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Gilmour, Jim: Great Escape

Scots born Canadian Jim Gilmour is best known as the keyboardist for Saga, but that's about to change as ProgRock records releases his second solo CD.

Formally trained, skilled in several instruments, experienced as a backup and some-times lead singer, and with the many years of creating successful albums with wide appeal, Jim Gilmour's depth is immediately apparent on this record. And as with so many solo albums by artists in established outfits, Great Escape doesn't bear many similarities to Jim's alma mater band. In fact, you might find Great Escape to be a CD with dual personalities. Half the songs are all-instrumental, and half have vocals. But the real difference between those two sets of songs isn't simply the addition of the human voice - the whole style changes. The instrumental tracks tend toward a high-energy syncopated jazzy form of progressive rock, while many of the vocal tracks have an approachable rock-ballad vibe to them, with simpler, more catchy melody lines - sort of Elton John meets '70s prog.

The instrumentals often build a nice groove. "Algonquin" and "Radiant Lake", for example, are somewhat similar and both boil along at a frenetic pace and before they end you'll catch yourself nodding agreeably to their lilting rhythm. The music is obviously keyboard biased, and Gilmour's most prominent instruments are synth and piano. Listen to the middle of opening track "No Sign", where there's an interesting very jazzy piano piece, followed immediately by a synth playing essentially the same lines, but imparting a very different feel.

The vocal tracks, for the most part, are rather different. As an operatically trained singer you'd expect a powerful delivery, but Gilmour's singing is soft, in the upper mid-ranges, sometimes a bit lost in the mix - as in "Wasteland". Corrina Tofani occasionally lends backing female vocals, and more liberal use of her rich voice would be welcome. Gilmour's intention with Great Escape is to relay his experiences in the Canadian outdoors. The lyrics, available on his web site, and are a bit esoteric, with the prose and the song titles just hinting their message and leaving you to decide what they really mean.

The standout track is probably the 2-section 13-minute "Last Portage" - which nicely blends Gilmour's two styles. The first part is a 1970s retrospective sounding piece - there's singing in an unobtrusive Alan Parsons style but it's mostly instrumental, a fluid composition with long synth solos and some strong moments on piano and Hammond, and some of those jazzy flourishes to add interest. The two parts are separated by a 90-second silence - a trick we've seen on numerous records, which only confuses listeners. The second half is a classically styled piano solo, a well performed showcase for Gilmour's composition and musicianship - although it may have limited appeal.

With the benefit of his successes in Saga and with his credentials firmly established, and with the variety of sounds on offer, Jim Gilmour will find a receptive audience for Great Escape both inside and outside the progressive music community.

Track Listing:
1. No Sign
2. Algonquin
3. Lost Along The Way
4. Killarney Sunrise
5. The Northwind
6. Radiant Lake
7. Carden Isle
8. Wasteland
9. Canoe Do It?
10. Last Portage

Added: February 22nd 2006
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: Jim Gilmour's Web Site
Hits: 3659
Language: english

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Gilmour, Jim: Great Escape
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-02-22 18:34:48
My Score:

Any fan of Canada's Saga over the last 25 years has probably wondered what keyboard player Jim Gilmour could do with a bona fide prog-rock solo album. Well, with his new association with ProgRock Records, Jim has unleased Great Escape upon the world, a fine mix of symphonic prog, jazz-fusion, hard rock, and catchy AOR/pop music.

Jim runs the gamut of keyboard textures and sounds on this one, like the majestic piano, raging Hammond, and breezy synths that permeate the driving rocker that opens the CD, "No Sign". What's striking though is how competent he is as a vocalist. Sure, he's sung plenty of back-up and ocassional lead in Saga over the years, but here he's all on his own behind the microphone, and there's plenty of vocal pieces for him to shine on. Tunes like the dreamy "Wasteland", or the melodic "Lost Along the Way", brings to mind Saga as well as the Alan Parson Project, and "The Northwind" sees Gilmour add in plenty of gorgeous piano and synth arrangements to go along with his smooth vocals.

As for the instrumentals, there's some real scorchers, like the wild, almost Japanese prog-fusion frenzy of "Algonquin" (I was thinking Kenso-meets-Gerard on this one!), the ELP influenced "Killarney Sunrise", complete with some jazzy piano and dramatic synths, and the symphonic fusion of "Radiant Lake". Without the presence of his Saga bandmate Ian Crichton on guitars to battle it out for the spotlight, Gilmour is all over the place here, laying down plenty of juicy solos and clever tapestries on a variety of different keyboards.

Guitarist John Bianchini adds in some crunchy riffs and drummer Roger Banks provides some wild stick work on "Canoe Do It", a real smoking instrumental that sees Gilmour attacking his keys like a wild banshee. Vintage Hammond, blazing Moog-like sounds, classical piano, it's all here on this one folks, perhaps the tour-de-force piece of the album. Of course, the closing number, "Last Portage", clocks in at over 13-minutes, and is the epic piece of the CD. This one is symphonic prog-rock all the way, reminding me of classic Yes, Glass Hammer, and Jim's main band Saga. It also features some nice female vocals from Corrina Tofani, and after some extended silence Gilmour treats the listener to some solo piano improvisations.

Keyboard fanatics, Saga fans, and lovers of solid prog rock are going to totally dig this CD.

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