Alessandro Bertoni is a classically trained pianist hailing from Treviso, Italy. Before finally moving to his current residence of Los Angeles, California Bertoni studied jazz and contemporary music in Milan and Padua expanding his musical repertoire. So by the time he made the move from Italy to the US he was well versed in a variety of musical styles and technically proficient enough on the keyboards to tackle any challenge that came his way. And the genre that provided the greatest challenge and source of inspiration was instrumental progressive rock - namely rock/fusion, technical metal, jazz, experimental, and symphonic metal.
Bertoni formed the instrumental prog/metal band Aphelion in 2004 with musicians Sebastiano Pozzobon (bass), Matteo Gasparin (guitars),and Salvatore Bonaccorso (drums) focusing on a mixture of technical progressive and fusion/jazz styles. That line-up recorded the two track demo "Demonstructive", which eventually led to the band signing with Italy's Lizard Records. In 2006, with new drummer Enrico Pintonello, the band recorded their first full 7 track album "Franticode" at Majestic Studio (Venice, Italy) which was mixed by Planet X and x-Dream Theater keysman extraordinaire Derek Sherinian.
So when it came time for Alessandro Bertoni to return to the studio to record his first solo album he once again turned to Derek Sherinian to produce his 2013 album "Keystone".
"Keystone" is released on the newly formed Generation Prog Records which launched last year to promote modern progressive rock music, focusing on the next generation of young artists shaping the modern prog scene - with an emphasis on progressive metal and fusion influences.
"Keystone" is an eight part instrumental epic entitled "Megas Alexandros" which not only features the extraordinary keyboard work of Alessandro Bertoni, but the brilliant guiarwork of Brett Garsed, and the solid rhythm section of Ric Fierabracci (bass) and Virgil Donati (drums). All alumni of Derek Sherinian's Planet X.
Drummer Virgil Donati has amassed quite a discography himself as a member of the bands Planet X, Ring Of Fire, Southern Sons, Freakhouse, Taste, Soul SirkUS, Devil's Slingshot and Loose Change, as well as sessions work for artists like Steve Walsh of Kansas (his solo album "Glossolalia"), Erik Norlander ("Music Machine"), and the album "Jesus Christ Superstar" are just a few examples.
Australian guitarist Brett Garsed is another contributor to Derek Sherinian's Planet X projects ("Planet X", "Quantum", and "Molecular Heinocity")as well as the former guitarist of the American group Nelson ("After The Rain", "Because They Can", "Imaginator", "Perfect Storm - After The Rain World Tour 1991"), which featured Rick Nelson's two sons Gunnar and Matthew. Garsed also appeared on five albums with x-Little River Band's John Farnham ("Whispering Jack", "Age Of Reason", "Chain Reaction", "Full House", and "Romeo's Heart"), collaborated on six albums with T.J. Helmerich ("Quid Pro Quo", "Exempt", "Under The Lash Of Gravity", "Uncle Moe's Space Ranch", "Uncle Moe's Space Ranch, Moe Town" and "Inedits"), and recorded a pair of solo albums "Big Sky" (2002) and "Dark Matter" (2011), as well as a few other sessions credits.
And bassist Ric Fierabracci who has also appeared with Sherinian, Garsed, and Donati on the Project X albums has recorded and performed with a veritable "Who's Who" of progressive rock, jazz, and pop artists including: Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Bill Evans, John McLaughlin, Andy Summers, Greg Howe, Tony McAlpine, The Beach Boys, The Fifth Dimension, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Adrian Belew, Eddie Jobson & UKZ, and Curved Air's Sonja Kristina to name a few.
So as you can see Bertoni has assembled a seasoned crew for his solo debut.
And boy do they deliver! Which is why I spent so much time delving into the musical background of the supporting cast. Because "Keystone" plays much more like a complete band than an ego-inflated vehicle for a flashy keyboardist looking to dazzle the listener with endless noodling solos.
True, the virtuoso keyboard work of Bertoni is clearly the driving force behind the album - but the contributions from guitarist Garsed and that amazing rhythm section can't be glossed over or diminished. And Bertoni's tightly constructed compositions embrace both style and substance - never taking a back seat to technical keyboard gymnastics.
One thing I've discovered as a keyboardist transitioning from the analog keyboards I performed with in the 70s' to the digital keyboards and samples available now is that you can never be certain if the sound you're hearing on the album is the keyboardist, the guitarist, the bassist, or the drummer. Many of the sounds one might attribute to the guitarist could actually be Bertoni's keyboards. Same holds true for the bass. There are some superior bass, guitar, and percussion samples available on the Nord, Studiologic, and other assorted digital - as well as analog - keyboards in Bertoni's arsenal. So at times it's hard to discern Bertoni's keys from Garsed's guitars or Fierabracci's bass.
The opening track "The Great Portrait", combines elements of The Dixie Dreggs, Spock's Beard, and the first UK album featuring Eddie Jobson and Alan Holdsworth. Potent high energy that immediately grabs your attention.
While "Pt. II. - The City Of Gordium" gears down considerably with an electric piano and fretless bass opening that transitions into a melancholy jazz fusion number one might associate with bands like Brand X, Passport, Chick Corea, or Weather Report.
"The Keystone Age" is another high octane track, once again conjuring up elements of The Dreggs and UK as well as the jazz fusion group Colosseum II, and the early instrumental solo albums of guitarists Tony McAlpine ("Edge Of Insanity" and "Maximum Security") and Vinnie Moore ("Mind's Eye" and "Time Odyssey").
Tracks like "To The Ends Of The Earth", "Pacifica Rampage", and "Tertium Non Datur" tap into Derek Sherinian's instrumental prog/metal albums ("Planet X", "Inertia", "Black Utopia", and "Mythology"), complete with the aggressive light speed arpeggios reminiscent of metal keyboardist like Sherinian, Kevin Moore and Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, Michael Pinella of Symphony X, Jens Johannson of Stratovarius, and Ryo Okumoto of Spock's Beard.
The toll of an ominous bell establishes the tone for the closing track "Magnolia Sunrise", which evokes unsettling images of open graves in a desecrated cemetery. The eerie atmospheric track brings to mind the Italian masters of the macabre Goblin, filmscore composer Pino Donnagio, and the American progressive band A Triggering Myth.
The album is highly recommended to fans of instrumental progressive metal as well as the many bands mentioned throughout the review.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on January 31st, 2014