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Orchestras Plus: Ad Ombra, Ian Anderson, and Bill Nelson

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AD OMBRA: Smaragdine (CD on Ad Ombra Music)

This release from 2005 offers 22 minutes of orchestral music.

Ad Ombra is Romanian composer George D. Stanciulescu, who is accompanied by an orchestra.

East European drama drenches this music. Strings saw away, building anticipation, while cello punctuates the flow with somber intent. Horn sections lend majesty and woodwinds inject a romantic flair to the composition. Piano passages introduce a stately mood to the passionate tuneage. Percussion heightens the tension as the music becomes cinematic in disposition.

Crowd samples are utilized to lace the music with a human presence. There are also hints of guitar and some mechanical electronics, but the music is generally orchestral in nature.

The composition trembles with dark drama, evoking momentous situations in which a protagonist struggles through a everyday life littered with hidden intrigue and emotional conflicts that plague only this stalwart character. Although definitely modern in structure, the mood generated by this music conjures rustic avenues lined by ominous buildings whose darkened windows offer no succor to the tortured protagonist.

A choral finale indicates a victorious conclusion for all involved, as the composition reaches a highly infectious state.

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IAN ANDERSON: Plays the Orchestral Jethro Tull (double CD on ZYX Music)

This release from 2005 features 103 minutes of rock music with orchestral backing.

Playing flutes, acoustic guitar and singing, Ian Anderson is joined on this recording by: James Duncan on drums and percussion, David Goodier on bass and glockenspiel, John O'Hara on keyboards and accordion, Florian Opahle on guitars, in a live performance from 2002 with the Neue Philharmonic Frankfurt Orchestra, conducted by John O'Hara.

The music bounces along with a lively mien, with fervent guitar, durable bass and sinuous drumming. These traditional rock instruments are augmented by accordion, flute, slithering keyboards, and an entire orchestra, generating a fusion of classic rock and old school classical music. The presence of Anderson's airy voice tips the balance in favor of the rock demeanor, a dominance that is superbly countered by the orchestral backdrop.

Overall, the blend of old and modern is excellently accomplished, creating a fusion so pure as to sound quite natural.

The music of Jethro Tull has always exhibited an orchestral edge, admittedly accountable to Anderson's prominent fluting, but here that allusion comes full front as the band merges with a full orchestra to perform an array of Tull classics. This fusion actually achieves the music's inherent disposition, filling in violin sweeps and mournful horns that previously existed in these songs in theoretical sentiment.

There are crowd pleasers like "Aqualung", "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day", and "Locomotive Breath". And there are some traditional pieces like "We Five Kings", "Pavane", and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Resulting in a balanced and rollicking performance that is memorable and enthralling.

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BILL NELSON & HIS LIGHTHOUSE SIGNAL MECHANISM ORCHESTRA: The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill (CD on Sonoluxe)

This CD from 2005 features 60 minutes of lushly powerful music.

Okay, the "orchestra" here exists primarily in Nelson's fertile imagination, manifesting through the versatility of his studio mastery as he generates every sound himself (barring a few sampled snippets from radio and antique spoken voice recordings). Harnessing the memories of seaside holidays from his youth, Nelson generates a stunning suite that glorifies the salty breezes familiar to stalwart seafarers, harkening ages when sailing the oceans was a valiant endeavor pursued by courageous souls seeking adventure as well as transportation.

Orchestral swells blend with sparkling electronics, liquid keyboards, versatile percussion and puissant guitar, producing melodies that lift the heart and carry the audience to lofty heights--all the better to observe the majestic ships edge their ways through the channel as they approach port. Guitars bend and twist with heavenly resonance, alternating between searing riffs that scorch the clouds and romantic steel pedal interludes that soften the modern heart with their nostalgic timbre.

Nelson's lilting vocals praise these grand accomplishments with passionate resolve. His deep voice is a perfect instrument to exalt the oceanic splendor, conveying vast prominence to the marine topic as his lyrics ascend with inspirational vigor.

Environmental sounds of the sea lace the compositions, enhancing their aquatic character and enriching the general drama of the tunes. Meanwhile, the synthetic orchestra bestows a suitable nobility to the tuneage, establishing expansive scope to each passage, the type of proportion that captivates the onlooker with awed respect.

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