The Barness brothers started Sanhedrin in 1998 with other musical partners as a Camel cover band. The group, however, began writing their own material. Here we are presented with their debut album, an instrumental release with 8 compositions. The album features an iconic Israeli musician, Shem-Tov Levi, on the flute. Mr. Levi is a singer, flutist and pianist as well as a composer and arranger. He has released a variety of albums as well as working with various Israeli musicians and singers. Of interest here, is that he was a member of Tuned Tone (with Yitzhak Klepter and Shlomo Yidov), Ktsat Acheret (A Little Different) and Sheshet, all progressive bands or related. But I digress...
Back to Sanhedrin’s album, while classic sounding instrumental prog rock is the order of the day, the band introduces some folk elements on some of the tunes, like Dark Age (which is dedicated to Arik Hayat, of Sympozion, who committed suicide in December 2008). But overall, the band has trademarks of Prog greats like Camel (cool guitar licks), Pink Floyd (gorgeous majestic keyboards and guitar solos) and Genesis (grandiose sound and epic writing), but with a modern sound. To my ears, their music sits nicely among bands such as Oaksenham and Ciccada (their labelmates, who do have vocals on some of their tunes).
Their songs have lovely and (mostly) cheerful melodies, with an expansive sound; they are well arranged and developed from the main theme and so provide for a varied and interesting listen. It does take several listens to be able to absorb it all and distinguish all the different pieces.
The music is beautiful and full of life, and while energetic and dynamic it contains an inner peace, a calm core that permeates throughout the tracks on this album. Not to say that the music doesn’t get exciting or engaging, just that it conveys a sense of tranquility and serenity, a sort of cool composure that emanates from each note and the entire lineup. Listen for instance to the guitar solos on Il Tredici, or the flute almost anywhere else on the album and you’ll get the idea.
Speaking of the musicians’ performance, subtleness and meticulous playing is to be found, nothing ever gets out of hand, everything feels under control and tamed. Each musician gets their spotlight and allowed to express themselves, and yet no one seems to “take advantage” of it wildly and outshine the rest; there is balance in the music as there is in the playing. For me personally, I particularly love Aviv Barness’ keyboards work as it gives the band’s sound a punchy and rougher edge as well as a majestic one. Shem Tov Levi’s flute is renowned in Israel and his playing here doesn’t disappoint (particularly on Sobriety). Gadi Ben-Elisha’s guitar work is efficient and tasteful (in particular the David Gilmour like solo on Timepiece).
Perhaps this tameness is a point o raise, as there is no real sense of letting go on the album, no moment where wild energy is let loose, save few moments (such as on Steam, Timepiece, Sobriety and The Guillotine); the pace doesn’t shift much, though the intensity does. The piece that contradicts all this is the sublime closing piece Steam, which has a propulsive rhythm and a fantastic melody line in two parts, the first made up of the flute and keyboards and the second part lead by the guitar. This is the only track on which raw energy is released and that the guitar gets raunchy and dirty. I’d love to hear more of this side of Sanhedrin, alongside what they play on the rest of the album.
But overall, that is a minor point to me. The song writing and musicianship are more than enough to provide for an excellent listening.
A gorgeous album by a very promising group.
Sobriety and Tema: