Thursday 11 May 2023

Compassionizer - As Smoke is Driven Away (2023)

Country: Russia
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Apr 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Prog Archives

I've reviewed a couple of Compassionizer albums now and the Russian chamber prog collective are usually pretty concise with their songwriting, even if they split a song up over multiple parts. Each of the albums I've reviewed has featured just one long piece of music, the thirteen minutes of Bear Ye One Another's Burdens on An Ambassador in Bonds and the fourteen of Kramatorsk on Narrow is the Road; nothing else on those albums came close. Well, here's what I guess we should call an EP, because "single" doesn't seem to cut it when the one track on offer is twenty minutes long. As you might imagine, there's a lot going on in this instrumental, which is easily the most expansive I've heard from Compassionizer.

The other surprising note is in which instruments are dominant. Ivan Rozmainsky has always been the driving force behind Compassionizer and he's primarily a keyboard player. Sure, he does add a kalimba and a vibraphone here too, but much of what he plays is on various different synthesisers. As such, he's all over this track but mostly in the background for a change. He seems to be content this time out with providing an atmosphere for the track against which the lead instruments can perform. Sometimes that's minimal and sometimes more expansive but he's rarely the lead. Even when he's dancing around that vibraphone late in the piece like he's the whole twinkling night sky, there's a clarinet or a guitar there to dance with him.

Mostly, the lead falls to the clarinets, which have never been a typical rock instrument the way the flute became because of Ian Anderson, but which felt right on the first Compassionizer album and ongoing. Clarinets are such inquisitive instruments, almost the raccoons of the musical world They are always seeking out new truths or new absurdities and that makes them a flexible way to help us visualise music. The bass clarinet here is played by Leonid Perevalov and the rest come courtesy of AndRey Stefinoff.

And there is a story here, or at least a theme, for us to visualise. The concept here is all about "the Mystery of the Victory of Good over Evil". Certainly there's a general sweep from dark to light and from jagged, avant-garde rhythms and phrases to more beautiful, traditional ones. I would expect that the bass clarinet is playing a dark role here, whether it's meant to be specific or general, and what I presume is a soprano clarinet represents its eternal counterpart. However, if the piece aims at deeper storytelling like we might expect in thematically ambitious pieces in classical music, I'm not hearing it. This feels more abstract, so that we can all conjure up our own interpretations but never be far wrong.

Talking of rhythms, the drums are a player in this game too. Not everything features percussion, a state of affairs that may be in part because Serghei Liubcenco, who plays traditional drums, doira and other forms percussion, is also the guitarist and bassist on this piece, so he's wearing a lot of hats this time out. When the bass clarinet is dominant, the drums often back it up like an army, a show of force to overwhelm delicacy. His guitar is even more fascinating, showing up not to play a rhythm or a riff but perhaps to depict the power of chaos.

I wasn't intending to assign characters to the different instruments, like Peter and the Wolf, but I guess I'm kind of doing that anyway. Unfortunately, I don't have a cast list and there may not be a cast list, so I'm stabbing rather blind. For a start, there's a firm transition halfway through that's done on viola and I have no idea what that represents. Of course, it may not represent anything at all and so I'm never going to find that answer. The piece also drifts away and it feels like there may be a reason for that which I'm blissfully unable to see.

Of course, there's never been a requirement to make sense out of any piece of music, even if it has a conceptual theme. You can just back and enjoy. This is certainly an engaging piece that ought to keep fans of Compassionizer happy until their next album, but the longer the pieces they play, the more I feel like there are meanings to be found. Maybe there are no answers and Rozmainsky just likes prompting us to ask questions. And should that ever be surprising in progressive rock?

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