CD Review: No Trespassing - Andrew Roussak
About the artist:
Andrew Roussak (website) is a 38 year old composer, keyboard and piano player, born in Russia and working in Germany. He has won several prestigious awards recently, as listed on his site. No Trespassing is his first album, which he describes himself as "very melodic art- or progressive rock with the elements of classical music".
About the songs:
Track 1: No trespassing
Nice introduction with some simulated flute play, very much in the classical prog vein. A bit sooner than I expected, the singer (Hendrik Plachtzik) jumps in, and I must say that his voice initially requires some getting used to. I would have preferred a stronger preference, and maybe even to have lyrics in German. That said, the voice is certainly adequate, and by the time I gave the CD a third or fourth spin, I had overcome my initial reservations. Some nice guitar works in addition to the great keyboards. It is a good melodic work, which would have deserved a longer more elaborated version than the 4:31 it actually lasts. A track that grows on you with repeated hearing.
Track 2: Prelude
Having read the information on this track in advance, I did not have high hopes. "This is the Prelude No.2 in C Minor from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier by J.S. Bach". It is all a matter of taste, but I don't like modern reworks of classical music, and that includes the famous efforts of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Ekseption, and Renaissance to name a few. Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The rework is very tastefully done, with sufficient original contributions and variations in mood to keep me interested the whole track. Without doubt the best rework of a classical theme I have ever heard, by a quite large margin.
Track 3: Lost in the woods
Back to an original Roussak track, based on a Stephen King story. This one is to my taste very much in the neo-prog style. Plachtzik sounds much better here than in the opener, and makes the most of this melodic and dramatic (but not melodramatic) song, with a memorable refrain. Again, the guitar play stands out, and the ending works well.
Track 4: Wartime chronicles
The first original instrumental, and the only track that lasts over 7 minutes. Roussak obviously dominates this track with his keyboards and piano play, and does so with great panache. About halfway the track, simulated tubular bells like sounds get added to the instrumentation for a short period which is hauntingly effective, and they return near the end. One of the best instrumentals I have heard in quite some time, and for me the best track of the album. It can be sampled on his website and I encourage everyone to do so.
Track 5: Jesu, Joy of man's desiring
Another Bach rendition. After an interesting intro, Roussak interprets one of the most beautiful of all Bach melodies, but unlike the second track, this one does not particularly work for me. To my taste, there is insufficient variation, but I realize that others will love this track. He dedicates it to the memory of his dad, which I found striking, as it was one of the themes we selected for my mother's funeral.
Track 6: Rhythm of the Universe
After a very original and intriguing intro, we find ourselves in another melodic song with a good drive, but I find Plachtzik struggling at some points with the delivery, and I would have preferred more variation in the instrumentation that for a long time relies too much on guitars and drums, until the keyboards get more chance to shine later on. Not a bad track (certainly not filler), but it could have been better executed in my opinion. The end, echoing the beginning, is great.
Track 7: All good things
Church bells sounds open and close a great instrumental where the piano dominates the proceedings, a bit like a romantic classical concerto at places. As good as this track is - and I certainly would not want to do without it - the shifts in moods and style from song to song start to become a bit bewildering by now.
Track 8: Do without me
Continuing the theme of rapidly chaging moods, track 8 evokes the mood of a jazz singer giving a concert in a lounge or bar. Plachtzik sounds more at home in this repertoire which suits his voice perfectly. Roussak shows that he is as much at home in this jazzy idiom with his keyboard play as in the more progressive tracks. The song is strong and would not look out of place on any contemporary jazz album. After Wartime chronicles, my favourite track on the album. I would be highy interested in a complete album in this style by Roussak and his colleagues.
Track 9: Vivace furioso
Back to prog. In spite of the title, this instrumental is not a re-work of a classical tune, but Roussak's own composition dedicated to Keith Emerson. It is a fitting tribute to one of the great prog keyboards legends, full of fireworks, and with a very fine melody line.
Track 10: Maybe
My first reaction: What the heck? This sounds like a musical song. So I looked at the artist's notes and read: "Maybe is actually a song for a still unwritten musical." It definitely shows that he would have the talent to pull off a complete musical. Plachtzik sings his lines adequately, the instrumentation is suitably restrained and gives the great melody the chance to shine. A good closer, and consistent in the selection of somewhat inconsistent styles within one CD.
About the styling:
The album front cover is OK, but lacks some impact and imagination to my taste; the back cover is better, and gives the relevant information including run times. The CD itself comes with a far more interesting design. The little booklet gives some background for the tracks and good information on the musicians, including pictures of them, but no lyrics. The text is sometimes difficult to read due to the styling chosen.
Great musicianship from Andrew Roussak himself on keyboards and piano, with adequate to good contribution from the supporting musicians. The album grows on you with repeated listening, like most good albums. The sound (as far as I could judge by playing on my PC) is good. The highly melodic songs are good, sometimes even great, but I personally find that there is a bit too much variation in style and mood. I would have preferred a complete prog album, or a musical, or a complete jazz album. Nevertheless, an excellent debut with great promise for things to come. Points for improvement: a bit more consistency in the choice of the tracks, and the styling of the cover. On a scale from 1 to 6 stars, a solid 4 star album.