Album Review: Transatlantic - 'KaLIVEoscope'.
Transatlantic are the prog band’s prog band. A supergroup with a line-up featuring a veritable who’s who of the genre’s most recognisable and respected names, the band count among their number Marillion’s Pete Trewavas, Spock’s Beard’s Neal Morse, Ronie Stolt of The Flower Kings, and ex-Dream Theatre sticksman Mike Portnoy. As a group with a rich and wide collective history and experience, there is much for the progressive music fan to get excited about. Celebrating fifteen years in existence, this release was recorded on their most recent tour in support of their ‘Kaleidoscope’ album. A bumper package, featuring three CDs and two DVDs, this live collection is taken from shows in both Tilburg – the CDs – and Cologne – the DVDs.
While there’s a wealth of material on offer, for a novice, like this reviewer, the DVDs perhaps work best, as the visual accompaniment provides an added focus to the initially challenging and sometimes laborious material. It’s not that the songs are boring - far from it - it’s just that at times it does appear that the average length of a Transatlantic song is six days. You could put a track on, go to sleep and find that it hadn’t finished by the time you had awoken eight hours later. This may be an exaggeration, admittedly, however with the first two CDs featuring a total of only six tracks, with three of these clocking in around the half an hour mark, it’s not far off the mark.
It’s true that the majority of the material is lengthy, however in the truest of prog rock traditions, each of these tracks consists of a series of time and mood changes, instrumental and vocal passages and extended workouts that turn them into sprawling epics that are the sum of their myriad sections. There’s drama and emotion in the band’s work, such as on the labyrinthine opener ‘Into The Blue’, a multi-faceted epic that melds Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’-style keyboards to Yes soundscapes. Disc two’s ‘The Whirlwind Medley’ also shows off their protractive tendencies. With countless twists and turns, implausibly tight rhythmic blasts and haunting evocative guitar soloing, there’s nary a dull moment. In one section, the baritone multi-vocal harmonies of all five protagonists – the live line-up being completed by Morse’s Spock’s Beard bandmate Ted Leonard on guitars - recalls Pink Floyd’s ‘Is There Anybody Out There’, which will surly please fans of a certain vintage.
Playing at this level, the musicianship throughout cannot be faulted, and although the players take what they do seriously, it’s never po-faced, and there’s a warmth evident between them. This also translates between band and audience, as demonstrated by the informal and, at times goofy chatter of both Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse between songs. “Can you handle a long night of prog epics?” semi-jokes Portnoy, as the band begin the jaunty piano-heavy ‘My New World’. As a showcase of Neal Morse’s not inconsiderable talents, the song morphs from Hammond heavy jazz to dream state nirvana to eastern keys over funk beats. The word ‘grandiose’ was invented for tracks like this.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 19 November 2014.