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Arz: The Magi / Serai

Arz is the name chosen by Oregon's Steven Adams, not to be (but easily) confused with San Francisco's guitarist and former associate of Camel, whose solo albums have been reviewed here before. Arz was originally intended as a band effort but Steve gradually found he needed full control of the expression of his work and these albums comprise the sum of his recorded output to date.

The Magi contains the longer works with just five tracks. Multi-layered and mixing several different acoustic and electric guitars, both albums are very melodic in structure and shy away from the guitar-god licks presented by contemporaries in favour of composition and conceptual expression.

On The Magi, the opener "Futureman" is as upbeat as it gets with some gentle but fiery guitar solos streaming over the carefully phrased rhythmic layers and motifs. Understated percussion and occasional synth washes carry the structure easily enough. The following short track is more reflective. The two epics are "Ur" and "Magi" clocking in at 15 and 24 minutes respectively. These are both complex and well developed suites with mystic themes and many changes in tempo. Stylistically the music moves from chamber classical expositions through jazz-fusion and occasionally bordering on prog-metal clichés. Appealing harmonic progressions are neatly woven into the fabric of the pieces with jangly 12 string sounds frequently providing highlights and spot colour. The opening of "The Magi", with its Indonesian style metal percussion underpins airy guitar chord progressions reminiscent of Japanese or Chinese cinema.

In the album Serai, there is even more of an Eastern influence to the music with the opener "Jjinn" bringing out a heady Middle-Eastern flavour. Acoustic guitars predominate here with Steve's quick fingers setting up a whirling feel. "The Strange Experiment of Dr Trent", one of the longest numbers at 11 minutes, opens with an enigmatic synth ambience but soon develops into a heavier rhythmic pattern with what is now becoming a trademark mix of 12 string layers and soaring solo spots. The one criticism I might have is that this approach is over-worked on the two albums as a whole. Steve never lets a motif last too long however or gets carried away with producing a technical showcase but is always looking to meld a range of styles and shift the tempo throughout each song's progression. The title track itself carries an undertone of menace and mystery – a powerful, dynamic work which gets my vote for best track from either album. Other highlights are the dreamy "Trance", the trippy Giltrap-like "Dandelion Wine" and the bombastic "Fortress/Siege".

Serai is to my ears the more sophisticated of the two albums with better use of space and style variation. The simple, poignant acoustic guitar track "Spindleshank" as well as the lively "Stomp" remind me of Steve Howe's style of playing whilst overall, comparisons could be made to the more Southerly Steve Adams' three solo albums or Mike Oldfield's Guitars release.

Rating: The Magi – 3, Serai – 4

Track Listing – The Magi
1. Futureman
2. Amberio & Indigo
3. Ur
4. The Magi
5. Tea with me
Track Listing – Serai
1. Jjinn
2. The Strange Experiment of Dr Trent
3. Spindleshank
4. Serai
5. Trance
6. Crimson Passage
7. Dandelion Wine
8. Fortress/Siege
9. Hexen
10. Stomp
11. Clovus

Added: May 31st 2007
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: Arz Website
Hits: 1844
Language: english

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