as icing on a cake, and a wistful and emotive piano outro (Ryo Okumoto). The final couple of tracks are probably the "rockiest" on the album, with "Peasant Under Class" (Ted Leonard - vocals) just getting the edge for me at the moment; it features a snazzy keyboard break (Ryo Okumoto) and some dandy guitar work (Shawn Farley).
So, lots of clever musicians, recordings organized by his brother, a recording process lasting four years: how much can be left of Andrew's songs? I would say that it's a fair bit. In organizing and directing the sessions, Chris's aim was to strive "for a balance of staying true to the songs as written, while letting the artists bring something of themselves to the music". Isn't this what happens in good progressive rock bands, albeit with the original composer present? In this instance Chris was effectively taking the role of composer, Andrew's home "demos" effectively becoming his, but the process must otherwise be very similar. Progressive rock musicians rarely get writing credits on songs to whose arrangements they make major contributions (of course, this is often the cause of some angst as litigations like the Fisher vs. Brooker case over "A Whiter Shade of Pale" shows, but that's a debate for another day!), so I think overall it's fair to credit this music to Andrew Gorczyca. His album then, Reflections - An Act of Glass, may well be a short album by today's standards (I actually prefer them of this duration, there's less chance of "fluff") but it's a legacy that has been well worth the effort preserving and it is going to give (hopefully many) people much enjoyment over the years.
Compassion and empathy would stretch this album to a full 5-star ranking, but as I'm sure you all know by now, I'm a hard-nosed bastard.
1) The Tell Tale Heart (8:08)
2) From This Day Forward (5:04)
3) Give It Time (3:53)
4) How Can We Go On This Way (3:32)
5) Lost In It All (5:46)
6) Curiosity Song (5:53)
7) Peasant Under Class (4:52)
8) All Fixed (4:47)