Live In America CD Cover - click to visit PLP's Official Website
Image © 1999 Crimsonic

Album Review

© Russell W Elliot 1999

Last Updated: 07 November 1999

The Swedish progressive rock group Pär Lindh Project have released four tremendous studio albums—Gothic Impressions, Bilbo (Lindh and Johansson), Rondo (M Hagberg as a guest), and Mundus Incompertus—and now in a season flush with live progressively symphonic albums (Iona, Pär Lindh Project and Quidam), their fifth album is a tremendous double CD set entitled Live In America. Their recordings span a period of just a bit over four years and, with additional attention to the vocal work of Magdalena Hagberg in recent recordings, show significant expansion of their keyboard-rich style. Most often compared to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the group is receiving widespread international acclaim across progressive audiences. The originality of their sound is most often attributed to the combination of classically derived keyboards with rock and bass guitar and stunning female vocals.

Technically superb in every respect and played flawlessly, the tracks on Live In America span all of Pär Lindh's earlier studio recordings and include three previously unreleased numbers by the group—wonderful renditions of ELP's arrangement of the classic "Jerusalem," a piano solo called "Allegro Barbaro" and King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." The simply stunning booklet accompanying the CD set has over three dozen wonderful photos commemorating the band's live performances in Scandanavia, Latin America, Europe and North America from 1996 to 1999.

The album "was recorded during the band's tour at the Progday festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (6 September 1998). At this festival PLP won the gallup polls for best group, best keyboardist and best drummer as well as ranking high overall." Two tracks—"Allegro Barbaro" and "The Crimson Sheild"—were actually recorded in Macaé Brazil (9 December 1997).

My own experience with Pär Lindh Project began with the Gothic Impressions studio recording. Expertly played and dynamic, yet (for me) vocally sparse, some interest developed. While living in England a video tape of a live performance provided an "opportunity to fully experience the powerful impact which the band can generate onstage" and drove me to immediately obtain the rest of their available recordings. PLP's onstage versions of their songs overshadow the studio recordings they have released to date. Maybe it is in the mix, maybe it's the raw energy displayed onstage, but the prominence of Magdalena's live vocal work is certainly an improvement. Listeners unfamiliar with the band's recordings or their live performances are in for a treat since Live In America effectively captures the full ambiance, musical dynamics and sheer power of their live performances.

PLP's music typifies the genre of classical allusions captured earlier by Emerson Lake & Palmer, Renaissance and Yes. Live In America opens with Par Lindh's "Baroque Impression No 1" (from Mundus Incompertus) with its lush multi-voice keyboards, soaring guitars and powerfully progressive percussion work. Brilliantly mixed, Magdalena's vocal work opens a two part version of "The Cathedral" (from Gothic Impressions) before the instrumentals build to the power that typifies a PLP track. Melodies move back and forth between keyboard voices and guitar and it's easy to visualise the interplay betwen Pär Lindh and Jocke Ramsell on stage. A wonderful guitar solo opens the second part of the song before keyboards and sweet vocals kick in and an all-out electronic instrumental ensues. Vocals return one more time before one more powerful electronic instrumentals conclude the track.

"Jerusalem," a track PLP have played live for quite some time, has yet to be released by PLP in studio form (although we are informed that a studio version does exist). The live version is short and powerful with instrumentals and vocals presented in equal proportion. Played in a key that forces Magdalena to sing in one of her lower registers, this version of song works quite well.

"The Iconoclast" (from Gothic Impressions) follows immediately with lush keys, soaring electric guitars and pounding percussion. Vocal work continues as a natural progression out of the previous track. The sweet keyboard solo and short yet dynamic drum solo within the instrumental bridge demonstrates the progressive nature of the group's compositions.

The everso sweet beginning of "Green Meadow Lands" (also from Gothic Impressions) with Magdalena's wonderful vocals is underscored by harmonious keys, supporting bass and lead guitar. Percussion perfectly underscores the more dynamic portions of the ballad while keyboard melodies take the lead in the instrumental bridge and build to full-band proportion. This track is really first and foremost a vocal number and it concludes as such with a wonderful 'thank you' to the audience. Pär's piano solo, "Allegro Barbaro," is as stunning as it is dynamic with strong classical references evident throughout. The ambiance of a live performance has been captured with audience appreciation notable in this track's recording.

The first CD concludes with Magdalena's duet with drummer Nisse Bielfield in their live rendition of "The Crimson Shield" (from Mundus Incompertus). Certainly one of the lightest, sweetest and most vocally-enhanced tracks on this live album, the acoustic format of the song works very well in contrast to the band's primarily electronic sound.

The second CD opens with an instrumental medley from PLP's Tolkienesque Bilbo album containing portions of "The Mountain Path," "Beorn" and "Running Towards the Light." Again with evident classical allusions, this rocking medley is richly arranged with dynamic keys, soaring electric guitar, melodic bass and explosive percussion. Another innovative instrumental arrangement of a track originally written by Dave Brubeck, entitled "Rondo," follows with intense percussion and brilliantly lush keyboard excursions with guitar and bass playing in support. Improvisations built on "Flight Of The Bumblebee" (guitar), "Amazing Grace" (keys) and "Auld Lang Syne" (keys) are among the famous melodies heard within the arrangement.

With most of their earlier work effectively performed on the live album, listeners are now ready to be treated to the live arrangement of the epic-length three part "Mundus Incompertus." A true testament to the writing and performing talents of the entire band, "Mundus" contains three vocal portions and it is the most integrated vocal and instrumental number that the band does. It is primarily an instrumental, giving each band member the opportunity to carry the music during a portion of the song. It opens with Magdalena's lovely vocal theme, which returns twice more within the epic. Much like earlier progressive rock classics, there are numerous highly complex and thematic melodies that develop, build up to crescendo and then return intertwined in different ways, with each of the members playing off each others' parts during the individual repetitions. "Mundus" completely illustrates the tightness, sheer musical energy and the overall control the artists maintain on stage. That the band can play a highly complex piece live and remain perfectly together is a true testament to the overall talent and total coherence of the group.

Sung by drummer Nisse Bielfield and played as an encore, the album's final track, "21st Century Schizoid Man" is a faithful performance—guitar, keyboard, bass and drums—of this tremendous King Crimson classic. The guitar solo is most notable.

Clearly the most dynamic recording by PLP released to date, with stunning audio quality and professional performance this album will delight many long time PLP fans as it did the fortunate audience that witnessed these live performances. Progressive music fans and newcomers to PLP's music are advised to begin their experience with this album but should anticipate that interest in their other recordings is likely to develop once this new material is fully appreciated. Certainly worthy of a cross-country journey, this album is clearly a must listen!—RWE

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