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Just because ideas are different and have the best of intentions does not always mean they will work. In music, true progressive performers try to find a musical space that has not yet been occupied so as to become innovators and carve a niche out for them or their band. Unfortunately, prog rock aficionado Ed Macan and his band Hermetic Science decided on their self-titled debut CD to carve out the bass/drums/marimba progressive trio niche – a musical space that hasn’t yet been occupied most likely due to the fact that it’s not a very good musical idea.
Ed Macan is a musical educator, and the author of one of the most respected books on progressive music, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. This is a man that truly knows what he speaks of when it comes to things progressive. In the liner notes it mentions that Macan’s goal is to create truly progressive music, rather than simply try and copy the more popular progressive bands of the 1970’s. For this, I applaud him. Also, in the liner notes it mentions that the music on the CD contains elements of “jazz, minimalism, Arabic and North Indian music, and Renaissance church music.” Well, try as I did to find these elements, all I found is an album full of bass and drum grooves with marimba and vibe solos on top. And that just ain’t that interesting to listen to for 53 minutes – all the songs begin to sound the same.
Most of the music on the CD is Macan’s own compositions, but the band does include a couple of cover tunes. The first song to get the “marimba treatment” is “Infinite Space” from ELP’s Tarkus CD. I was interested to hear what this would sound like, but after about 30 seconds the song began to sound just like all the other songs on the CD. The last track, and the most shocking in my opinion, is Macan’s cover of Gustav Holst’s powerful “Mars: the Bringer of War”. Performing this piece with vibes and a marimba is akin to performing “Bolero” with a comb and tissue paper – vibes and marimbas just don’t have the sonic fortitude to convey the sense of impending doom that makes “Mars” the brilliant piece of music it is. After Hermetic Science is finished with it, the title might as well have been called “Mars, the Bringer of Pastries.”
I have much respect for Mr. Macan as an author and a scholar, and I think it’s fantastic that he’s making an attempt to do something truly different and “progressive.” But no matter now bizarre and innovative Macan attempts to be, the bottom line is that the music isn’t entertaining to listen to. It doesn’t matter if the tracks are over 6 minutes long, have time signature changes, or contain other prog rock trappings if they’re bad SONGS. Therefore, while I can commend Macan and Co. for their attempts, I cannot recommend this release to the listening community. My suggestion for Macan would be to pick up a guitarist or other lead instrumentalist to accompany his mallet percussion to make the separate tracks sound a little more different from one another.
Another suggestion would be to stop performing Holst on a marimba.
Track Listing: 1. Esau
Personnel: Ed Macan: Vibes, Marimba, Piano, assorted tuned percussion; Andy Durham: Bass Guitar (Tracks 1,6); Donald Sweeney: Bass Guitar (Tracks 2,3,4,5,7,8); Michael Morris: Drums and Percussion (Tracks 2,3,4,5,7,8); Joe Nagy: Drums and Percussion (Tracks 1,6)
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.