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Dean Watson - Fantasizer ! CD (album) cover


Dean Watson


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.96 | 54 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Fantasizer!' - Dean Watson (75/100)

Upon occasion, I'll open up a review of an album by commenting on its artwork, and this is one such case wherein I'll indulge my love of good cover art. Multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson is presented here as were he in the midst of some transcendental metamorphosis, caught in a place where the lines between the real and imagined are blurred. Watching this solo fusioneer develop since his debut Unsettled back in 2010, I've also watched the Ron Eady's art grow along with it, and while its always possessed a sort of dreamlike atmosphere, it's never looked so bold and memorable. There's always been a weight of importance placed on the artwork in a Dean Watson project; the music and art are two sides of a collective experience, and the aim of the music (if I'm not mistaken) is, in part, to creatively interpret the feelings conjured by the art. With that in mind, when I opened my copy of Fantasizer! and found myself instantly struck by the cover, I knew there was a great hour of music lying in wait for me... and I wasn't wrong!

Dean Watson's music has long stood at the crossroads of intensely composition-based prog fusion. While most acts that bear the vague 'fusion' label tend to come across as jazz bands that discovered the virtue of rock rhythms (but still always rooted in jazz custom), Watson fancies himself a fairly impartial arbiter between jazz and rock, to the point where Fantasizer! could be labelled as one or the other without fault. His influences are much less ambiguous however; King Crimson is apparent in the music's rhythmic discipline and cerebral atmosphere. The shifting piano work is quickly redolent of Chick Corea and, depending on the style he's chosen at the time, his guitar work recalls either Pat Metheny or Joe Satriani. Dean Watson's work is eclectic and varied (I even recall progressive metal traces as far back as the debut), but there's a strong sense of style and identity here, something many an artist who dared to merge genres has sadly done without.

First and foremost (and this may be what separates him most from the jazzmen) Dean Watson is a composer. There are many in jazz and fusion that write material as a staging point for improvisation and spontaneity in the performance. Good improvising is a slice of heaven when it's done right, but Watson doesn't leave anything up to chance. Fantasizer! remains a haven for Watson's expert guitar and synth leads, but I don't think there's a single measure of music that was devised accidentally. Fortunately, Dean Watson has once again proven himself to be a master composer with this sort of style. Fantasizer! will shift between heavy and smooth passages with a near-cinematic grace, sometimes giving the impression there's less complexity at work than there really is. Unlike show-y or overtly technical music (an impression Watson's music has since drifted from), Fantasizer! lets the atmosphere and ease of listening through, although you'd be wholly mistaken to assume there isn't calculus spewing forth from the music's solid undercurrents.

Although Dean Watson hasn't demonstrated as much of an improvement in songwriting these past two years as I heard on the excellent second album Imposing Elements, the execution has been polished. This was an issue I've had with Watson's music since the beginning; while the drums are still undeniably programmed (and suffer for it accordingly), there's a livelier tone to the mix. As tends to be the case with prog fusion, Fantasizer! puts the virtues of the intellect before the heart; even so, there are some beautiful sections that switch the emphasis. For a song with a length that begs the 'epic' label, "Caged Creator" is surprisingly smooth for the most part, though it soon builds to a climax worthy of any progger's ears, complete with eerie mellotron warmth, with a melancholic beauty offset only by the twitchy prog freak-out that shortly follows it. "Solemn" is a fitting denouement to the album, a simple piano composition with a tugging sense of longing and melancholy. If Fantasizer! lacks any consistency in its emotional impact, all is well by the album's end.

Fantasizer! is another great chapter in the career of an artist I've been virtually following since day one. To be certain, it hasn't made as much of an impact on me as Imposing Elements, if only because Dean Watson's second album left that much less room for improvement. At the end of the day, many of the feelings (good and bad alike) I had for the first two records have come to bear once again on Fantasizer!. Regardless, whether you're coming from the jazz, prog or instrumental rock spheres, a truly gifted composer is hard to come by. With that in mind, Dean Watson comes recommended to fans of each and any of the three.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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