The past half decade has been quite an adventure for keyboardist, vocalist, composer, producer, and all-around you-name-it Dave Kerzner. Though he has been jamming with the likes of Kevin Gilbert and Nick D’Virgilio since the ’90s, he has really come into his own in the 2010s, since he decided to finally go all-in as a progressive rock musician. However, into each life some rain must fall, and possibly the most popular of Kerzner‘s projects, Sound of Contact, has dealt with nothing but tumult since its inception. The band, once comprised of Kerzner, Simon Collins, Matt Dorsey, and Kelly Nordstrom, officially broke up a few years ago, after the release of their album Dimensionaut, and gave it another shot later on, only to again falter in 2018, with the exit of Collins and Nordstrom, leaving Dorsey and Kerzner as the two remaining members. The band, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be dead, especially with the success of Kerzner‘s solo project (usually including bass and keyboard contributions from Dorsey). Fans assumed all of the work that had gone into what was to be the follow-up sophomore album to Dimensionaut would never see the light of day. That was, at least, until Dave Kerzner announced the existence of his new band (project?) In Continuum.
Kerzner has been touring the U.S. and Europe, as well as making the rounds at the prog festivals with his solo band (known as Dave Kerzner Band, or DKB to his fans) and has made many friends along the way, even in such hallowed moments as paying tribute to John Wetton while joined by Kerzner‘s right-hand man Fernando Perdomo and the legendary Thijs van Leer of Focus. In this new band In Continuum, Kerzner not only employs the talents of those who have been a part of DKB, such as Randy McStine, Nick D’Virgilio, Perdomo and Dorsey, but also newcomers he has met on his travels, such as Gabriel Agudo, Leticia Wolf, Joe Deninzon, Jon Davison, Steve Hackett, Jon Anderson, and Marco Minnemann. That might seem like a lot of musicians, especially as I haven’t even mentioned every single performer involved, but instead of becoming a huge Ayreon-like production filled with double-digit amounts of singers, for In Continuum‘s debut album, Acceleration Theory, Part One: AlienA, Kerzner instead has written a story around three primary lead vocalists, and relies on a key group of musicians, and then several of the aforementioned names are really just noteworthy guest appearances (or guest composition in the case of Jon Anderson).
And the result is quite cohesive, entertaining, musically satisfying, and it tells the first part of a tale which falls in line with classic progressive rock concept album storytelling.
Thankfully, Kerzner has outlined the major parts of the story in prose form within the liner notes, as some of the finer points might be lost in just the lyrics doing the storytelling. To tell it succinctly, it’s an intergalactic love story, in which a woman from a hyper-advanced alien race falls in love with a human man on Earth, who seemingly has a good heart. Unfortunately, the alien race to which our female protagonist (later referred to as AlienA out of an Area 51 “HELLO, My Name Is” mishap) belongs has deemed our human society no longer worthy of the gifts they have bestowed upon us. Despite AlienA teaching our human protagonist Kai how to use their gifts for good, the alien society has decided to intervene and end our race before we destroy our planet in a World War III scenario. Admittedly, on paper (and told so succinctly,) the story sounds like it has the makings of a particularly funny episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (one can almost hear the zingers of Tom Servo and Crow if one closes one’s eyes,) but through Kerzner‘s melodic and crossover pop-prog songwriting, as well as the emotive singing of the musicians playing our main characters, the whole thing comes off as just sincere enough that it might bring a tear to the listener’s eye.
In Continuum made their live debut at the 2018 edition of ProgStock, in Rahway, New Jersey, and I was fortunate enough to attend, and even interview Dave Kerzner and Marco Minnemann separately after the band’s performance. The album wasn’t released yet, and wasn’t even completely ready to be sent off for production yet, so putting together a completely live performance of songs from the album (as well as highlights from Sound of Contact) was likely an intimidating undertaking. The live band was comprised of Kerzner on lead vocals and keys, Leticia Wolf and Gabriel Agudo on lead vocals, Randy McStine and Fernando Perdomo on guitar, Matt Dorsey on bass, and Marco Minnemann on drums. Out of the 12 songs on the album, maybe half of the main songs were performed, leaving the segues to the album. As confident of a performance as it was, there were some inevitable hiccups, mainly I think due to adrenaline, nerves, and definitely some technical problems, and some of the vocals suffered as a result. But for anyone who was at ProgStock and saw those few slight problems, obviously the album is the true representation of the work and deserves to be heard.
On the album, Kerzner plays the role of the narrator, Gabriel Agudo (formerly of Bad Dreams and now a solo artist) plays the earthling, Kai, and Leticia Wolf plays the alien later referred to as AlienA. Kerzner‘s voice is often compared to David Gilmour, especially in the studio, and it’s a valid (and high-class problem) comparison. His timbre and healthy amount of reverb is a nice match to narrate the album… and besides, who better to narrate than the man whose concept this is? Agudo, who possibly suffered from a bit too much adrenaline at ProgStock, sounds fantastic as Kai on the album. His performance is sincere, honest, and noble enough that the listener believes he is Kai, and he perfectly embodies the Steve Trevor to AlienA’s Wonder Woman, or even the Steve Rogers to AlienA’s Peggy Carter once Kai gets his – spoiler alert – alien-endowed powers. And of course, as AlienA, Leticia Wolf was a fantastic choice for the role. While she might not be a household name in progressive rock, she is likely to be one of the most talked-about vocalists of 2019 due to her contributions on Acceleration Theory. Her singing alongside Agudo in “Be The Light” gives us the progressive rock love ballad we never knew we needed in our lives. In her solo moments, she deftly delivers lyrics in AlienA’s native language (“Vieualaloo frrrst gau mindalu tao”) that comes off as believable rather than trite, all in a timbre and tone reminiscent of Emily Haines of the band Metric. Even when the singers join together to give an uplifting sort of “millennial whoop” whoa-oh-oh vocalization together on the aforementioned “Be The Light,” which was a powerful moment at ProgStock, it again elevates the work to another level. I personally like to think of her as the Leeloo to his Korben Dallas, if I’m being honest.
Musically, the album is not the most challenging material, and that is perfectly okay. If you’re looking for King Crimson or Magma, you’re in the wrong place. If you loved what Kerzner and Dorsey did with Sound of Contact, then come on in. That said, if you want a little insanity with your crossover prog, the song “Hands of Time” might do the trick for you. It’s the longest song on the album, divided into three parts, and serves to move along the story mostly through narration, but also kickass musicianship. It features some of Minnemann‘s best drumming on the album, while the entire ensemble plays tightly in the pocket together, only to erupt with a heaviness and aggression that just might please the Crimson diehards in the room. But that said, the majority of the rest of the album is smooth and easy, for the most part, and goes down like fine mead. It’s emotionally heavy, but overall has a dreamy and spacey quality to it, and is extremely satisfying. After several listens in writing this review, I keep coming back for more.
Randy McStine was arguably the MVP of ProgStock, playing multiple sets and instruments throughout the weekend, and considering he played more of a supporting role with Dave Kerzner Band in the past, it was great to see him step out front and be the guitar gunslinger Kerzner needed him to be for this album. His solos are insane, and his lighter riffs, like the delay-tinged hammer-on playing that kicks off “I Remember” is acrobatic and agile. Between his solo work, his band Lo-Fi Resistance, his touring with the likes of Stu Hamm, and Vinnie Moore, and of course his growing contributions with Dave Kerzner‘s work, he is one of the brightest stars rising meteorically in the progressive music world these days, and In Continuum‘s album proves that.
Even though Minnemann plays for a majority of the album, it’s a delight to hear Kerzner‘s old bandmate from Kevin Gilbert‘s Thud days, the one and only Nick D’Virgilio of Big Big Train and formerly of Spock’s Beard. He only plays on two songs on the album, so his is almost sort of an honorary position, but if someone is grandfathered into an album, we should be so lucky to have it be NDV. As far as Marco Minnemann‘s performance, what is there to be said that hasn’t already been said? There is a reason he is one of the most in-demand drummers in the world, and we here at Sonic Perspectives talk about every album he plays on. But even in the studio, his playing is so energetic and full of life that he has this amazing quality where he is so vibrant that he sounds like he’s rushing the beat (especially when he goes nuts on a ride cymbal as in the song “Scavengers,”) but he is a human metronome and is spot-on. You wonder how he’s going to fit so many notes into a fill, but then he makes it happen. And yet somehow he never overplays. His is a welcome presence in the growing cast of Dave Kerzner characters.
Of course, with Dorsey being the only remaining member of Sound of Contact, he has become a mainstay in Kerzner‘s works and is as good as ever on Acceleration Theory. He might not be the flashiest bass player, but he is a rock. With so many fireworks happening all around on this album, someone needs to hold it all together, and that’s what Dorsey does. From a songwriting perspective, he is credited in writing the music on “Two Moons Setting with the Sun,” one of the most powerful moments on the entire album. Since the dissolution of Sound of Contact, Matt Dorsey is working on his debut solo album, with Kerzner‘s help, and it should be exciting to see what more he is able to do as a songwriter. Speaking of which, if one wants to understand the title of In Continuum, they need look no further than the album’s liner notes, where they see all four members of Sound of Contact mentioned with songwriting credits. It’s nice to see actual proof that the ideas that were percolating for Sound of Contact‘s next album have actually seen the light of day (or the intergalactic stars, as the case may be).
And then we have frequent Kerzner collaborators: Fernando Perdomo, who is in a slightly more understated role on this album, but was a fantastic part of the live band, playing a supporting role well and getting to take the spot a few times; Ruti Celli, who came to work with Dave Kerzner through her improvisational guitar and cello duo with Perdomo, called Fern & Celli; and Kaitlin Wolfberg who not only provides violin playing for the majority of the album, but viola as well. Those who are used to seeing Perdomo‘s passionate playing with DKB might be somewhat saddened to see him take more of a back seat role in this project, but considering his involvement was uncertain at the onset, it’s nice to see him here, especially if him taking a back seat means McStine gets to ride shotgun. But you still know when Perdomo is there, like his nylon-string, classical / flamenco infused arpeggios in the segue song “Racing Through the Past.”
Finally, we have our guest performers, who really turn In Continuum into an all-star effort. Joe Deninzon, of Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius, whose improvised solo at ProgStock was almost an after-thought, but became one of the most show-stealing moments of the entire weekend. It was such a great moment, in fact, that Kerzner told me in our interview that they had decided to get Joe’s playing on the album after that. And it’s a good thing they did. Admittedly, nothing can beat the fresh and inspired instant satisfaction that came in that improvised solo at the festival, but what ends up on the album is a close second. And then we have Steve Hackett, who has appeared on Kerzner‘s albums a couple of different times, as well as performed with the band on Cruise to the Edge, as well as John Wesley most known for his work with Porcupine Tree, playing baritone guitar on the album finale (or intermission before the next album, if one prefers). And then we have Jon Davison of YES, who sings on the album a couple of different times, and interestingly enough, one of those songs was co-written with Jon Anderson, of YES featuring ARW. He was originally slated to perform on the album, but as heard in an interview on The Road to ProgStock with Sonic Perspectives‘ Scott Medina in the Spring of 2018, it was decided to involve Anderson as a writer instead. And as odd as some of those random contributions might seem, they all work. They are all understated enough that they don’t take away from the already packed house of core performers we have throughout the album. Even the piece written by Anderson and sung by Davison is a dreamy, reverie of a moment that helps move the album along, and does not feel out of place. The album is a better work for all of their efforts.
That brings up another facet of Kerzner‘s studio albums that bears mentioning, the segue pieces. One of the greatest albums of this decade in this reviewer’s personal collection is the deluxe edition of Dave Kerzner‘s New World album. That said, I don’t know if I could listen to the standard, single-disc edition of the album, because it’s missing so many of the great, cinematic segue moments which prime the pump for the next fully realized verse-chorus song. And even though Acceleration Theory, Part One: AlienA, is just part one, Kerzner has given us many of those great segue moments that make New World deluxe such a joy for insatiable prog maniacs like us. They are all magical, and special, and if his past albums are any indication, these pieces stand to be some of the biggest earworms of the completed work.
If there is one slight critique to be leveled at this album, and it is a small one, it is the performance given by one of the characters from The Council on the final song of the album, “Banished”. From the story in the liner notes, The Council and AlienA’s homeworld race does not seem to be completely evil, just very logical and pragmatic. And sure, The Council might be a little sick of humanity’s shenanigans, but it doesn’t seem like they’re overtly sinister. That said, during the spoken word part from The Council member, he gives a very sinister laugh while sealing the fate (or is he?) of one of our protagonists. And it just seems like it’s out of character, just evil for the sake of evil, spiteful where cold and calculating would suffice, like it might belong more on a Ziltoid album than this album which is meant to be taken completely seriously. Almost like it’s a James Bond villain. But again, this is a very small complaint in an otherwise 99.9% delight of an album.
So, considering In Continuum is Dave Kerzner‘s project, and is the spiritual successor of Sound of Contact, how does it stack up against his past works? Acknowledging that comparing it to all of those bands is somewhat apples and oranges, in this reviewer’s personal opinion, it’s more satisfying than the last Dave Kerzner solo album, Static. It might be a more rounded and cohesive album than Sound of Contact‘s Dimensionaut, which will likely shock some readers. As bumpy of a road as that band went down, one must admit that there was something magical to hearing Simon Collins sing Dave Kerzner‘s songs. And despite the top notch performances given here, it’s almost like being perfectly happy in a current relationship, but still missing your ex from time to time. It doesn’t mean your heart wanders, it’s just that you miss the good old days. That said, there’s nothing stopping anyone from listening to Dimensionaut and Acceleration Theory back to back and doubling their pleasure. And finally, I would have to say, personally, this album ranks up there with the deluxe edition of New World. Much of that decision will ultimately hinge upon how Part Two turns out, but if the two are equally balanced, they could conceivably become Kerzner‘s crowning achievement at this point in his career.
Released By: RecPlay Inc.
Release Date: January 1st, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Gabriel Agudo / Vocals
- Dave Kerzner / Keyboards, Vocals
- Randy McStine / Guitar
- Matt Dorsey / Bass
- Marco Minnemann / Drums
With Special Guests:
- Steve Hackett / Guitar
- Jon Davison / Vocals
- Steve Rothery / Guitar
- Fernando Perdomo / Guitars
- Nick D’Virgilio / Drums
- Joe Deninzon / Violin
- Kaitlin Wolfberg / Violin & Viola
- Ruti Celli / Cello
- Leticia Wolf / Spoken Words, Vocals
“In Continuum – Acceleration Theory, Part I: AlienA” Track-Listing:
- Acceleration Theory
- Crashing Landing (Featuring Steve Hackett)
- I Remember
- Two Moons Setting With The Sun
- Be The Light (Featuring Steve Rothery)
- Hands Of Time
- Racing Through The Past
- AlienA (Featuring Leticia Wolf)
- Meant To Be (Featuring Jon Davison)
- Man Unkind
Musical stories told against an intergalactic backdrop can be a bit worrisome. You have your Arjen Lucassens, who will be the first to admit their works are a little cheesy, but are pulled off in such a grand fashion that you can't help but love them. Then you have bands like Helion Prime, who take a more power metal approach and couple that with science fiction and science fact for a fun romp through the worlds of Jurassic Park and Pitch Black. And then you have many that are, well, just kind of lame. As good as Dave Kerzner's New World album was, it was a bit worrisome to see if he could write another quality story with a space-age setting, despite the fact that he has said he's always wanted to try his hand at being a novelist. And thankfully, for those of us who enjoy wine without cheese, the album Is cheese-free (minus one minor tick as noted up above). The songwriting and storytelling are intrinsically linked here, and both stand up to scrutiny. The musicianship is amazing, from start to finish, and with so many performers, there are many colors in the palette. The album itself isn't the most original idea, but Kerzner building his own sort of progressive fraternity on the heels of the devastating news of Sound of Contact's collapse is a great way to keep the legacy going. And lastly, with Kerzner being a true audiophile, the album sounds fantastic, with every instrument finding a place in the mix, and the music being full of body and warmth and sounding great on a set of floor speakers (speaking from experience here). If you're a fan of any of the bands or artists mentioned in this review, take the plunge and buy this album, and I'm sure we'll see you here for the Top Albums of 2019 in just under a year from now