13 Jan 2004
Perhaps no one instrument has garnered such attention in the world of instrumental music, with all of it's capabilities, the boundaries for what the guitar could invent musically seem limitless. From the early influences of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore & Jimmy Page, a new generation of virtuoso players, stimulated by these legends, would again reinvent the guitars potential, players like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jason Becker, Yngwie Malmsteen are some of the players from the new generation of musicians that took what the pioneers had done, and provided yet another couple of levels of proficiency, talent, theoretical soundness and overall technology to create music that again would excite another generation of up and coming serious guitarists.
And while there are hundreds of stellar fretboard magicians out there today, few are attempting to release music that offers nothing more than a display of the fruits of their hundreds of hours of playing and studying. Simply said, there has been an over saturation of guitar-centric, shred based instrumental music. As far too many of these skilled players were merely mimicking the musicians they so admired, leaving listeners to question as to which player is which. I am always pleased to write of bands such as the one I am about to review, Hess. A band named after the last names of two of it's members. Both Tom (guitars/keyboards/programming), and Scott (drums/percussion) are the mainstays behind the band since it's birth in 1994, then known as Gothic Empire. With a few line up changes from then to now, they seem to have found the proper components to help in raising the standards for performance and execution for the bands latest release - Opus 2
What I really enjoy about Hess' songs, is the fact that the music comes first, performance is a side benefit to the bands intricate writing style, which is primarily based around classical music, something that has surely been done before, but Hess has found not only a unique approach to present this style of music, but have the extreme musical competence to execute the many carefully calculated changes, measures and harmonic intervals in a way that is seamless and precise. Not since last years CD by Australia's Chris Brooks have I heard a neo-classical based instrumental CD that is every bit as balanced compositionally as it is proficiently played. The influences of this band may seem obvious at first listen, Malmsteen, Becker, etc. Those are the easy ones to pick out, but as writers, I can hear how they were heavily influenced by the great classical composers, such as - Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Debussy, etc. This point of interest is the biggest reason why I am finding this CD so appealing.
It's nice to hear musicians that have not only studied the base notation and tonal aspects of classical music, but have studied the idioms of arrangement and compositions as well, the music fan will seldom remember the names of the musicians in an orchestral presentation, no matter how well it is performed, but they will always remember a composer if the music has a lasting, impact full delivery. It seems as though Hess has found that combination, and has delivered a highly recommendable CD with Opus 2. It seems that the best may yet to be coming as ideas for a follow up aptly called Opus 3 are already in the works, and this listener/writer will be waiting.