Dean Baker - Constellations

(CD 2018, 55.13, Avalon Records/OSKAR DBCD001 OSKAR1082 CD)

The tracks:
  1- Le Chat Qui Pêche(9:14)
  2- Off the Shoulder of Orion(4:35)
  3- Here and Now(4:40)
  4- Modular Seasons(3:51)
  5- Clouded Hills(5:56)
  6- New Horizons(5:41)
  7- Nuda Veritas(4:09)
  8- Engelbrecht(3:37)
  9- Constellations(4:24)
10- Impression No.8(9:01)

Website      Oskar Productions

In the late Nineties keyboard player Dean Baker joined Galahad, his first release with this neo-prog formation was the album Following Ghosts, from 1999. And now in 2018, almost 20 years later, Dean presents his first solo CD. “You could say that Constellations is an accidental album born out of personal tragedy. Dean's good friend Ray succumbed to cancer in 2018 and Dean subsequently inherited a rather large CD collection. He began listening to some of the gems, including albums by iconic keyboard visionaries such as Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. After listening Dean was massively inspired to write some music in a similar vein over the course of the Summer of 2018. And before he knew it he had over twenty new tracks to work on, eventually 10 ended on the album. Dean also recruited Lee Abraham and Stu Nicholson from Galahad on guitars and vocals respectively. You could say that the resulting album is paying homage to some of the pioneering synthesizer artists of the Seventies. “ (website info).

In this review I have blended a few answers I got from Dean Baker on my questions about his debut CD. In the booklet Dean emphasizes that he has only used vintage keyboards, he mentions a breathtaking array, from mighty Moog, Oberheim, ARP and Yamaha synthesizers to the unsurpassed Mellotron, the distinctive Solina string-ensemble and the impressive Fairlight CMI (digital synthesizer, sampler and workstation), wow, jawdropping gear!

And during my first listening experience I got more and more excited: Dean delivers wonderful electronic music compositions, very pleasant and accessible, and loaded with fat sounding synthesizers, obviously inspired by the Seventies Electronic Music Masters', this is Vintage Synthesizer Heaven! DB: “I made the decision to use analogue modelling for ease of use and practical reasons. The main synths were the Minimoog, Yamaha CS80 and ARP 2600. “

My highlights.

A lush synthesizer sound in climates that range from dreamy to a catchy beat, with echoes from JM Jarre, along Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, in the opener Le Chat Qui Pêche.

The strong composition Modular Seasons delivers an omnipresent Mellotron sound. DB: “A modelled version of the Mellotron is used throughout the album (strings, boys choir and mixed choir). It stands out more on Modular Seasons but is actually on most of the tracks.” But we can also enjoy wonderful synthesizer sounds (like the sequencing and 'sample and hold') in the vein of JM Jarre and Vangelis. First a catchy beat with fat synthesizer sounds like Vangelis and then dreamy with tender female vocals from Anastasia Coburg in New Horizons. DB: “A lot of the sequencing was actually played by hand and as I used a modern system to record it on I tried to keep the use of the quantize function to a minimum. It took a long, long time but I really enjoyed this way of working. Some of the Sample and Hold sounds would drift so I resorted to using modern audio techniques to turn these into sample loops and then use delay etc to give them bounce and life.

A compelling atmosphere featuring very moving guitar work from Lee Abraham and sensational Minimoog flights in Engelbrecht.

And in the final track Impression No.8 a lot of variety and shifting moods, from mellow strings and an orchestral interlude to an acceleration with fat synthesizer runs, JM Jarre and Vangelis rule, and I love it!

Some tracks deliver vocals: the dreamy song Here And Now (featuring Galahad singer Stu Nicholson) sounds like a tribute to Vangelis and Jon Anderson and Nuda Veritas (also with Stu) has even hit potential, very melodic and harmonic, between Vangelis and JM Jarre. DB: “This song almost didn't make the album. The original idea was in a Georgio Moroder or Depeche Mode style and Stu really wanted to sing on this track. I feel that it is quite a different feel from the rest of the album but at the end of the day I felt that it would be a shame to leave this off the album. I ended up merging some of my tracks together to make sure that Nudas Veritas stayed on the album and I'm really pleased about this as New Horizons and Impression No.8 really benefited from the additional time I spent on them.”

My conclusion: this is a wonderful and very well crafted tribute to Dean his late friend Ray and the Classic Electronic Music Masters, very worth to discover!

Constellations is dedicated to music lover Ray Chiles (1959 -2018)

**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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