Sunday, February 3, 2013

Neal Morse - Live Momentum - "Tomorrow Soon Will Be Your Yesterday"

Release Date: Feb 13, 2013 -Radiant Records
Live Momentum is a stunning achievement by any measure - when looked at from any angle it more than excels, it exemplifies. Neal Morse, The Professor of Prog, has unleashed a superlative set (2 DVDs and 3 audio CDs) that captures not just a three hour tour de force performance from October 11, 2012 at the High Line Ballroom in New York City, but also includes an excellent handheld, homemade documentary from behind the scenes of the entire tour that provides over an hour more of quality entertainment. The level of performance throughout is astounding.

The Live Momentum Tour is somewhat unique, in that Morse hired half of his spectacular six piece band via YouTube auditions. Morse, longtime bassist Randy George, and super-drummer Mike Portnoy are joined by guitarist/vocalist Adson Sodre, Eric Gillette on guitars/keyboards/percussion and vocals, and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Bill Hubauer rounds out the troupe. Whatever Neal dreamt of when he envisioned this process surely must have been tremendously exceeded by these prodigious talents. This is an encyclopedia of progressive rock - equally melodic, virtuosic, and absurdly precise - when the band goes into an a cappella 5 part harmony on Author Of Confusion, all I could do was laugh outloud at the breathtaking beauty. And there's almost three hours of this beauty on tap.

Field Commander Morse is responsible for everything on display - we are the beneficiaries of his endless attention to detail, and his ability to make what he dreams real. If there is to be a lesson amongst this wonderful piece of entertainment, it may be found in a lyric in the set opener, Momentum - "Tomorrow soon will be your yesterday." It is obvious that Morse lives this concept to the hilt, and squeezes every bit of experience that can be fit into a moment. The maestro runs a show that is akin to the most elaborate circus imaginable - it's a thrilling, death defying display of the endless possibilities of rock music.

If Morse is the director, surely Mike Portnoy is the jester/sergeant-at-arms - this music is almost entirely rhythm dependent, in that the slightest collapse of time could derail the train at any time. Portnoy is amongst the very best drummers on the planet, and his musicality is as impressive as his timekeeping - his playing is steeped in melody, inspired phrasing, and wide dynamics. It's an added bonus that his animated antics make it as fun to watch as it is to listen. Bassist Randy George has the appearance of a wise and venerated buddha, and his playing is breathtaking in it's precision and creativity. His tones vary, always being just right for the song, and he jousts perfectly with Portnoy's different every night drumming. If the music weren't so beautiful, this could be a doctoral dissertation - it is satisfying on many levels, and will have you repeating many sections to be sure that what you're seeing is real.

Not lost in the virtuosity is Neal Morse's abilities to write memorable and hooky songs amongst the musical gymnastics - please note that when I say gymnastics, I never intend that there is a wasted note, or any playing that doesn't serve the composition. I hear echoes of The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, who knows, maybe even some moments of pure power pop in Morse's tool kit - never a cop, but certainly many digested parts of the wizard's early education.

The band isn't just beautiful, it also rocks - as evidenced on the metallic first chapter of the 25 minute epic The Conflict, which sees Adson Sodre playing dizzyingly fleet fingers arpeggios, and screaming leads, only to be joined by Morse's classic Strat tones, and when Eric Gillette joins them for a three part harmony solo, any guitar fan is going to go gaga. Sodre is a devoutly religious man, and his devotion to both God and the guitar show him to be an outstanding student - watching him play mind-blowingly difficult passages with a serene and sincere grin is a joy. I've not yet had the opportunity to check out his debut solo album, Assim Que Soou, but it is now on my radar - Sodre is a monster of a player, manifesting a prodigious technique, tasty note choices, and a strong sense of melody, all combined with a wicked sense of control combined with an animated stage presence. Where I say wicked, perhaps I should say blessed.

Bill Hubauer is another fortunate find for Morse, coming out of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and heralding from the self described, 'Christian parody band,' ApologetiX, who have managed to release almost an album a year for the last twenty seasons. He's a keyboardist extraordinaire whose strong point is his affinity for the sounds of the Hammond B-3 organ - his swells and stabs appear in the mix like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo. They arise on the horizon and fit like a glove - he also has the ability to play intricate unison and harmony patterns with Sodre, and Morse that boggle the mind. Again, could Morse have dreamt a better bandmate? Here's another guy who appears to be having the time of his life creating magic.

I'd be remorse (oops) if I failed to also mention utility guitarist/keyboardist Eric Gillette, who makes his mark supplying sky high angelic backing vocals and harmonies, various percussion additions, and seamless musical interludes with everyone on stage.

Morse's strong religiosity is as fervent as his writing, his singing, his playing, and his amazing abilities as a band leader. He walks the walk, talks the talk, and while it's never far away, it never comes across as anything else but another facet of the love with which he obviously embraces his world. I find his passion engaging, and I appreciate his willingness to put his heart first in all matters.

Visually, the DVDs have been expertly produced by Ron Cote at Pristine Productions and the company's name seems apt. There are many angles, many cool edits, and musos will appreciate the care taken to display the fireworks emanating from the stage.

Sonically, the production has been seen to by Morse himself, and every part is in its place, the mix is sumptuous and meaty, and even Portnoy's cymbals sound like finely tuned instruments - the sound is warm, and full - not much more could be asked for.

To get into individual tunes would be somewhat belaboring the point for me at this juncture - if you know Morse's catalog, you know what to expect, and if you do not, I don't wish to in any way impede the unbridled joy of discovery that awaits you. This is three hours of the best rock music to be found - yes, it is prog, but please - don't be discouraged if you happen to not be a huge fan of progressive rock. This music defies labeling and should be a most enjoyable trip for any music lover. Neal Morse has once again hit it out of the park, and delivered a tremendous package of music. Run, don't walk to get this fantastic package.

While we're talking packaging - this set is packaged as beautifully as the music is played. My thanks to Neal Morse, Chris Thompson, and Radiant Records.


EdTH said...
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Wayne Auman said...
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