From.Uz - Quartus Artifactus

(DVD/CD 2011, 144 min/54:31/45:47, 10T Records 10T10048)

The tracks:
  1- Stone Salad(13:26)
  2- Familiarization Results(7:45)
  3- Harry Heller Theater(12:11)
  4- Perfect Place(1:37)
  5- Parallels(20:01)
  1- Influence Of Time(10:22)
  2- Crashmind(9:57)
  3- Desert Circle(15:51)
  4- Babylon Dreams(9:38)

From.Uz Website        samples        10T Records

From.Uz, formerly named Fromuz, were established in 2004 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan by Vitaly Popeloff (guitars, vocals) and Andrew Mara-Novik (keyboards, acoustic guitar, flute). The band's name has been derived from one of their first songs meaning 'from Uzbekistan'. They have become one of the most successful prog rock bands of Central Asia. They predominantly make instrumental music. For insiders From.Uz is well-known for the technical musical skills of the band members comparable to the musicians of Dream Theater. However, music wise this comparison fails since DT plays prog metal while From.Uz have strongly been influenced by fusion, jazz rock and hints of ethnic and classical music. Their debut album Audio Diplomacy (2007) contains the recordings of a concert at the Youth Theatre of Uzbekistan followed by the first studio album Overlook (2008). The bands latest studio effort Seventh Story (see review) appeared in 2010 and can be regarded as their best work so far. From.Uz also released two DVDs: Playing The Imitation (2007) and Inside Seventh Story (2010, see review).

The band's latest release Quartus Artifactus is a collection of compiled from their three previous releases. All songs are performed live and got new arrangements. They were played in a 'prog-chamber format' as they call it themselves. With less electric instruments and more acoustic ones, From.Uz tried to create a mellower and gentler sound. During this special performance the musicians reworked nine songs. How they succeeded in giving their music an acoustic twist can be seen on the full concert-DVD that also includes a 'behind the scenes' section. During 45 minutes you can watch them turning an empty stage into a concert stage. However, more important is the double-CD that features all tracks performed at the concert.

What can you expect from this new release? Honestly speaking, my expectations didn't run that high; maybe that's the reason that it took me by surprise. It's mostly hard for a band to entertain an audience with rearranged versions of studio tracks mainly performed on acoustic instruments. Only few releases could keep my attention throughout the album: Less Is More by Marillion (see review) and Live At Real World 2009 by Magenta (see review). This time I began to watch the DVD first and to my surprise I kept looking until the final track was ended. I'm not sure whether I'd watched it with my mouth wide open, but fact is that I was impressed by what I'd seen and heard. The five musicians on the small stage appeared to be masters on their instruments.

I've seen countless musicians performing in front of an audience, but what these people from Uzbekistan achieved really left me speechless. Wow, these are well-trained men who are virtuosos on their instruments; especially Vitaly Popeloff is a genius on his acoustic guitar! Maybe his lead vocals sung with an accent aren't always that strong, but that's of minor interest because of the way he plays the original electric guitar parts on his acoustic guitar. Just breathtaking! However, the same applies to the other musicians. It seemed as if it cost them no trouble at all to play their instruments.

The sound on this DVD is excellent, the camera crew filmed fine close-ups and the way they play their instruments has been perfectly shot either. Although they perform their music in an acoustic setting with only a few keyboards and an electric bass guitar, it's yet very entertaining. All songs remain recognizable, especially the music from Seventh Story. On this album sometimes the music is rather aggressive, so I didn't expect them to manage this on acoustic guitars. But they did it excellently which can be heard on tracks as Perfect Place and Parallels. Bravo! The concert also shows that they often use elements of the ethnic music of Uzbekistan. This is above all demonstrated by the use of a recorder. Also the sound of an accordion taken from a synthesizer sample provides for the traditonal folk elements. While listening to the CD of this excellent performance I realized that this kind of music is rather inaccessible, yet very strong. I guess that many people wander off without the images of the DVD, because this cleverly made music is very complex as well.

The art work is cleverly made either. Designer Ken Westphal did again an amazing job. This time the sleeve reminded me of the cover designed for the first live album of Yes. The cover of Yessongs also contains landscapes, but on the cover of this album it seems as if you're looking at the scenery of another planet or at the beginning of evolution. Maybe Ken Westphal becomes the Roger Dean of the new millennium. He delivers the same amazing artwork as Roger did in the seventies!

This time I had an easy job to judge this fantastic release. Everything concerning Quartus Artifactus is just wonderful and therefore only the highest rating will do. In the review of the latest CD by Twelfth Night MMX (see review) I said that I don't rate a live album with five stars that often. I didn't expect to give another live album a five-star rating within such a short period of time. But I did and it's well deserved!

***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)

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