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The Neil Campbell Collective - Particle Theory

Particle Theory

The Neil Campbell Collective

Neil Campbell Collective NCCD005

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Though he first places himself as a classical, acoustic, and electric guitarist, Neil Campbell is an instrumental allsorts and quite handy on the keyboards, nor are his compositional powers wanting. In this rather glorious but often subdued fusion effort, the past and the future reach around to embrace one another, marvelously preserving a mellower side of the grand old prog tradition while escorting it into the present for a tune-up and tux. The lead-in title cut boasts a wealth of antecedents in Colosseum, Paul Brett, a trace of Malicorne, Gandalf, Camel, an echo of Keef Hartley, and a generous porridge of others while employing the sort of exotic airs and motives Jasun Martz and others favored, this time, though, infused with jazz and leashed classicality. Alex Welford's horns are of the sort John Entwhistle would have infused within his Smash Your Head LP, but Campbell's choice of iconoclasm is the important point here; thus, he doesn't ape Martz but merely joins him in a slim catalogue of gents producing unique fare in a genre famed for it.

This is made all the more apparent when, after allowing plenty of time for the cut to gather force, Campbell comes sailing in with unorthodox lead lines, slightly atonal, nicely clustered, only to relinquish the stage to his cellist (Nicole Collarbone, who acquits herself beautifully throughout), who then defers to the chanted vocal background. Nothing, in other words, is enslaved to the cliche, the trite, or the mundane, popular expectations finding no easy ingress. The driving rhythms of that first cut in fact fade completely in order to establish atmospherics in the second, carrying a narrative enticing enough to command attention but mysterious enough to develop plot and structure. It proves a segue to the classically grounded Aria, a piece solidly in prime Renaissance (the group, not the era) meadows, wistful and pastoral. The sophistication factor amps up again as 517 takes over and the propulsive interplay between keys, guitar, and cello resumes its center stage position. The Line takes 517 down tempo with many subtle interchanges until Jeff Jepson steps in with vocals vaguely arabesqued, maintaining the controlled atmosphere in sultry tones.

The degree of thought and arrangement that went into this concept cycle is quite apparent. It has many Romantic aspects oft neo-Mahlerian, though Gustav would never have contemplated the Klaus Schulz-ian section in The List, rather an elaborate surprise and apparently a carryover from Campbell's first release, which was lauded as a spacier effort. Jepson returns with a far more impassioned refrain in Angels and Aeroplanes", somewhat loungy with operatic touches. It's here, though, that Campbell reveals his very assured handling of the piano, soft and lush in an almost Satie-an vein, innovative and adagioed with lamentive plaint. The pianistic voice doesn't last long enough, unfortunately for these ears, but certainly demands a return in future efforts; the depths to be plumbed yet are obvious.

The lead track bookends itself in Particle Theory 2 but initially sans the swirling gusto, elegaic instead, haunting…but only in the set-up. Three minutes in, the drums kick up and we're back to the races, the initiating figure resuscitated and plunging forward. The entire segmented opus ties up loose ends, requotes its motifs, and then comes to an abrupt end, something that elsewhere might be contrived but here works perfectly.

The interval between this CD and its predecessor was three years and clearly a needful space of time as work this refined doesn't occur overnight. Like the writing of good speculative fiction, it requires meditation, editing, rewrites, polish, and no small degree of an aesthetic insight outside the norms. Particle Theory will require more than one listen to appreciate for its subtler qualities and unusual agglomeration, a wine that darkens and deepens over time.… though we must hope this same requirement will not prove incumbent upon the Collective's third release. A three year wait again would be a trifle frustrating, as too much of a good thing, after all, is just enough.

Track List:

  • Particle Theory
  • More Particles
  • Aria
  • 517
  • The Line
  • The List
  • Angels and Aeroplanes
  • Particle Theory 2
All songs written by Neil Campbell

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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