Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

November 21, 2012

Steve Vai ~ Sound Theories Vol I & II

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Style: instrumental, avant-garde, classical, rock
Label: Vai.com
Year: 2007
Home: California

Members: Wim Grin, Annie Tangberg, Jos Teeken, Jascha Albracht ~ cello
Erica Korthals Altes, Doesjka DeLeu, Marianne van den Heuvel, Linda Dumessie, Elisabeth Liefkes-Cats, Dennis Koenders, Simone Vierstra, Wim Kok, Erik Kromhout, Herman van Haaren, Vera Laporeva, David Peijnenborgh, Marijn Rombout, Seija Teeuwen, Arlia de Ruiter ~ violin
Aimee Versloot, Mieke Honingh, Norman Jansen, Julia Jowett, Iris Shut ~ viola
Friederike Darius, Jeanine Abbas ~ clarinet/flute
Paul van der Feen, Leo Janssen, Marc Scholten, Juan Martinez Schrijver, Werner Janssen ~ clarinet/saxophone
Willem Luijt ~ clarinet/oboe
Jaap DeVries ~ bassoon
Joeri de Vente, Hans van der Zanden ~ French horn
Bert Pfeiffer, Jan Bastiani, Martin de Kam, Hansjoerg Fink ~ trombone
Ruud Breuls, Henk Heijink, Jan Hollander, Jan Oosthof ~ trumpet
Joost Smeets ~ tuba
Joke Schonewille ~ harp
Peter Tiehus ~ electric guitar
Hans Vroomans ~ acoustic piano
Chris Opperman ~ acoustic piano/moog
Carlo van der Put ~ keyboards
Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Tjerk de Vos ~ upright bass
Bryan Beller ~ electric bass
Martin Baai, Murk Jiskoot, Arno van Nieuwenhuize, Mike Schaperclaus ~ percussion

Many rock musicians have worked with orchestras & written orchestral scores. Personally, the few I've known have been odd albums I haven't returned to. My least favorites have been when musicians have attached orchestras to their well-known songs (i.e. Kiss, Metallica) where the orchestras have been greatly under-utilized, though I wasn't that enthused by Yngwie Malmsteen's Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar & Orchestra In E Flat Minor with the New Japan Philharmonic & Yes's Magnification with an orchestra was the first Yes album I didn't like by them, so all around the experiments haven't made me anything but a disappointed fan. Of course, by bands I like, I still listen in curiosity. Thus, I turn to SV's two CD set Sound Theories. The more I hear his guitar playing the more he has moved up in the guitar hierarchy for me. Yes, he's often awkward & over the top, but that comes with instrumental guitar players ... particularly those that have played with Frank Zappa, who I'm not a fan of. But, when I hear SV relax he can sing the blues like no other rocker. Though composing orchestral scores for most his life, so he says, SV was given an opportunity to let them live by the Co de Kloet of Dutch Public Radio & Television. SV was commissioned for an hour of music to be performed by the Metropole Orkest. The result ended up being two hours of music - didn't I say he was over the top - performed in a series of concerts over a year. Two years later he released the now heavily edited recordings to the public in a two part album - the first is Vai's guitar playing with the orchestra, while the second is only the orchestra doing some additional songs. When I write heavily edited that is no understatement - a variable that is often brought up when talking about this album, though nobody seems to have made a judgment call if its good or bad - as this is a perfectionist's albums where edits have not just been for sound quality or flow but replacing individual notes. My first response to this album is that he would have done Zappa proud as SV has never sounded more awkward & zany & swinging from mood to mood, almost to the detriment of the flow of the album, he's also not been so over-the-top. Further, I would have not made it a single set as the second volume is too much like a soundtrack to a Charlie Chaplin movie with lots of ethnic scenes as Charlie travels the world. I wish I had the visuals. It sounds like a crazy movie but not enough soft parts in the soundtrack. While its interesting it's lacking his guitar which makes it sound very different, if not empty, though still within the SV style ... SV trying to be John Williams that is. I would have released it on its own as "music by SV" ... but probably only hardcore fans would have bought it ... though Billy Joel did similiar with his final studio album & broke through into the classical charts. This might be too Zappa for the classical crowd, but I thought Billy Joel was too pop for them, so who knows. One of the best songs is the first one on the first CD, "Kill The Guy With The Ball", where audience sounds give way to SV's guitar literally sliding in with his trademarkable awkward short phrases that are immediately duplicated by a part of the orchestra. The orechestra repeats that phrase while his guitar gives out another phrase copied by another section. It's a layer of repeating phrases, much like what solo guitarists will do onstage with an effects box but here its an orchestra. The effect is quite engaging. While it may be a disjointed composition - in every way - of true Zappa proportions, its real time construction made of voice-like phrases is pretty cool before it jumps into a riff like bit at three minutes out of 4 & half. This moves seemlessly right into the softer guitar oriented "The God Eaters", with Steve Vai's clean lines, showing that this is not necessarily a collection of individual songs but one large piece. It should be listened to that way, though the mood swings are enough that one will miss stuff if you don't go back & catch the individual parts. The highs & lows are too much for the ear to catch a hold of. Riffs might make rock boring but they do allow the ear to focus & adjust. But, SV does do a good job on many songs letting the guitar stand as one of the instruments & not necessarily the spotlight instrument. "The Murder Prologue" & "The Murder" deserve mention for they do indeed sound like a mini-soundtrack ... but not this time Zappa or John Williams but uncannily Yanni. There's definetly an imitative quality to the arrangements. Perhaps this is due to the fact some of these pieces come from an earlier time in his career or maybe because SV just doesn't have his orchestral non-rock voice in the hole. I'd be interested in hearing what others say about this album. It's big, brassy, in your face, typical SV but maybe a bit too much to handle. It's an experiment & that's it.

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