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Echolyn (USA) - 2004 - "Stars and Gardens"
(185 min: 2 DVD, 'MM3')

Prolusion. The long-awaited DVD by ECHOLYN is finally released, marking the band's 15th anniversary. My sincere congratulations on the event come to the band and its fans from all over the world simultaneously. Additional good news is that the original bass player Tom Hyatt is back, so Echolyn appears in its classic lineup again. Wind instrumentalists Sarah Green and Jian Shen participated on >"Mei" too.

DVD 1 - "Sellersville Theatre Set"


1.  Texas Dust 
2.  Swinging the Axe
3.  The Cheese Stands Alone
4.  A Little Nonsense
5.  1729 Broadway
6.  My Dear Wormwood
7.  As the World
8.  Never the Same 
9.  Brittany
10. Mei
11. Shades 


Brett Kull - guitars; lead & backing vocals
Ray Weston - bass; lead & backing vocals
Christopher Buzby - keyboards; backing vocals
Paul Ramsey - drums & percussion
Tom Hyatt - bass, guitar; congas


Sarah Green - flute
Jian Shen - clarinet
Gloria Justin - viola
Elizabeth Kaderabek - violin
James Cooper - violoncello
Jamie Dietz - mallets, orchestral cymbals

Synopsis. The first disc is more than two hours in duration and features Echolyn's live performance at Sellersville Theatre (Sellersville, Pennsylvania) on May 25th of 2003. Shot by a five-camera crew, the show includes 15 numbers, touching all five of the most significant stages of the band's studio activity and, thus, spanning nearly all their 15-year history. Four songs are from "As the World", four from "Cowboy Poems Free", and the other three albums: "Echolyn", "Suffocating the Bloom" and "Mei" are represented by one song each. From the opening whirlwind of Texas Dust, the band shines with mastery and is probably at their creative peak. The classic Echolyn style, which, in a general sense, is Symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Jazz-Fusion, is presented here with a fresh live urgency and energy. What is more, some of the songs, such as Never the Same, with Tom Hyatt playing solos on congas at the beginning, and A Little Nonsense, featuring two prolonged instrumental interludes with piano and bass at the helm respectively, are noticeably different from their original versions and are richer in improvisational harmonies. The 20-minute Shade, concluding the show, is nearly twice longer than its CD counterpart and also varies from it. With some mysteriously atmospheric Space Rock-like arrangements, this is in some ways the most atypical song in the set. From time to time, the live performance alternates with black-and-white moving pictures, which reminds me of the documentary film of everyday life with some additional views of nature. The only ballad in the set, Brittany, where there are only two vocalists, acoustic guitar and piano, and also 1729 Broadway, which is also rather quiet (at least, it is less intensive than the other compositions performed by the entire band), are combined with concept videos depicting some creative personality working by the candlelight. Chris Buzby plays mainly vintage keyboards: Hammond, Mini-Moog, Wurlitzer, etc, whose sound is as good as the taste of a vintage vine. Ray Weston does a bit more of the lead vocal parts than >Brett Kull, often appearing as a free singer, with only a microphone in his hands. At such situations Tom catches up bass, which is certainly the profile instrument of him, otherwise playing either big African congas or acoustic guitar. Brett uses electric and acoustic guitar and something more unexpected. On Swinging the Axe Brett doesn't swing the Axe, however:-), as it's impossible to play this unusual guitar any other way but in sitting posture, having placed it on the lap. Paul Ramsey mostly remains in the 'shadow' of his drum kit, but he does his job as masterly as all of his band mates do theirs. The general sound is excellent, as well as the picture, and even the high-frequency tones of light cymbals are clearly audible. As I had expected, the chamber orchestra joined the band on Mei. Performed in its entirety, this monstrous epic runs about 50 minutes, i.e. just like its original CD version. By dynamics and delivery, it reminds me of Thick As a Brick performed by Jethro Tull during their Bursting Out tour, which has been shot and was later released on video. Generally, I find "Mei" the best mono-track / monolithic album since "A Passion Play".

DVD 2 - "Interviews & Extras"


1.  Beginning
2.  Debut
3.  Shades
4.  Suff
5.  Sentimental Chain
6.  Nonsense
7.  Memoirs
8.  Cannon
9.  Blossom
10. Seny
11. Making "As The World"
12. Break-up 
13. CPF
14. 1729
15. Mei

Synopsis. Disc II is nearly one hour in duration. Featuring interviews, commentaries of making the DVD and the other topical themes, many documentary shootings and excerpts from various songs, it essentially complements the first disc, which, in total, gives the observer quite a thorough picture of Echolyn's creation. The overview of the band touches probably all the most significant events in its entire history, including those attended with their dramatic relations with Sony Music, and includes the statements of each of the band members and Brett's elder brother Greg Kull, who is the manager of the band and their own label Multimedia Three Records. The archival footage is for the most part dedicated to studio sessions, with a special emphasis laid on the process of recording the famous "As the World" album, which was rather minutely shot at the studio during the spring of 1994. The working scenes are often combined with musical sketches presenting the same lineup, but how young they look there! All this inevitably arouses nostalgic feelings linked with the years of Progressive's revival and one of the bands standing at the cradle of it.

Conclusion. Fans who, like me, have never had the opportunity to witness Echolyn on the action can see it after all. "Stars and Gardens" is a very enthralling sight combined with progressive music of a highest quality, but this is not all. This double DVD set is excellently designed and is packed in the original book-stylized slipcase. The quality of the sound and screen image is very good, but what's central, the material provides a rather fitting closure to the creation of one of America's finest progressive units of all time. Don't miss it.

VM: October 2, 2004

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