In 1993 the American outfit Witsend released the excellent album Cosmos & Chaos. Carl Baldassarre (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Sam Giunta (keyboards) and Paul Mihacevich (drums, percussion) made an album which I loved a lot because the music on it was just the progressive rock I like to hear on a daily basis even if it was influenced by bands such as Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Unfortunately it was the only album this trio released not because the band broke up but because they strangely enough decided to rename themselves Syzygy. Under the umbrella of Syzygy they released the two amazing studio albums The Allegory Of Light (2003) and Realms Of Eternity (2009, see review) plus the superb live 2CD/DVD set A Glorious Disturbance (2012, see review). The last two mentioned albums were released with bassist Al Rolik and guest vocalist Mark Boals. The band always felt that Cosmos & Chaos could have been released in a much better way. Therefore they decided to release a 20th anniversary edition-this time not as Witsend but as Syzygy. They named itCosmos & Chaos 20th Anniversary Compendium and released it one year after the actual year of the 20th anniversary of the album.
Anybody who owns the original album will notice that the track list is complete changed from the original one. This was done on purpose to build the album up from the shortest tracks to the longest tracks. Guitarist and main composer Baldassarre was never quite happy with the original order, which had not quite done justice to the dichotomy between Cosmos and Chaos, which should have been reflected in the compositions. Plus they added additional material which one way or another had something to do with the music written in the early nineties. The band included almost one half hour of extra music to this new version of Cosmos & Chaos.
The album starts with a musical section which they named Miniatures. Which are in fact four pieces of instrumental music performed on the acoustic guitar and piano. The three acoustic guitar compositions Cosmos (Guitar Prelude In E Major), Guitar Etude No. 1 (D Major) and Guitar Etude No. 2 (G Major) sound as if they are performed by Steve Hackett or Steve Howe. The piano piece Poetry In B Minor sounds as if it could have been done by Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman. On this track was the Yamaha CP70 electric piano was replaced by a real grand piano.
It is followed by a musical section which has the title Duets. There are two compositions on which two members of the band perform. On Tautology you can hear duets between the guitar and bass and on The Tone Row you hear duets between the keyboard and guitar. On the last mentioned title is again the Yamaha CP70 electric piano replaced by a real grand piano.
The next musical section is titled Ensemble Works. This is the second half of the album and has the whole trio in action. It is certainly the best part of the entire album and shows already the musical shape of Syzygy. The influences of ELP, Genesis and Yes come very much to the surface. But you can't deny that some parts also come very close to the way Glass Hammer perform their music. The six compositions in this section can be regarded as superb progressive rock music of a very high level. The craftsmanship of the musicians shine through on each and every track that you hear. A lot of outstanding solos performed on the guitars and synthesizers can be heard. All of the tracks are a must for everybody who loves strong instrumental passages with weird time signatures.
Finally, the present edition has been complemented by very early material and live recordings. The very early compositions Opus No.1 and Opus No.3 go back to the early 80s. They were probably recorded around 1984 on a cassette recorder during rehearsals when they practised as the Witsend Quartet. The sound is surprisingly good. The live tracks Strange Loop II and Mount Ethereal were recorded in 2010 with Syzygy-two compositions which originally appeared as instrumentals on the original album. For the live performances of them, lead singer Mark Boals added some vocal parts to them. They certainly sound excellent!
Cosmos & Chaos 20th Anniversary Compendium is a very interesting album for those who enjoy the music of Yes, Genesis, Glass Hammer and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. You could say it is most of all for the retro fans a real treat. For myself I was very glad to get a copy of this new version of this very underrated album. After more than twenty years I could hear once again the real beauty of this fine piece of art. Even when they changed the track list and included lots of bonus material, they still brought me shivers down my spine. Therefore only the highest rating possible does this release deserve. The five stars are well in place for sure!
Syzygy is planning next, a revised version of the album The Allegory of Light, which will eventually be released this year too. In addition they are working on a new album with the name The Picciotti Variations. I'm already looking forward to it.
***** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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