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HYDROPHONIA (Foxtrot CD 019)



I was fortunate to be able to see Roine Stolt and the Flower Kings [whose original CDs are reviewed elsewhere in these pages] live at a local venue, the Phantasmagoria, in Wheaton, Maryland, on September 8th, 1998. Despite the fact that it was a Tuesday night and the audience was not large, the Kings played a full 90-minute set of stirring music. I was a bit disappointed that Tomas Bodin was not with them on keyboards, but his replacement, Robert Engholm, seemed well up to the job. (He told me after the set that he'd been with the group for only about a month, and had learned his keyboard parts from listening to the Kings' CDs. He was grinning throughout much of the performance, and had every reason to be.) And it was an opportunity to appreciate how much rhythm guitarist and occasional lead vocalist Hans Froberg contributed to the band. Stolt of course was the star of the show, making his guitar sing ringingly and anthemically.

As is common at such shows, there were band CDs on sale, and I picked up two new ones.

Scanning the Greenhouse is really a compilation disc, a "greatest hits" of sorts by The Flower Kings -- but, to snare collectors, two of the tracks are newly recorded. The first of these makes more sense to me, since it is "The Flower King," from the original album, THE FLOWER KING. That album was a solo project for Stolt, and did not use the same lineup of musicians who were formed to be the band, The Flower Kings (although Froberg contributed vocals, and Jaime Salazar was the drummer). The newly recorded (in 1998) version makes use of the then-extant Flower Kings band (including Bodin) -- and is a bit more than a minute longer. The other rerecorded piece is "Stardust We Are Pt.3," an almost 9-minute piece drawn from the 25-minute full piece which appeared on the STARDUST WE ARE 2-CD set.

Four of the album's eight tracks come from that STARDUST album. One is taken from BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES, and two from RETROPOLIS, in addition to the rerecorded track from THE FLOWER KING. There are almost 73 minutes of music on the album, which makes it a good value for those looking to sample The Flower Kings' music for the first time. Outer Music is a division of Pangea Music, a California company, and is run by Shawn Ahearn, who had a hand in this compilation -- and who sold the CDs to me that night. As a domestic release, this album may be more easily obtainable than the imports it draws from.

HYDROPHONIA is Stolt's new solo album. One might wonder when he had time to work on another solo album, after releasing the double-CD STARDUST album and touring with The Flower Kings -- and why he would divert his energies in this fashion. But the album, clocking in at almost 68 minutes, is another solid achievement for Stolt. It offers no new surprises -- no departures from his established modes of music -- but buttresses his position in the current music scene with a solid release.

Here Stolt takes over most of the musical duties himself, playing not only all the guitars, but bass, keyboards and percussion. Only drummer Jaime Salazar is present from his regular band. But soprano saxophonist Ulk Wallander -- last heard on the original THE FLOWER KING, Stolt's last solo album -- is back to fill out the sound.

There are ten tracks, nine of which contain references to water, the sea, or oceangoing in their titles, although the music does not partake of sea chanteys or any of the other usual nautical cliches, fortunately. As is common with Stolt, the music is richly melodic and orchestral in its textures (Stolt can be a whole band all by himself). And while it is still "progressive" in its sound and structure, it is less so than some of The Flower Kings' works. There are aspects of fusion jazz that sound almost Zappa-esque, and not solely due to the presense of the soprano sax. Stolt's guitar is if anything more upfront, and reminiscent of Zappa in places. The melodies bear a family resemblence to those on Stolt's other albums, of course, and range from uptempo and anthemic to moody and atmospheric. One track, "Nuclear Nemo," is darker and a bit Crimsoid -- a welcome change at that point in the album.

Swedish friends tell me Stolt is not widely known in the mainstream music culture of his homeland. But CD importers and dealers tell me that his and The Flower Kings' albums (along with those of fellow Swede Par Lindh) sell quite well in their niche market here in the U.S. Stolt brought The Flower Kings to the 1997 Progfest in Los Angeles (and they are part of the 2-CD set, PROGFEST '97, also issued by Ahearn and Outer Music), and did a brief tour of the East Coast late this summer (1998). It was a pleasure to hear them live and to meet them, and I can only wish Stolt & Co. continued success with their music.

In the meantime, while SCANNING THE GREENHOUSE is recommended mostly to those seeking a starting point for exploring Stolt's music, HYDROPHONIA is recommended to his established fans, those who already have FANTASIA and the Flower Kings albums and want his latest. They won't be disappointed.

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