Leonardo-The Absolute Man
Image © 2001 Magna Carta Records
Featured Artist: Michelle Young
Image © 2001 M Young
Featured Artist: Lisa Bouchelle
Image © 1999 Linda Shulman
(29 July 2001) An "original cast recording," perhaps due to the plan
to stage it sometime in the future, the latest project from Trent Gardner
is an account of the life of Leonardo DaVinci entitled Leonardo-The
Absolute Man (Magna Carta (USA) MA-9029-2). Leonardo sounds
like no other progressive rock construct you have ever heard. An 18-track
recording with a running length of over an hour, Leonardo is a mix
of cinematic progressive rock, symphonic rock, progressive pop and
progressive metal, graced and articulated by true classical music and
the theatrical scope of state-of-the-art soundtrack or dramatic stage
music. With an opening that could have been written by Basil Polodouris,
the album features stunning vocal work from two Musical Discoveries featured
artists: Michelle Young and
Leonardo will delight a broad variety of progressive rock enthusiasts
and it can be most favourably compared to Clive Nolan's Jabberwocky
(review) and Arjen Anthony Lucassen's
Ayreon albums (reviews and
more reviews). The story has been heavily
researched and this extensive project is the culmination of years of work
by the Magna Carta label.
As an album, the instantly impressionable characteristic is the variety
of talented vocalists who are given roles that advance, take centre stage,
fade, and incredibly, engage in dialogues and full-on choral arrangement
as the story dictates. "There's something like 21 performers on this,"
notes Gardner. "The main charcater, Leonardo, is played by Dream Theater's
James LaBrie. James has pulled off, in my opinion, the vocal performance
of his life. James has not only operatic training, he's got some
theatrical study as well. Bringing him into this is probably the single
best decision we made in the process. I gave him some challenging stuff
to do. He's covering two areas, the real dramatic, piano, vocal-based
themes, to the hard, heavy edged stuff, he's do solos, duets ... the
range throughout the album."
Gardner continued, "Instead of one singer singing a song, you have different
people coming in and out within one song. And the accumulation of all this
vocal activity creates a lot of excitement." In addition to Michelle Young
and Lisa Bouchelle, the album's other vocalists include Davey Pattison,
Josh Pincus, Mike Baker, Trent Gardner, Robert Berry, Steve Walsh, Chris
Shryack and Bret Douglas.
The album opens with an orchestrally arranged theme reminscent of a
motion picture or West End show opening sequence entitled "Apparition";
the horn arrangements are incredible. A second shorter, and more modern
keyboard and guitar-laced instrumental, entitled "Aria For Italy" follows
immediately. The story opens with the gentle ballad "With Father,"
perfectly and immediately illustrating James LaBrie's vocal prowess and
classical training. The heavier progressive rock side of the album takes
hold in the rocking tune "Reins Of Tuscan" sung by LaBrie in various
combinations with the chorus, Michelle Young and others. A rapid fire
piano solo during the instrumental bridge is quite notable.
A lovely orchestral arrangement with crisp percussion entitled "Reproach"
serves as an instrumental bridge between tracks and introduces LaBrie's
extended West End theatre-style number "Mona Lisa," sung with the chorus,
Michelle Young and others, building with instrumental and vocal intensity
while changing melodies and musical textures; the choruses may remind some
listeners of Queen's mid-career work. "Il Divino" is a dynamic keyboard-
and metal-edged guitar progressive instrumental while "Inundation" is
short and somewhat gentler, with harpsichord- and orchestral-style
keyboards carrying the melody, serving to bridge to the vocal number
"Apprentice" is certainly the heaviest number on the album with bold
electric guitar and bass driving the theme. The 'students' adds to
the metal texture of the track which is contrasted by symphonic style
keyboards and the chorus. Michelle Young (as Catarina) and Steve Walsh
are featured on the "First Commission" duet. Michelle's sweet
multi-tracked vocals effectively blend with orchestral and acoustic
arrangements and quite notably contrasts Steve's part.
A choral-backed instrumental recants the Leonardo theme in
"Mother Of God" which precedes Lisa Bouchelle (as Mona Lisa) and James
LaBrie's West End progressive pop-style duet "This Time This Way."
Lisa's part is bold and powerful, recorded with minimal effects.
Her fans will be delighted with her solo verse, a multi-tracked
chorus and soaring excursions during the track's final movement.
Interested visitors should note that Lisa is also featured in
Robert Berry's Wheel Of Time reviewed below.
"Inventions" is another heavy rock number dominated by thick guitar
and keyboard arrangements, but the vocals are never drowned out—sung
primarily by James LaBrie, every workd is perfectly understandable.
Accompanied initially by piano and light keyboard, "Shaping The
Invincible" is and emotionally sung ballad with LaBrie's vocals
soaring as the piece builds to a crescendo with progressive rock
The regal and orchestral arrangement of "Introduction to
Francois I" precedes the extended theatrical number "Heart of
France" perfectly blending progressive rock with a West End
sound serving as an initial conclusion to the project with
Leonardo's death. Labrie's vocals, the chorus, guitars and
keyboards are blended perfectly with themes introduced earlier
in the album reappearing within the arrangement. The final
two tracks of the album are the dark and percussion-intensive
instrumental "Sacrament" and brighter keyboard and operatic
"End Of A World" that concludes the album.
Musical Discoveries editors have anxiously awaited the arrival of
Leonardo-The Absolute Man for quite a long time and by all means
the album was worth the wait.
Well written and perfectly produced, the artists' individual contributions
have been brought together into a cohesive progressive rock masterwork.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from
Certainly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Leonardo-The Absolute Man
is by every account a must listen!