The Quiet Earth Orchestra - "s/t"
(self-released 2008)

From Aural Innovations #40 (September 2008)

The Quiet Earth Orchestra is not really an orchestra, but instead is just one guy, multi-instrumentalist/singer and composer John Ludi. Despite not being an orchestra or a band, Ludi still manages to pull off some pretty successful symphonic progressive rock.

For a long time there's been this division between classic progressive rock, with it's extended compositions, instrumental virtuosity and cosmic lyrics and the so called neo-prog, with shorter compositions, less show-offy instrumental chops and more down to earth lyrics. Ludi's work seems to me to sort of bridge that gap. He's an excellent player, on all the instruments, though it seems clear that his forte is the guitar. His style is complex and dextrous without showing off. Every note has its place in the composition. Keyboards are used more to create added layers and depth, especially to add symphonic textures, rather than for flashy solos. His compositions are multifaceted, never falling into anything formulaic. There are no 20-minute prog rock epics here, but the last six songs on the album do form a 35-minute long conceptual suite. Each piece is designed to lyrically and musically explore a different aspect of his thoughts on spiritualism and human potential (or lack thereof) or to convey a different mood for each segment of the story in the suite that comprises the latter part of the album. But some of the tracks reach into the 8 and 9-minute length, showing that Ludi doesn't like to be confined to any preconceived notions of how a song should be structured.

The album consists of four stand-alone songs and the lengthy aforementioned conceptual suite entitled The Prophet Part 1 (Part 2, I presume, will have to wait for another album). To be honest, the first three songs are not bad, but didn't really grab me that much. They come across as fairly standard neo prog, but not as focused musically compared to what was to come on the latter part of the album, although the tracks God and Limitations have some nice symphonic parts to them that are well done. The fourth track, a brief instrumental appropriately titled Simple is quite nicely done though, with gentle acoustic guitar picking nicely offset by moody, orchestral washes of sound. The album really starts to take on some fire during the final suite, however. The Prophet Part 1, details the journey of a fictional modern day prophet (the album definitely has some spiritual connotations, but if Ludi subscribes to any particular religion, it's not evident in the lyrics, though on his web site he indicates that his title character is based on people such as Jesus Christ, The Buddha and Ghandi and the idea of an "everyman" who becomes enlightened). The Prophet (the first song in the suite) is a somewhat heavier piece, but features some nice piano playing in the middle, somewhat different from the usual guitar interludes and solos. My favourite track on the album, Singularity, is a breezy number reminiscent of The Flower Kings with maybe a touch of Yes Album era Yes, as it describes the hero coming into contact with a cosmic consciousness. Slow Down takes a slightly bluesy, slightly grittier turn, as if to underline the return to a more down to earth setting after the previous piece. The Madness of the Crowds starts simply enough, with a menacing melody, but explodes into an apocalyptic drama complete with explosions and gunfire punctuating the music. The elegiac Cicadas brings the story to a close (for now), with a peaceful piece that features some lovely and moving guitar soloing. The suite ends with the instrumental The Prophet's Theme, a keyboard based number that brings the album to its finish.

The debut album of The Quiet Earth Orchestra should please many prog and neo-prog fans. Ludi's sincerity and passion shines through at almost every turn. Even if the music's occasional lack of focus doesn't always quite get across what he hopes to, the album is still quite an achievement for one lone musician and it's hard to go wrong when an artist believes this much in what he's doing.

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Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald

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