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TRACK LIST: 1. Bonds of Life 4:48 2. The Tree 3:34 3. In Your Heart 4:09 4. Winter Solstice 2 8:15 5. Succubus 6:07 6. When You Went 3:28 7. Lost Love 7:47 8. Phoenix 9:57 LINEUP: Jacqueline Milena Thompson vocals Jonathan Jetter guitars Peter Fabrizio guitars Ray Cetta bass Mark Lopeman saxophone Cesare Papetti drums, marimba With: Ben Drazen saxophone Matthew Quayle piano Shawn Lovato bass
Prolusion. The US band FIREBIRD is the creative vehicle for the material composed by US composer Dana Dimitri Richardson. The band is a fairly recent creation, and released their debut album "Bonds of Life" in the late summer of 2014.
Analysis. While not unheard of, bands assembled to perform the material of a composer not a member of said band himself, or herself, aren't something you encounter all that often. That a composer of this kind with a background in classical music makes such a venture based on rock music is, at least to my knowledge, even less of a usual feature. As such, Firebird is something of a new experience for me, given that specific background. While the description given on the band homepage is an interesting one, of the band being a combination of avant-garde metal and classical voice, this isn't a notion that I'd subscribe to personally. At least not given what is generally regarded as metal these days. Replace the metal in the self-description with rock however, and I'll agree with the general description, to a point or two. The lead vocals are dominant and rather unusual details here. Present on five of the compositions, Thompson's vocals are of the soprano variety. Not dramatically operatic, as has been a staple in certain varieties of rock and metal for the past decade or two, but a classically trained soprano singer. This does give the material something of a unique flavor. With what one might describe as fairly typical avant-garde rock in support, with odd tone levels, dissonant instrument motifs and unusual harmonies and themes with a certain disharmonic intent present in liberal amounts, movements that have at least half a foot inside a jazz-oriented approach alternating with ones that appear to have a stronger intent towards classical music, performed by typical rock instruments, those fond of musical fare of a more challenging nature will be treated to just that. One of the most typical aspects of avant-garde rock is that it is atypical of course, and as such one might say that this production fits right in. There are also three instrumental compositions at hand, all three of them rather different in scope. The first of these, Winter Solstice 2, is more of a jazz-oriented affair, with extended sequences featuring the saxophone and marimba given the dominating positions in the arrangements, alternating with and supplemented by the quirky, challenging avant-garde rock features so prominent elsewhere. The second instrumental, Lost Love, hones in closer to the avant-garde rock foundation of the band, but concludes on a gentler and more jazz-oriented note. The final of this trio, concluding piece Phoenix, is more of a purebred piano and saxophone driven jazz composition, with a number of elegant transitions between the two instruments when trading the dominant spots, as well as when they are equally balanced or going off on different tangents. While I do find this project to be an intriguing one, and featuring rather well made material at that, for me at least the instrumentals come across as the highlights here. Mainly because I don't have that big a fascination for soprano vocals, at least not when used in this particular context. As with so many other aspects of music, this is a case about personal taste. Nonetheless, otherwise I'd have rated the album as an absolute masterpiece.
Conclusion. Quirky, challenging music with a solid intent on the avant-garde aspects of progressive rock is the chosen hunting grounds for Firebird, and with a soprano lead vocalist they won't have a massive amount of competition to think about, presumably. Those fond of challenging escapades, the use of dissonant subtle as well as dramatic effects, unusual tones and timbres and odd harmonies can take note of this band straight away, especially if a band of this kind features stylistic details harvested from both jazz and classical music. In addition a certain affection for soprano lead vocals will be needed, obviously.
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