Birds Of Passage is the 11th full-length album release under the Karfagen name from prolific keyboard virtuoso Antony Kalugin. As with 2019's well-received opus, Echoes From Within Dragon Island (see review), the inspiration, and title, comes from 18th and 19th century poetry. This time the works of Longfellow and Blake provide the lyrical background to the two halves of the suite which comprises the greater part of this release.
I have to say that, as I have rarely had a bad word to say about Karfagen or anything Kalugin has produced, I was somewhat concerned by the functional, unremarkable (apart from Konstantin Ionenko's intricate bass patterns) but appropriately processional opener, Your Grace, but need not have been. Suffice to say that there is no sign of Kalugin dropping the quality control, despite the prodigious output. Here he effortlessly transports the listener on a New World fantasy of exploration ably abetted by his assembly of familiar and some new musicians. I am continually impressed by the way Kalugin is able to conjure exotic soundscapes without dropping into pastiche or cultural stereotyping. Again although the piece is very much keyboard led, there is no question of stifling the other musicians who are all allowed free rein of expression; bassoon, flute and guitar all play their individual, remarkable parts. Tracks such as Chanticleer wonderfully evoke a sense of optimism and new dawn (Longfelllow's cockrel is the herald of a new day, rather than the Chaucerian randy rooster causing chaos) the vocal carrying a sense of spiritual awakening.
Aleksandr Pavlov is afforded a personal showcase on nylon guitar on the exquisite instrumental opening to the second half, Eternity's Sun Rise. The themes from the first half permeate through and are echoed in sections of this tightly structured composition. Kalugin clearly has a preference for the playful, carefree Blake of the Echoing Green and the world where birdsong can cast away the cares of age pausing only for a brief reflection on mortality at the day's end. Karfagen expertly conjure up the vision of a summer cloud, the sun carrying the promise of new life through the darkness.
Both halves end on a note of nostalgia, laced with regret, but the mood is positive throughout, no sick roses pollute the garden here, and in these times the accent on new beginnings is a welcome one.
The final extra tracks are a perfect complement to the Birds Of Passage suite, so much that I would suggest they were composed together, but taken out of the main work. The phrase outtakes would be unfair however and Sunrise in particular is a pastoral delight and perfect ending to a glorious and highly enjoyable piece of symphonic progressive rock.
***** Andrew Cottrell
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