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Cynic disappered into the studio after Hurricane Andrew and came out with something that was 2 or 3 leaps beyond what the 1991 Roadrunner demo hinted at. A major part of the new sound came from the dextrous fingers of Sean Malone, who replaced longtime bassist Tony Choy. After the splitup of Cynic (I dont even think he toured for Focus), he began work on a solo album. Cortlandt is a jazz album, very much in the Weather Report style, overwhelmingly due to Malone's Jaco Pastorius worship. The album also featured Sean Reinert who would go on to play on some killer albums with Malone on the self titled Anomaly album and the self titled Aghora. However, the 2 Gordian Knot albums belong in the realm of the classic, sucessors to Mahavishnu Orchestra's Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire.
Before you go tossing around "supergroup", this is Sean Malone's project. His guests on the first album include small appearences by prog/tech luminaries such as Dream Theater's John Myung, the angular Ron Jarzombek, King Crimsoner Trey Gunn but it's the indespensable Glenn Snelwar (later of At War With Self) who makes this first album stand out from it's follow up.
The album doesnt sound particularly heavy, in an understated Iron Maiden's the X-Factor kind of way. A lot of people may have been disappointed with only 4 "rocking" songs, given the names associated and the bands associated with them. To me, the weakest part of the album is the song Srika Tal, being a trace track after the amazing River's Dancing that closes out the album... except for Grace, which in its studio form is so tranquil and peaceful that is markedly different from the solo live performance on Emergent.
Redemptions Way is sex music, an easy rolling song juxtaposed by the dark Bach coverr after it. Rivers Dancing bears special mention as it contains my favorite bassline of all time. It's the one in the second verse that is Malone's homage to Jaco's fantastic bassline in Kuru/Speak Like A Child.
This album has a lot of crossover appeal for jazz-heads who are probably best left untold of all the "metal" players involved. Emergent makes an excellent companion and the 2 have been on my top shelf since their releases. Don't go to these looking for Cynic. Cynic only did the way they did Focus to close the book on their (death) metal years. Malone is the leader here, instead of being the hired gun he was.
Best songs: Reflections, the 1-2-3 punch of Redemption's Way, Kom Susser Tod (by JS Bach) and River's Dancing, Grace.
If members of a band that I’m into have solo albums, new bands, or some other side projects, I try to keep an open mind, mainly out of loyalty to the artist’s original music. Such is the case with Gordian Knot, the progressive rock band founded by former members of Cynic. Now I enjoy Cynic’s Focus album and I enjoy progressive rock, so I figured this was a no-brainer. Just in case anyone else out there deduced the same thing, you might want to listen to a few tracks before picking this one up, as it’s a bit more of a gamble than it first appears to be.
Gordian Knot’s self-titled debut is basically the members of Cynic deciding that Focus wasn’t experimental enough and diving into extended progressive rock odysseys. They really go all-out on this one: long free-form instrumentation abounds, with all the technical musicianship, atmospheric textures, and thematic arrangements one could expect from such talented individuals. The problem, however, is that it’s a little too out there, as far as the free-form jazzy stuff goes. The album opens with the mystical sounding introduction of “Galois” before flowing into two excellent progressive rock tracks (both “Code – Anticode” and “Reflections” are signature tracks of the genre), but afterwards devolves into the atmospheric stuff and never comes back. It’s not particularly good either: though the songs follow the generally accepted formula for this kind of music (start simple, expand on the main theme without straying too far, improvise/show-off a little, then wrap it up), they never climax. In short, they’re uneventful and loooong. “Gordian Knot” is almost exclusively background music with the exception of “Srikara Tal,” which while ironically the longest track on the album, is the only one of the improvisational songs that actually works, building tension and anticipation for its entire length before eventually dissipating.
Overall, it’s a pretty weak effort. Check out their subsequent album “Emergent” for a better idea of what these guys are capable of. Or better yet, just go get Focus.
With a band lineup consisting of Sean Malone (stick/bass/keyboards-ex Cynic), Ron Jarzombek (guitar-WatchTower, Spastic Ink), Sean Reinert (drums-ex Cynic), Trey Gunn (touch guitar-King Crimson), John Myung (stick-Dream Theater), and Glenn Snalwar (guitar), the first given is that progressive music enthusiasts will flock to this album, and metal purists will mostly flee. The second given is that the reviews will stumble back and forth from "best album ever", to "major disappointment!", as it is with any 'supergroup'. Business goes and will go as usual within the appropriate confines when it comes to this music. But truth be told, none of these factions are truly ready for the brilliance that is Gordian Knot. There are no groaning "prog" cliches to be found here, there are no predictable water-downs or letdowns betraying the (somewhat minimal) hype, and most importantly, there are really no boundaries in sight at all. What can be found on this album is a truly sparkling, soothing mixture of musical influences ranging from dark jazz to new age to metal, that helps make up one of the most colorful, in depth, and geniunely beautiful collections of music to come along in recent times.
Listening to Gordian Knot's self titled debut is like diving into the center of a dark horizon, where the ocean and the night sky meet and provide shelter from a generally sterilized, backwards world. The moods are stunning, the playing flawless, the compositions thoughtful, passion filled, and even touching. This album is not only a far cry from the bad name much newer progressive music gets, but is pretty much a far cry from most of music in general today. On all 9 normal tracks of the album, plus the bonus/secret track Grace, each of the 6 musicians rounding out the sound project a progressive, yet clearly defined individuality and a rare sense of direction that sends bandleader Sean Malone's already splendid instrumental pieces up into the stratosphere of true greatness that commands both respect and flowing emotion from the listener.
The album starts with Galois, one of 4 calmer/ambient songs on the album centered around Malone's keys and the strikingly fresh sounding element of the Chapman Stick instrument, which is employed mainly by Malone throughout each track and on a few songs by John Myung as well. Once the soft darkness of Galois fades Gordian Knot kicks into high gear with Code/Anticode, named after the odd symbols used to represent each musician in the liners. This is the first of many masterpieces on the album, with a jazzy, upbeat tidal wave of mood highlighted by the awesome guitar work of Ron Jarzombek, who proves on this track alone to be one of the music world's most underrated guitarists, as he manages to sound happy, aggressive, and progressive all while displaying his patented liquid-metal shredding. After this, the hits keep on coming as the pleasantries to the ears and spirit just keep getting sweeter. Reflections is a personal favorite of mine and contains some of the most haunting melodies on the album, along with more excellent guitarwork in a dark acoustic form by Glenn Snelwar, who also proves himself as a great composer, holding the main songwriting credit for the song. Singularity is one of the more heavy, groove oriented songs on the album, featuring an almost funk flavored mood in parts and showing off some incredible interaction between Trey Gunn's touch guitar parts and the ever impressive Stick work swirling through the back and foreground. Rivers Dancing is one of the longer songs on the album, at around 7 1/2 minutes, yet the music displayed will null you into another world and make it seem like a blissful infinity. Everything shines on this track, from the intense, almost rain dance-esque beat in the beginning, to Sean Malone's pulsing, exciting bass playing, right through a calmer middle atmosphere into Ron Jarzombek's heart stopping solo. Amazing.
Though these are the highlights of the album, there is really no weak song here. The more world music/new age influenced songs on the album, Redemption's Way and Srikara Tal, plod along in a trancelike, rich sense of exploration, despite the repetitive pitfalls they sometimes fall into, and the three other songs containing only Stick work, touch guitar and keyboards are also very solid. Megrez is a moody, ambient song, komm susser Tod, komm sel'ge is a short, dark tribute of an old J.S. Bach piece, and the secret/bonus track Grace closes the album with a positive, peaceful feeling that compliments the spiritual vibe of the rest of the songs perfectly.
Aside from some slight inconsistensies in a few songs, the only real complaint I have is with Sean Reinert once again bearing the brunt of a B or C grade drum production on a project, the result being his above-professional work is not as clear as it should be. Fortunately, it doesn't weaken the overall songs.
Gordian Knot is a spiral of dark, introspective, emotionally tolling instrumental music played with the highest caliber and care. Highly recommended.