17 Pygmies are a project/band from Los Angeles, California. Until now, I'd never heard of them before. They officially began in 1982 when Philip Drucker started jamming in a garage with keyboardist and guitarist Michael Kory and drummer-singer Debbie Spinelli. The group's first composition was a cover version of the theme music of David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia inspired by Emerson Lake & Palmer. They quickly evolved into a kind of spooky instrumental and eighties style techno-pop band. Several line-up changes followed and meanwhile they also released a number of records. In 2008 they recorded an album called Celestina, a concept album about a giant gas nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The music on Celestina had nothing to do with the techno-pop of the early days, but moved strongly in the direction of progressive rock, new age and ambient music.
In January 2011 they released CII: Second Son. This is the second part in a threefold series based on the original short story Celestina. The story begins when the hero Captain Mora and his fellow-astronaut Isabel are waking up. After travelling through a black hole they discover a colony of robots that changed their chemical 'mix' to cope with a beautiful, but mysterious world in which nothing ever changes. While adapting to their new surroundings, they learn some astonishing news from Herod, the leader of the robots, and they know they have no choice, but to find a way to return home.
The musicians called the album a tribute to all of the unique science fiction movies of the 1950-1960 decade. They had films in mind like The Day The Earth Stood Still while writing and recording the music for this album. The musicians that made a fine musical experience of this album are Jackson Del Rey (synthesizer, guitar, bass), Meg Maryatt (vocals, piano, synthesizer), Jeff Brenneman (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Dirk Doucette (vocal, percussion, keyboard, drums) and guest Heather Lockie who was invited to play the viola on three tracks. Together they created an album that contains 45 minutes of very enjoyable mellow music. People who enjoy the music of early Tangerine Dream might like this album. I think the ambient sound passages on CII: Second Son are more or less influenced by early Tangerine Dream, but in certain passages the music of Karda Estra could also have been an inspiration for 17 Pygmies. I heard the same kind of mellow soundscapes and orchestral passages on this album. Even the Italian proggers of Nosounds may have been an inspiration. They also know how to entertain the listeners with minimal tempo changes. Finally the music of Laurie Anderson and Tori Amos came to mind as well due to the female vocals of Meg Maryatt.
Finally I have something to say about the beautiful artwork. The CD has been wrapped up in an unusual paper sleeve that also contains a booklet comprising the whole story written by Jackson Del Rey. This original package makes this album even more wanted than if it had been released in an ordinary CD-box. I'm glad that every now and then an album appears that deviates from the 'common' progressive rock path. CII: Second Son gives you the feeling that life doesn't have to be lived in the fast lane. It provides for some fine relaxing moments to dream away on. Therefore I can only be positive about what 17 Pygmies achieved. I expect the third and final Celestina-chapter will end this concept in style.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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