Classical music has been an integral part of progressive rock since its inception, not to mention one of its greatest influences. For a band like Spanish veterans Kotebel, a “Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble” is not such a far stretch, despite the surprise and shock this artistic shift seems to have instilled in their fans. Although Kotebel are best known for the virtuosic skill of their flutist and Carolina Prieto’s vibrant vocal skill, “Concerto” has neither, instead opting to reinvent the band’s sound anew. The result is surely impressive, although some aspects most loved about Kotebel seem to have been lost in the transformation.
Although I’ve certainly never known enough about this band to write a doctoral thesis regarding their contributions to the progressive rock sphere, I have known enough to respect what they have done, and also to know that “Concerto” is a bigger departure than I would have expected from this approach. As far as the ‘classical music’ angle is concerned, Kotebel do not tread into the sort of full-blown orchestration that one might expect from a symphony, nor do they actually use many classically-oriented instruments. Instead, as the title suggests, things are built around the piano, an instrument that Kotebel have never used so profusely before. Although the handful of songs that follow the main course pursue more eclectic ends, the forty-odd minute epic is a keyboard tour-de-force, with other instruments performing a supportive role. Adriana Engelke is the most important part of this concerto, and while the electric guitar occasionally gets a chance to pull off a solo, a listener had better get used to having the piano in charge. From a compositional viewpoint, Kotebel skirts the border between classical bombast and jazz chords, with the occasional jump into avant-garde dissonance. There are constant shifts in tempo and mood, and the music is performed brilliantly to boot. Engelke is a gifted pianist, and though the production does not capture the full resonance I would hope for in a grand piano, there are no major complaints regarding how this ambitious effort has been executed in the studio.
Kotebel have certainly accomplished something quite complex and in-depth, although I cannot help but feel something meaningful is missing from their melting pot. Specifically, it is the sense of melody that has suffered the band’s ambition. Of course, Kotebel have always been about this more composition-oriented prog rock, but “Concerto” runs the risk of becoming monotonous, despite its brilliant writing and arrangement. The interplay between instruments and work with harmonies is excellent, but there is not a moment- not even on the song-based second half- that instantly stands out as being memorable. “Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble” does bear fruit to a listener with enough patience to see it through, but it would have been nice to hear some recurring themes, or hooks involved in it, not so much that they lose the class and sophistication of such an ambitious project, but enough to keep the music engaging without begging a listener to sit intently and focus on every note.
“Concerto” won’t appeal to all listeners despite its ambition and complexity, but patient listeners will reap the rewards that come with several listens.
1. Concerto For Piano And Electric Ensemble (42:59)
I. Adagio Maestoso (12:03)
II. Lento Cantabile (7:13)
III. Vivo Scherzando (9:22)
IV. Allegro Moderato (14:21)
2. The Flight Of The Hipogriff (Part 1) (4:53)
3. Dance Of Shiva (6:58)
4. The Flight Of The Hipogriff (Part 2) (4:35)
5. The Infant [bonus track] (7:12)
* Carlos Franco Vivas – drums & percussion
* César García Forero – electric, acoustic & Spanish guitars
* Jaime Pascual Summers – bass
* Adriana Nathalie Plaza Engelke – grand piano
* Carlos Plaza Vega – electronic keyboards
* Fran Magus – saxes