As if Antony Kalugin were not on a rich enough seam of production, 2020 far from throwing him off his musical stride closes with another Karfagen release. This full band version complementing the solo releases which saw the keyboard maestro learning to play guitar to a high standard to overcome pandemic restrictions and making no mean fist of it. Like the first solo outing (Marshmallow Moondust, see review) this is a two phase suite, each phase consisting of three sections.
The work opens with a triumphant overture in Levitation. The sense of relief and absolute joy amongst the musicians to be working as a creative ensemble is electric. Starting with a crackle of static and a deep bass hum, the listener is soon transported on lighter than air guitar and ethereal synthesisers before the cup runs over with ecstatic rock-edged guitar and signature keyboard runs punctuated with symphonic flourishes. It's no wonder that everyone wants to join in the fun, the whole piece appropriately taking flight with furious abandon, heavy guitar riffs juxtaposed with dancing flute to great effect. I may be wrong, but while Kalugin is perfectly comfortable allowing his musicians full range to express themselves, I can't remember other releases having quite this intensity and full-blooded hard-rocking aspect. Hunter is a case in point kicking in with heavy guitar riffs and rarely letting up despite the frequent change of mode. The keyboards on this piece in particular are dizzying threatening to spiral out of control with the thrill of it all. Only in the aftermath does the pace let up, ritual chanting signalling both the triumph and regret of the hunt. By contrast the piece which closes this phase, Phantasmagoria is more measured, reflective and suggestive of will of the wisp tricks of the light. There is a jazz like tinge, punctuated by troubling, insistent interludes. Plaintive solo guitar gives a sense of isolation, loss and vulnerability with which this phase, lingeringly ends.
The second part turns aside from this foreboding. The Birth Of A Star is full of new beginnings and the exploration of senses and experience, culminating in a joyous, glimmering creation of existence. Calypso by contrast is less about the joy of the dance, more the perilous spellbinder that can trap the unwary traveller. Percussion beats out an incantation while flutes and guitar join in a devilish dance and insistent keyboard rungs a warning. Here the plaintive solo guitar and flute speaks more of lotus induced abandon and hallucination than other worldly bliss. The closing track, Gravitation clearly provides a thematic counterpoint to where we came in and offers a nostos like resolution to the preceding adventures. No lead weight this is a drawing in to a safe harbour and home. The tone is purposeful and resolved and leads to a joyous conclusion, with an echoing sense of adventures which havbe been and which are to come.
Previously if pushed, I would have argued (since no-one has asked) that Kalugin's prodigious output in the last three years has contained many superb recordings in his multiple guises and that anyone interested in well produced keyboard driven symphonic prog would be missing a trick if they didn't own or at least listen to a good slice of Karfagen. I would have accepted that you might not want every note recorded and might even have struggled to recommend a particular favourite to elevate above the others, fine as they all are. But you know, this one might just be it. A glorious slab of instrumental prog to light the way.
***** Andrew Cottrell
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