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24 Apr 2016

"Cyberpunk Meets Pop" by John Kwok: "Superhuman" review

Cyberpunk meets pop, rock and classical in cellist/composer Martin Tillman’s superb new album “Superhuman”. Tillman cleverly plays with and merges different musical genres, ranging from industrial techno-pop to what sounds like a futuristic homage to Byzantine or Medieval Roman Catholic sacred music on “Involuntary Midnights” sung by renowned contemporary music vocal ensemble Anonymous 4. It’s Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gyorgy Ligeti merged seamlessly together by a Brian Eno-like musical wizard familiar with William Gibson’s near future cyberspace landscape. Tillman has assembled a superb assortment of some of the finest studio musicians residing primarily in the Los Angeles area, ranging from long-time Elton John collaborator – now musical director of the Elton John Band - guitarist Davey Johnstone,  guitarist Graham Russell (“Air Supply”), David Paich (long-time “Toto” keyboardist), drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (best known for his work with Frank Zappa, Sting, and Joni Mitchell, also an in demand studio musician featured on most of the songs on Sara Bareilles’ “Kaleidoscope Heart” album), and bassist Leland Sklar, with orchestral arrangements performed by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra. 

“Superhuman” sounds like a vast, epic-like, soundtrack for a yet to be made fast-paced Hollywood thriller science fiction film, like the forthcoming sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, especially the album’s last track, “The Invisible Shield of Strings and Bows”. It’s an extremely memorable, compellingly listenable, album that should draw ample interest from a diverse range of musical audiences, not just those familiar with instrumental techno-pop music or long-time admirers of Tillman’s exceptional skills as a superb classically-trained cellist and composer. Among my favorite pieces are “Wonder”, a fast-paced ode to techno-pop music, the previously mentioned “Involuntary Midnights”, “Cracked Diamond”, a riveting musical dialogue between solo cello and an entire orchestra, “Celluloid Spaces”, noteworthy for its brilliant playing by Davey Johnstone on acoustic and electric guitars, “Zero Gravity”, which I regard as Tillman’s 21st Century reimagining of Gustav Holst’s “Neptune, the Mystic” from “The Planets” suite, and last, but not least, the “The Invisible Shield of Strings and Bows”.

Long-time Elton John fan John Kwok is a freelance writer, speculative fiction writer and photographer, whose classical and contemporary musical tastes range from J. S. Bach, J. Haydn, W. A. Mozart, L. Beethoven, F.  Schubert and F. Chopin to J. Brahms, C. Debussy, G. Mahler, M. Ravel, R. Strauss, A. Schoenberg, I. Stravinsky, A. Copland, S. Barber, G. Ligeti, O. Neuwirth, D. Felsenfeld and M. V. Waller.

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