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Alessandro Bertoni - Keystone CD (album) cover

KEYSTONE

Alessandro Bertoni

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.82 | 27 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Lovers of heavy yet melodic fusion will enjoy what Alessandro Bertoni has to offer with his debut album `Keystone'. A talented keyboard player, originally from prog-metal band Aphelion, the Italian artist has been able to realise his dream with the assistance of former Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian (acting as producer here), a man that Alessandro considers his prime influence as well as something of a mentor. It means that, with the help of some oustanding supporting musicians to flesh out the music with a full band lineup, `Keystone' is a punchy, heavy-grooving instrumental work that perfectly balances musical variety and energy while never forgetting to still be a collection of good tunes. Despite letting his other musicans have plenty of moments to shine, Bertoni dazzles with his army of synths - heavy Hammond being his preferred weapon of choice - and his playing is infused with all the expected Italian sophistication and professionalism.

There is no doubt Sherinian's presence initially looms large here. Anyone who heard his great solo album `Oceania' from back in 2011 may find that, although `Keystone' is certainly more solo heavy and technical than that one, it definitely serves as a starting point for this disc. As much as I don't mind them, I'm fairly indifferent to Dream Theater, so I don't have the intense dislike towards Derek's keyboard contributions on their `Falling Into Infinity' and `Once In A LIVEtime' albums that many fans do. I actually think Dream Theater fans themselves could probably enjoy this album as well, although it never goes all out with the extreme technical overkill in the way that band does, and certainly not to the levels of the Liquid Tension Experiment. I actually think a lot of this album is similar to the instrumental passages of the modern incarnation of Spock's Beard, especially with the combination of red-hot Hammond organ and hard-rock riffs.

`The Great Portrait', the first section of the three part, almost 14 min suite `Megas Alexandros' that opens the disc is both bombastic and restrained, full of pursuing chugging rock riffs, whooshing synth solos and puttering fretless bass soloing. Despite an unravelling and rapid-fire 70's fusion electric guitar run in the middle, part 2's `City of Gordium' moves in a more suspensful and mysterious direction, lots of shimmering electric piano and the most gentle of Mellotron washes. Part 3's `To The Ends of the Earth' is full of bluesy electric guitar soloing and a busy hurricane of drum fury all delivered with a triumphant driving momentum. This showpiece of the album is beautifully executed overall, with perfectly timed solo runs from all of the players, almost like a heavier version of U.K in some sections.

The album then hits a run of three tracks where Alessandro takes more of a back seat and lets his trio of support musicians take the spotlight in individual pieces. Brett Garsed demonstrates great range with the guitar driven `Pacifica Rampage', all chiming guitars and wailing yet emotional solos, while Bertoni just delicately coats the background with pleasing wisps of the most placid of synths. Virgil Donati's frantic showcase `Terium Non Datur' is loaded with complex and quick- change drum variations throughout over crunchy slabs of Hammond organ and distorted electronics. I love how thick Ric Fierabracci's bass playing is constantly throughout the whole disc, but it especially stands out with his slippery thick soloing during `Galactic Hero'. This slithering, darkly funky track almost takes on a Magma/Zeuhl-like creepiness, Ric's fretless bass snaking and weaving it's way through robotic and sci-fi sounds.

`The Keystone Age' dials up the bombastic and histrionic drama to almost Emerson, Lake and Palmer-esque levels, with loud symphonic synths and menacing, brooding piano tension. It's the most challenging of the pieces, aiming for a more deranged and reckless sound. Then after all that bluster and noise, `Magnolia Sunrise' closes the album in a haunting, eerie manner. Plenty of tip- toeing piano tension, crystaline synths and softly stalking upfront jazzy bass, it sounds more low- key and subtle than the rest of the disc, and it's quite rare to end the album in such a reflective and sedate manner. For the next album, more pieces like this please, Mr Bertoni!

Housed in a lovely painted cover by Nello Dell'Omo that would look amazing on vinyl, lovers of heavy instrumental rock will greatly enjoy this debut album. Admittedly several of the pieces sound fairly similar, but there's not a disappointing track here, and the 41 minute running time means it doesn't outstay it's welcome. There's definitely been more complex and involved instrumental albums this year, but this makes for a great solid listen, and I think it would even be a superb place to start for someone wanting an easy introduction to the fusion genre.

`Keystone' gets things off to a fine start for Alessandro Bertoni, and he and his musical associates here should be very proud of what they have achieved. I'm sure even more challenging and intricate works await in the future from this artist!

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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