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Karda Estra - Constellations

Karda Estra - ConstellationsIt doesn’t seem that long since Karda Estra’s previous outstanding album, Eve, stunned us with its flawless merging of prog and classical, yet the man behind the project, Richard Wileman has been busy.

Gustav Holst gave us the Planets suite, The Enid gave us In The Region Of The Summer Stars and now Karda Estra presents ConstellationsConstellations is a suite in six parts, inspired by space and time (which, metaphorically speaking, are two things we often lack).  Like the other two English composers (Holst and Godfrey), Richard Wileman has drawn influence from mythological as well as astronomical data to come up with what can only be described as a heavenly aural delight.

When I reviewed Eve I detected a Steve Hackett influence and this influence is even more obvious on Constellations.  Obvious but subtle, because Richard uses different instrumentation where appropriate – a kind of minimalism in a music sense – thereby allowing the listener to enjoy not only the melodies but the intricate arrangements without enduring a barrage of guitar, cello, oboe or whatever.  In other words, much of the Hackettesque electric guitar work is of the punctuating nature making use of the Hackett trademark volume control to create smooth ‘back-tracking’ sounding guitar – it’s the old ‘finger-down-the-spine thing!  In addition to the six-part suite, Richard has included a seventh track, a terrific interpretation of Steve Hackett’s Twice Around The Sun (from Darktown, coincidently also track number seven) which sits comfortably with the rest of the album and is a wonderful tribute to one of prog’s finest musicians.  Whilst I have no desire to see Karda Estra turn into a tribute band which is unlikely anyway, I would be intrigued to hear Richard’s interpretations of other Hackett related music in the future.

Constellations also has an Anthony Phillips Geese and The Ghost air to it and like the Hackett influence it can be heard within the first few bars of the first track, The Southern Cross

It has struck me listening to Constellations once again that it is hard to determine if I am listening to a piece of classical music or to prog, the stitching of the two genres is so seamless.  I digress (as I am wont to do) – sorry. 

Hydra (the sea serpent) has a mystical quality opening with Gong-like percussion from piano, tom and bass with oboe (I believe) adding a touch of Middle Eastern ambiance.  Cassiopeia, reflecting vanity and youth, uses a waltz time and has a strange haunting melody, like something isn’t right (not with the music but with the subject being illustrated if you get my meaning) in a similar way that Ron Grainer’s music for The Prisoner often had an eerie effect.  I suppose the waltz conjures up a picture of a couple dancing only there is nobody there, just the stars twinkling in this case.  Phoenix, signifying new beginnings, has an almost child-like female vocal, which is both spooky and soothing, and instrumentals not a million miles from a part of Shadow Of The Hierophant, or at least it is of that I am reminded, and has a Hacketty guitar crescendo just before the end.  Scorpio hits you with a Theremin type of sound (there’s no mention on the CD sleeve of a Theremin being used) before returning to the main theme heard in Cassiopeia but this time with a little more guitar.  The final two minutes of Scorpio is more reflective or calmed than the first six minutes or is it quiet anticipation?  Interpretation of music is a personal thing much like a play on the radio or book will conjure up different pictures in the minds of different people.  Vela (the sails) conjures up a picture in my mind of drifting say, in the nautical environment, on a raft without a paddle using one’s limbs in the water in an attempt to steer the vessel against the will of the current.  Though this sounds aggressive the track is anything but.  The final track on the album, Hackett’s Twice Around The Sun, as previously mentioned, fits the album perfectly as though it was written with the Constellations suite in mind.  That, of course, is because Richard has given the track the Karda Estra treatment with regard to the arrangement.

Richard Wileman (guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion) is joined in this Karda Estra creation by the usual KE team of talented young ladies who are Ileesha Bailey (vocals), Helen Dearnley (violin), Caron Hansford (oboe, cor anglais), Sarah Higgins (cello), Zoe King (flute, alto and soprano sax) and Rachel Larkins (viola).

Karda Estra go from strength to strength opening up progressive rock to classical ears (and vice versa).  Richard Wileman has surely earned a place as one of the top UK present day classical composers and arrangers and is an inspiration to those with a love of classical and progressive rock.  Constellations is a ‘must have’.

Jem Jedrzejewski


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