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K2: Black Garden

K2 first came together when bassist Ken Jacques asked drummer Doug Sanborn to play on some of the progressive music he was writing. As the project grew, so did the contributors, with Allan Holdsworth, Shaun Guerin, Yvette Devereaux, John Miner and Spock's Beard keyboard player Ryo Okumoto all playing a part on what was to become the band's 2005 debut Book Of The Dead. The album received critical acclaim and to back this, K2 set about putting together a band to play some shows. Jacques, Sanborn and Okumoto remained, with Josh Gleason (vocals) and Karl Johnson (guitar) completing the line up. Now some five years later, that same quintet have finally released K2's second album Black Garden, which has a concept based around ancient Oceania and the journey the ancient Polynesians undertook sailing over a third of the world before they settled on the South Pacific islands (all this took place 2000 years before Christopher Columbus set sail).

What K2 have created with Black Garden is a marvellous collection of traditional prog songs, that retains the elements that made the genre the force it is, but still manages to sound fresh and relevant. Beautiful songs are packed with musicianship of the highest order and the two combine to make a spell binding collection of songs that are among the best prog rock that you will hear all year. Vocally Gleason is a dead ringer for latter day Gabriel, with his gravelly voice crammed full of warmth and character and his ability to drench his voice in emotion heightens both the songs and the story. Musically, imagine a mix of early Genesis, spots of Yes, flashes of Crimson and then add the slightly more modern approach of the likes of (not surprisingly) Spock's Beard or Transatlantic as well as some wonderful synth-string arrangements to the mix to have an idea of the scope and class of what is on offer here. Okumoto's keyboard work has a huge influence on the overall sound of this album, however he never dominates the disc, instead he creates huge swathes of atmosphere that uplift the songs. The guitar work of Johnson is also of the highest calibre and when he combines with the original duo of Sanborn and Jacques, the sounds created and signatures written are phenomenal.

Black Garden is one of those albums where choosing highlights becomes rather pointless, as the end result would be a list of the entire album. Each of the seven songs is a vital inclusion on this album and the quality never even comes to dropping off at any point. The more I hear songs like "Passage To The Deep", "Storm At Sunset" and "Path Of The Warrior", the more I want to just reach out and start the amazing journey all over again.

In a year that has seen some tremendous progressive releases, K2's Black Garden is the equal of any of them and for any prog head should be a mandatory purchase. Stunning!

Track Listing
1. Black Garden
2. Passages To The Deep
3. Widows Watch
4. Encounter Or Absence
5. Storm At Sunset
6. Summer's Fall
7. Path Of The Warrior

Added: November 12th 2010
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: K2 MySpace
Hits: 6586
Language: english

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K2: Black Garden
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-11-11 23:39:53
My Score:

K2 released their critically acclaimed debut album Book of the Dead in 2005 and have finally followed it up with their sophomore effort Black Garden. The band line-up this time around is Josh Gleason (vocals), Ken Jaquess (bass, keyboards), Karl Johnson (guitar), Ryo Okumoto (piano, Moog, Hammond, synths) and Doug Sanborn (drums, percussion). You may have noticed a couple of band members have changed as guitarist Alan Holdsworth is gone as is vocalist Shaun Guerin (he unfortunately passed away in 2003). Also missing is the violin work of Yvette Devereaux. Those are some big shoes to fill and the band has passed with flying colours. Black Garden is an excellent record of '70s inflected symphonic progressive rock that sounds every bit as good as the first release.

The title track begins the album on a powerful note. Middle Eastern motifs in the guitars and keys are as strong as ever and the vocals are very Gabrielesque, much like those of Guerin. Lots of great soloing from Johnson and the bass playing of Jaquess really stands out, which is often rare in progressive music as it is frequently buried in the mix. The keyboards of Okumoto are vital to the band's sound and he makes his presence felt throughout the disc as his playing is exemplary.

Next is "Passage to the Deep" and its lovely intro of passionate guitar and vocals. When the keyboards came in I was reminded of Gary Wright of Dream Weaver fame and when the steely bass groove, scrumptious electric guitar and tight drum fills join the fray, you just might be in prog rock heaven. This is an absolutely great track and should have fans of early Genesis and Fish-era Marillion frothing at the mouth. Throughout the CD the band does a fine job of changing tempos which gives this music great dynamic range. The musical themes drift from dreamy ambient soundscapes to heavier prog sections and everything in between.

"Widows watch" features haunting vocals and excellent piano and synths making this one of the album's prettiest songs. Dark symphonic touches make for a dramatic and ominous build up in the fantastic "Encounter or Absence" and the layered guitar work sounds great. The albums last two songs are "Summer's Fall" featuring a lush symphonic arrangement and the Genesis inspired "Path to the Warrior", a fine way to end what is an excellent album.

All of the musicians are given room to shine with no one stealing the show which makes Black Garden a real joy to listen to. If you enjoy classic sounding progressive rock you are going to love this. Sure they wear their influences on their sleeves but who cares when the songs are this good. Highly recommended!

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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