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(54:31, Tributary Music)
TRACK LIST: 1. Rite of Spring Suite (Stravinsky) 6:47 2. Introduction; Variations on a 12-Tone Row by Schoenberg 4:47 3. The Unanswered Question (Ives) 5:52 4. Bolero (Ravel) 14:54 5. Diversions for Four (Other Than Sex) (Erb/Stolz) 8:49 6. Symphony No. 3, I, exposition (Scriabin) 5:09 7. Symphony No. 6, I, exposition (Mahler) 4:06 8. The Erlking (Schubert) 4:07 LINEUP: Dr. Nolan Stolz - keyboards, guitars, bass, drums with: Dr. Jon Lee Keenan - vocals Richard Forrester - guitars John Miner - guitars Kelton Manning - bass Dr. Daniel Cathey - flute, clarinet Gale Winds - flutes Robby Wingfield - saxophone Steve Laity - trumpet Larry Ransom III - trumpet Milena Albrecht - cello
Prolusion. Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra (N.S.R.O) is the solo project of Nolan Stolz, an American composer, scholar and drummer. As a composer he works in styles such as jazz and progressive rock. As a drummer the artist has taken part in rock bands such as Art Rock Circus, Halloween Town and Swinging Popsicle. Nolan Stolz is also the author of a number of publications on music theory and other subjects. The N.S.R.O album, whose production was begun in 1999 and finished in 2017, presents excerpts, variations and interpretations of various classical works, popular and not very popular.
Analysis. The production of the album, between the launch of the project and its release, took long 18 years and involved a great number of musicians. During this period the project’s mastermind, Nolan Stolz, completed a graduate school, became a doctor and changed several places of residence. As each composition on the album is a prog version of an individual and finished classical work, and most of them were recorded in different years in different studios across the US, I thought it reasonable to estimate and score each of them separately and then derive an average for the album. 1. Rite of Spring Suite (Stravinsky) (5 stars). Here excerpts from Stravinsky’s ballet Rite of Spring are turned into a short three-part (at least, I perceive it as divided into three distinct parts) six-plus-minute dynamic suite, where the range of classical instruments, as in most of the other tracks here, is largely substituted by electric guitars, keyboards, synthesisers and the rest of the classical rock set. One of the interesting features is the original string and wind parts played recognisably on the drums. Although the suite is much shorter than the ballet, it is in no way a simplified version and represents, in my opinion, the brightest moments from Stravinsky’s work. 2. Introduction; Variations on a 12-Tone Row by Schoenberg (5.5 stars). This is my favourite track on the album. It begins with the main theme from Schoenberg’s Opus 19, which is then followed by a jazzy variation presenting in the end a row from the composer’s string quartet 4, all played on the piano. After that enters the entire rock ensemble to develop the theme in a jazz-like manner with relatively heavy guitar and drum parts interspersed with beautiful piano sections supported by light drumming. An excellent song, a harmonious combination of jazz, rock and classical music, where all parts smoothly flow into one another, creating an integral and original piece of music. 3. The Unanswered Question (Ives) (3 stars). My least favourite song. While the string parts here, though played on a synthesiser in a sharper, more rockish manner, sound largely the same as in the original, the flutes are substituted by the electric organ and the trumpet by electric guitar, which produces an overall different effect. The drums absent in Ives’ song seem outsiders here, and their function, other than to accentuate the beat and to remind the listener the author of this project is a drummer, remains unclear to me. The guitars evolving from the trumpet theme into a distorted, viscous improvisation sound quite pleasing, though. In comparison with the original, where the trumpet seems to make tireless and repeated efforts to ‘question’ the steady and perfectly harmonious flow of the strings, while the chaotic and uneasy flutes do their best to suppress it, Stolz’s version sounds far less integral and consistent. 4. Bolero (Ravel) (5 stars). Nolan Stolz’s version of the famous bolero is characterised by the use of conventional and unconventional (synthesisers and keyboards) instruments, switching between each other, in playing the two main tunes. Unlike the original, the rock variant does not go in a continuous crescendo from beginning to end, but has an undulating pattern. There are also numerous deviations from the main theme, sometimes slight and barely noticeable, and in other cases forming moderately long improvisations. Somewhere in the second half the ‘classical’ steady snare beat begins to interchange with rock drums, until closer to the end it finally bursts out into a full-set drumming. All this makes the work more contrasting, diverse and dynamic. 5. Diversions for Four (Other Than Sex) (Erb/Stolz) is a piece of improvised avant-garde arrhythmic and atonal (as it seems) music recorded live. The leading instrument is trumpet, the main feature is the irregularity of pattern, with pauses and sudden outbursts. Unfortunately, I had no chance to listen to Erb’s original (Diversion for Two), so it was hard to mark it. 6. Symphony No. 3, I, exposition (Scriabin) (5 stars). With some omissions, the track represents the first cycle of Part I of Scriabin’s Divine Poem. It begins with a heavy intro reminiscent of the openings of King Crimson’s early albums and very soon drops into an astral, atmospheric section. This is interrupted by an enthusiastic playing of all instruments, where guitars and keyboards carry on a polyphonic conversation. The theme continues to develop almost until the finale, and the track ends in a reprise of the introductory part and gradual fading of the instruments. The rich drumming pattern adds to the dynamics of the song. 7. Symphony No. 6, I, exposition (Mahler) (4.5 stars). The work is an excerpt from Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, from the beginning to the first recurrence of the opening theme, recorded on a 4-track recorder and having some hard-rockish taste to it. 8. The Erlking (Schubert, German text by Goethe) (4.0 stars). The galloping tempo of the Austrian’s song supported by the roll of repeated piano chords seems to be inviting to transform it into something heavy-metalesque, what the Americans actually did, using double bass drum together with the rest of the standard rock equipment. The reason to sing different parts in different languages (German and English) remains unknown.
Conclusion. All in all, the album demonstrates an interesting approach to classical music. A must-have for all seeking for rocky interpretations of classical works. It may also serve well as a transitional stage for beginning prog rock listeners whose ear is not accustomed to modern classical music but who wish to make deep research into it. And, most importantly, Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra is a good progressive rock project in itself. So try it!
Shamil “Proguessor” Gareev: August 31th, 2018
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