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TRACK LIST: 1. Tomorrow's Child 6:14 2. Lonely Proton 4:30 3. Ghoist Story 4:46 4. Operation SSES 6:25 5. Birthday Illusions 4:56 6. Summer Samba 5:19 7. Orbital Man 4:43 8. Aattack of the Killer Honey Bees 3:35 9. Gravity of Eiffel Tower 7:05 10. Flower Power 5:31 11. Butterfly Effect 7:10 LINEUP: Toomas Vanem guitars; keyboards; zither; percussion Andrus Lillepea drums Henno Kelp bass With: Stuart Hamm bass Sergey Pedersen el. piano Brenda Vannem voice Bryan vannem voice Jury Gagarin voice
Prolusion. Estonian composer and guitarist Toomas VANEM is a veteran in the Estonian music scene, with a decades long history as an active musician that involves a couple of dozen bands, projects or thereabouts. "I" Is his first ever solo album, self-released in 2014 with support from Eesti Kultuurkapital.
Analysis. Guitarists who release solo albums tend to follow some fixed patterns. Their albums tend to be instrumental, the compositions tend to showcase the technical and stylistic repertoire of the main musician first and foremost, and the compositions as such tend to revolve around the main instrument of the main musician. Which makes for productions that often may have a somewhat limited scope and general reach. Toomas Vanem's debut album is firmly placed within most of these parameters, but at least as I experience this production, it is one with a somewhat wider reach than other specimens of this kind I have encountered over the years. One aspect of this album that does stand out is versatility. Vanem knows his way around both rock and metal and is equally adapt at pursuing a more progressive metal-oriented affair with multiple themes and sections, alterations in pace, intensity and arrangements as he is in crafting more straightforward material, where energetic instrumental details, pace and overall intensity combines into vibrant, vital excursions of a more metal-oriented kind, as well as of a more hard rock oriented one. There's always room for well developed riff cascades to support the soloing, and as far as the latter goes, we're treated to an all-sorts variety on this occasion, with elegant, flowing guitar soloing alternating with almost atmospheric ones, as well as the expected shredding going on here and there, as well as a case of a neo-classical tinged affair that, as I experienced it, was a clear and direct nod towards good, old Yngwie Malmsteen. There's a bit more going on than a mere rock and metal-oriented instrumental affair, however. On compositions such as Lonely Proton, the delightfully laid back but vibrant Summer Samba and Gravity of the Eiffel Tower, Vanem gets to showcase his interest in material of an altogether different nature, with jazz and jazz rock as the key words for these less dramatic, light-toned pieces, with a few Latin touches thrown in for good measure in one of them. No awards to those who'll guess which one of them, as that should be evident by song title alone. Most intriguing of all, though, at least as seen from the perspective of progressive rock fans, is the longer concluding composition Butterfly Effect. To quote Wikipedia: "In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state". Using that as the inspiration for an instrumental song can lead to some interesting results, and in this case it does so, indeed. I also note that Vanem takes care to let his fellow musicians shine throughout the album, and not merely the arguably more prominent guest musicians. While the guitar is obviously the dominant instrument throughout, both bass and drums are given more central roles and more dominant spots here and there, and the compositions in general appear to have been developed as complete songs rather than as mere foundations for the guitar to play upon. Which in sum makes this a generally enjoyable affair, and to a greater extent than a few other guitarist solo albums I've encountered.
Conclusion. While a lot can be said about the versatility of Vanem as an instrumentalist, about how his material appears to be well developed and often with an approach and style that should suit fans of progressive rock and metal fairly well, at the end of the day this is still the solo album of a guitarist. A well made one at that, accomplished and fairly sophisticated, but it remains an instrumental album dominated by the skills of a guitar player. Those who treasure such productions will obviously be the main audience for it as well. In addition, I'd say that this is a nice album to give a spin if you're curious about such ventures, or if you want to sample such an album made by one who has assembled it in a manner that may and probably will appeal a bit beyond the defined key audience.
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