K2 (K Squared) wrote prog history in 2005 with their debut album Book Of The Dead (see review). For me, this album is a true masterpiece bringing back the sound of the seventies in many respects. I play this album rather often at home and if I do bands like UK, Yes and Genesis come to my mind, but I can also enjoy the influences of modern jazz rock bands on this fine release. The man behind this project was Ken Jaquess (bass, keyboards). He found in guitarist Allan Holdsworth and Spock's Beard keyboardist Ryo Okumoto two excellent musicians who lifted the musicianship on Book Of The Dead to a very high level. At the time Ken Jaquess felt that he had to continue with K2 and he decided to turn the project into a real live band. A wise decision as we could learn from the DVD Live In Hollywood (see review).
Since the recording of the debut album the line-up had changed. Mr. Holdsworth was replaced by Ken's friend Karl Johnson and the vocals of the late Shawn Guerin are now perfectly sung by Josh Gleason, a vocalist who had worked in a Genesis tribute band. Therefore the references with Peter Gabriel are still intact. Together with the original drummer Doug Sanborn Jaquess started to work on a second album Black Garden, but it took a long while before we could finally enjoy this second recording by K2. During the interview I had with Ken Jaquess (see interview) he told me that the main reason for the delay was lack of money, due to the economic recession in America. Ultimately, he decided to finance the project himself.
The first album dealt with ancient Egypt which was perfectly set to music. This time the concept is based on the journey of the Polynesians across the Pacific Ocean to find new land to inhabit. This is quite an amazing story; Ken thought it would be a great subject for the music of K2. However, the main question was whether K2 could again write and record a perfect soundtrack for this story, because anticipations ran high after the successful debut album. Could they come up with a second masterpiece? Could they grab me again by the throat? Well, I can answer these questions with a simple: yes, they could! Five years after Book Of The Dead, a second masterpiece saw the light of day. Again I was panting for breath after listening to Black Garden and again the musicianship on this album is outstanding.
Ryo's keyboards sound excellent. His Mellotron, Hammond-organ and MiniMoog-parts are really stunning. The melodic guitar parts done by Karl Johnson really sound amazing and are absolutley not inferior to the guitar parts of Allan Holdsworth. Ken's bass guitar resembles the way Chris Squire pulled the strings on the Yes-albums. The bass pedals add something extra to the overall timbre. The lead vocals of Mr. Gleason sound strong and sometimes very emotional and Doug Sanborn appears to be the perfect drummer for this kind of music that has the spirit of the great progressive rock bands of the seventies.
The longest tracks Passage To The Deep, Storm At Sunset and Path Of The Warrior are my highlights on Black Garden. That certainly doesn't mean that the other tracks are less good; all songs are of a very high quality level. The band did a great job to include not only up-tempo tracks, but also mellow pieces. Widows Path is a good example of such a piece. The MiniMoog-solo on this track is amazing and fits perfectly in the oasis of rest produced by the delicate grand piano parts. And what about the Mellotron-drenched Summer's Fall? This is another exceptional mellow piece of music. The great sound of the first release is still present on this second effort, but that's just how I like progressive rock music. I love to hear traces of Yes and Genesis as long as the musicians sound original. And that's just the case on Black Garden.
For me, it's very easy to conclude that it was worth to wait five years for a follow-up of Book Of The Dead. Hopefully the economy doesn't interfere again for a third masterpiece of this excellent American progressive rock band. As far as I'm concerned, Black Garden is highly recommended and it certainly belongs to one of my musical highlights of 2010!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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