The Hidden Step

Ozric Tentacles

Phoenix Rising Records, 2005

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Okay, I think I've got it. After months of listening on and off to The Hidden Step, the 2000 release from Ozric Tentacles, I think I understand what this British prog-jazz band was trying to accomplish. Correct me if I'm wrong (and, since this is a prog band, I know people will), but it seems like the group started with an Egyptian theme in both album direction and music, borrowed some concepts from Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and decided to push the envelopes in Egyptian (expanding to more Middle Eastern) music with musical precision in the streams of jazz and progressive rock.

It all seems to be such a noble effort. If only The Hidden Step weren't so goddamned boring.

Whoof, I can feel the heat from the flame mails now. Let me elaborate before you end up roasting me. In general, I don't have a single problem with this project on paper. I admit I know precious little about Middle Eastern music (especially Egyptian), but I can appreciate Ozric Tentacles's passion to bring such a style to the masses through their unique form of music. I also don't have a problem with mixing the worlds of jazz (particularly fusion), progressive and rock. When done right, it has an absolutely amazing sound.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And herein lies problem number one with The Hidden Step. In honesty, this is not a disc that is interesting to listen to. More often, it sounds like an exercise in musical excesses for the band's sake than for the listener's enjoyment. Tracks like "Holohedron" and "Ashlandi Bol" all seem to be perfectly happy meandering about in their own little worlds, not caring a tinker's damn about whether the listener will be able to comprehend and enjoy what is being performed.

That kind of leads into problem number two. While the members of Ozric Tentacles (who all are featured by first name only in the liner notes) are undoubtedly masters of their instruments, they often try to show how well they know their respective musical parts without mesmerizing the listener. I have no doubt after listening to this disc about ten times that multi-instrumentalist Ed is a talented guitarist; he tries to show this often on "Holohedron". But as I listened to guitar lick after guitar lick, all I could say was, "Yeah? So?"

Oh, sure, one could say that this was an example of soloing without being gaudy. Nonsense. Phish made a career of being masters of their instruments without seeming like they were trying to impress people. And as much as people think I hate a band like Yes, people like Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman could often perform solos on guitar and keyboard (respectively) that would make my jaw drop in amazed awe, yet it would never seem like either musician was trying to put on airs. Maybe that's a bad phrase; I'm not accusing anyone in Ozric Tentacles of putting on airs to show how talented they are. But the precise musicality on this disc is so sterile, it sometimes sounds like that portion of This Is Spinal Tap when they turn into a fusion-jazz combo.

When you boil it down, The Hidden Step often seems like there's not a whole lot of humanity behind the songwriting and playing. I can't put my finger exactly on what Ozric Tentacles could have done to make this disc more approachable, but there is indeed something missing which could have made this disc much more interesting to listen to. Of course, fans of Ozric Tentacles will undoubtedly disagree with every word of this review - and, if they see something in the music I'm missing, that's fine. If they're happy, I'm happy. But for the casual listener who might want to discover Ozric Tentacles by picking up this disc, all I can say is, watch The Hidden Step, it's a long fall.

Rating: D-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Phoenix Rising Records, and is used for informational purposes only.