Hymnarium

Resonaxis
Contemporary, Rock
Indidem IND003
Reviewed by , May 1st, 2014

The second CD from this ambitious project combines cathedral organ and rock instrumentation built around the pure singing and songwriting of Brooke Shelley.  Combining her dual passions of renaissance polyphony and progressive rock, Shelley is joined on this CD by renowned organist David Drury, Matt Roberts on drums, Adam Bodkin on bass, and Richard Hundy on guitars.

The mechanics of working with a diverse group of musicians involved in other projects, and particularly focusing on the use of a real organ, mean that the process of developing, recording and performing the music is necessarily very slow. Nevertheless, there is perhaps no other progressive rock group in the world that features the organ to this extent, using on the CD the organs of the St James church in Sydney and of Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The first album featured Michael Sheridan on guitar, and his rich repertoire of guitar textures. His departure from the group in 2010 draws the focus away from guitar. In both the arrangements and the mixing, this second album pushes the organ very much to the forefront.

Hymnarium.ARTIST(L-R Brooke Shelley, David Drury, Matt Roberts; photo Stephen Antonopoulos from Images for Business)

The first album, the self-titled Resonaxis (2007), explored many different instrumental textures, with added strings, piano and theorbo, and features some use of sequencing. By contrast, this album is much pared back in its instrumentation, but the writing is a little more self-assured and the less varied textures distract less from the the group’s stated principal reason for being. Shelley’s voice has gained confidence in the interim. 

At their best, the songs on this album are magnificent. Deathdamp Allemande with Shelley’s soaring octave above a rippling organ ostinato is simply breathtaking! Hymn 2 is largely driven by the organ which expands gloriously into full voice in the switch from minor to major in the song’s chorus.

While renaissance models are never far from the surface in the writing of the songs, both albums feature songs directly derived from renaissance choral repertoire. An arrangement of Orlando di Lasso’s setting of Videntes stellam Magi was the first recording produced by the group on a three track EP, later appearing on the first album. On this second album, the song Mysterium derives from the first section of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium.

Shelley often sings quite low in her range which is not where her vocal strengths lie. Shelley describes her own voice as ‘limited’, but she excels in a choral context and particularly at the upper reaches of her range. The addition of double-tracking of the main vocal and harmonies in several of the songs lift the voice immensely. I would like to hear more use of massed voices brought much further forward.

Production on the album is adequate but doesn’t push the boundaries enough. I feel future recordings would greatly benefit from outside input, particularly from a producer with extensive experience with guitar textures but an aligned interest in genre hybrids.

In all, this is a wonderful album, marking a progression and enormous promise. I eagerly look forward to hearing what the group produces next.

 

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