4 out of 5 Stars!
The one and only release by Tesseract (a band from Palo Alto, California) contains a variety of styles, most notably Progressive Rock, Jazz, as well as Classical (thanks in no small part to Karen Bentley, a superb violinist). And on this release, I would describe the band’s overall sound as a marriage between early Gentle Giant and Kansas, with a touch of Jean-Luc Ponty and even a bit of Zappa weirdness tossed in for good measure.
The debut is mostly instrumental, with vocals added to only two of the seven total tracks. Truth be told, this is rather a good thing, since the vocalist (Don Tillman) is a bit weak. But Tillman more than makes up for this disadvantage, however, with his overall keyboard and guitar work.
The album opens with a short track appropriately titled “Entrance,” which is actually nothing more than eerie synthesizer noise and a few drum fills. This, however, leads into the next track…
“Heisenberg’s Daughter.” This is where the early Gentle Giant and Kansas influences really come to the fore. This is also a vocal track. Although the melody is moderately memorable, this is also where the band loses a star on the rating scale, again, due to the rather bland vocal delivery. Thankfully, the instrumental passages that comprise the majority of the tune are first-rate. The violin leads, with a Mellotron/keyboard wash in the background, make for some pleasant moments over the jazzy bass riffs and shifting rhythms. Quite good, once you make it through the opening verses/choruses.
At 11:10 minutes, the third (and longest) track “Cast Of Thousands” follows. Once again, vocals pop up here, but are (thankfully) kept to a minimum in the first few minutes of the song while the remainder of the track is pure instrumental, including enjoyable acoustic guitar and synth work (mainly in the form of sampled flutes, trumpets, and sax), and more beautiful violin-dominated passages. Additionally, the rhythm section adeptly steers the band into various tempo and time changes throughout. Here also is where the Ponty influences really come into play, making for some interesting results.
The fourth composition, “Allegro Assai,” is a Bach violin concerto in A-minor, arranged by the band, which comes off sounding quite jazzy (or rather, jazz-rocky) once the synths, drums, and bass kick in. And Bentley SMOKES on this track, proving herself quite the virtuoso of the violin.
“Rice,” the fifth track, is once again a Gentle Giant/Kansas/Ponty wedding of Prog-Rock and Jazz Fusion. The keyboards and electric guitar are a bit more dominant here, with some lead-work in the middle sections, although Bentley tosses some violin leads into several sections also. This track flows into the next one…
“Cymbal Dance.” Apart from the album’s short opening, this is the most bizarre track…three and a half minutes of noise produced by—yep, you guessed it—cymbals, as the title advertises. Overall, about three minutes too long. (Boring!) But this track then flows into the final track…
“Vantage Point Instrumental,” which is probably the best composition on the album (and happily free of any vocals). Here the band adds rhythms and breaks that brought Frank Zappa (Roxy & Elsewhere period) to mind, as well as a bit of Return To Forever, although the primary musical influences still have to be the Gentle Giant/Kansas/Ponty combination. Generally, Bentley’s violin is relegated to the background, opening the way for synth/trumpet-like leads while the rhythm section drives things along at a brisk pace.
Therefore, for the reasons stated above, this album is not perfect in my eyes, but it’s also far from shabby, with some impressive musicianship on display!