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Uli Jon Roth: Metamorphosis of Vivaldi's Four Seasons
2003, Sky Productions, CRCL-4819
CyberHome: http://www.UliJonRoth.com

On his previous live release, Transcendental Sky Guitar, Uli Jon Roth gave a hint what was to follow on this release, Metamorphosis, which is arguably his best work to date. The awe-inspiring rendition of Vivaldi's "Tuona e Fulmina" that UJR played live on Transcendal Sky Guitar was but a taste of what he had planned on his stunning tribute to Antonio Vivaldi's universally recognized masterpiece, The Four Seasons. Keeping true to a purist neoclassical format that requires redefinition of the term "purist neoclassical" because this effort t! akes the concept to a new level of purism, UJR integrates his inspired guitar work with a full orchestra that gives a voice to his vision of The Four Seasons, featuring his seven-stringed, electric sky guitar. Whereas the purist neoclassical format normally entails virtuoso guitarists and / or keyboardists working their instrumental wizardry into a classically influenced format, UJR approaches this album from a different angle where a straight classical format is the foundation with the guitar required to play its parts as though it were a classical instrument.

Given this format and the objective clearly stated, what makes this such a remarkable album is the efforts the UJR has put into immitating the lead violin with his electric guitar stylisms. Not only did he take painstaking efforts to play the original compositions properly in terms of the musical score, but he also put a lot of thought into how he utilized the guitar to obtain voicings that were appropriate for the corresponding violin effects, such as tone, vibrato, legato, staccato, pizzicato, muting, attack, sustain, etc.. The amount of detail and effort that UJR put into this aspect of the album is so clearly perceivable that it gives the music an entirely new dimension that brings the notes and music to life with the animated yet refined inflections that UJR crafts his interpretations. So much so, that the techniques that he uses to articulate notes are so involved an! d matured that this album serves as an exposition of this dimension of guitar technique that all serious, progressive guitarists should have an interest in examining. (This is a dimension of guitar technique that many guitarists seem relatively deficient these days because they are instead off in pursuit of involved patterns, complex harmonization, and lethal speed.) UJR makes it clear that the music is much more than just the notes that are played, it is how they are played that makes music. UJR gives an exhaustive seminar on this CD of how to get the most value out of every note whether they be sustained whole or quarter notes with inflections of vibrato giving the notes their character, or whether they be 1/16 or 1/32 notes given their character by consistent staccato and carefully crafted tonal envelopes bound by even-noted fluidity. He also proves that there i! s plenty of space for artistic _expression in scored classical composition performed within a strict, traditional format.

The first thirteen tracks of the album present the listener with UJR's introduction and orchestral rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The remaining eleven tracks are comprised of UJR's original variations, interpretations, and derivations of themes from The Four Seasons, as well as some other original compositions by UJR crafted in a classical vein. Forewarned of the original compositions and variations on Vivaldi's themes, a listener might approach the album with some skepticism that the variations might not be of comparable compositional intensity or quality as Vivaldi's originals. But, quite to the contrary and to the listener's delight, UJR's derivative compositions are quite good, containing the same drive, vibran! ce, and musical vision as Vivaldi's originals. The sustained level of world class musical quality throughout this effort is strikingly impressive, as is the dedicated effort to keeping the instrumental effort strictly classical in character. This superb level of musical quality is not only due to UJR's masterful guitar work, but is also due to the excellent accompaniment provided by the perfection-driven Sky Orchestra.

It is not often that a listener discovers a new album by an old master where the musician redefines himself and pulls himself up to a new level of mastery. Metamorphosis is such a masterpiece that it once again redefines the way that we must look at UJR. Not only has his guitar playing and musicianship risen to new heights, but he has once again pioneered new territories in musical visionry by breaking down the boundaries between classical and neoclassical. Fans of neoclassical with a taste for real classical, prepare to be blown away by UJR on Metamorphosis. The energized delivery of this version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons and UJR original deriva! tions and compositions is alone a captivating enough factor to keep the listener engaged in the experience. But, fans of advanced electric guitar are going to be torn between this lively vibrance and the virtuoso technicianry that it is deftly interwoven with.

In the course of receiving and reviewing CDs for review, rarely do I receive material of this quality. Master of the sky guitar, Uli Jon Roth, gets two thumbs up and the nod of approval for his musical visionry, technical mastery, and strength of character and resolve to broaden his musical scope and reinvent his musical persona. Once again, as I said before, old fans of UJR that had vanquished him in their thinking to the realm of historical footnotes in light of the modern neoclassical masters such as Bellas, Kuprij, MacAlpine, Moore, and Malmsteen, you'd better take another look at him now... UJR is demonstrating on this album what makes a master a master! And, whatever high points you think he might have hit in the past, this is the album for which Uli Jon Roth is going to be remembered and that is going to put his definition into a historical frame of reference... unless there is something greater that might follow!

Players:    
Uli Jon Roth   Sky Guitar, Narration
Stephen Bentley Klein   Violin
Brian Wright   Violin
Giles Francis   Viola
Nick Holland   Cello
Lucy Shaw   Contrabass
Don Airey   Harpsichord
Chris Lowe   Timpani and Percussion
Tracks:
1) Prelude to the Seasons
The Spring
2) Venga La Primavera
3) April Rain
4) The Triumph of Spring
The Summer
5) Tales of the Summer Wind
6) Thunder In July
7) The Tempest - Tuona e Fulmina
The Autumn
8) Cheiron and Selenos
9) Teardrops in October
10) Artemis
The Winter
11) Ice, Wind & Fire
12) Sleighbells At Yasnaya
13) War of The Winds
The Metamorphosis
14) Thunder Cadenza
16) Summer's Breath
17) Rodeo from Hell
18) Les Adieux
19) Springtime Euphoria
20) The Heart of Chopin
21) Dance of the Water Spirits
22) Transfiguration
23) Venga la Vita
Postlude:
24) The Morning of Forever
~ Christopher Ruel ~ www.ChrisRuel.com ~ Chris@ChrisRuel.com ~ November 2003
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