This is not just another Cast album; this is a very special one. I knew for years that Alfonso Vidales with his Cast had the potential and musical skills to make such a great album. The big surprise for me is that this is happening with an almost complete new line-up. Yeah … I was telling you in my previous Cast review ( “Infinity” ) that Cast had always had a very stable line-up … well what can I say? Drummer Antonio Bringas is replaced by Kiko King, guitar player and vocalist Francisco Hernández is only doing the vocals and some percussion and bass player Rodolfo Gonzales is replaced by Flavio Jiménez. It is like a fresh wind that is blowing through the music.
Alfonso Vidales – Keyboards and backing vocals; Francisco Hernández – Vocals, backing vocals and percussion; Carlos Humarán – Electric guitars and vocals; Kiko King – Drums and percussion; Flavio Jiménez – bass.
Pepe Torres (OMNI) – Saxophone, flute, clarinet and kena (?); José Luis Algaba – bass; Lupita Vidales – vocals; Ismeal Cortés, Mario Bocanegra & Enrique Slim – percussion; Alberto Márquez – keyboards; Michael Dean Starry – guitar.
“Al-bandaluz” is a double
album with 10 tracks from which 5 are instrumental. The instrumental opener “Viajero Inmóvil” (Stationary
Traveller) will immediately blow you away. You will hear a hectic Cast
opening with great clarinet work of OMNI member Pepe Torres. His playing reminds me somehow
of the “Passion play & Warchild”
period of Jethro Tull. Another great thing
is that the music has more breaks with rhythm changes. The music is not
so hectic anymore. A few years ago I wrote to Alfonso that the concert
I witnessed was too hectic and that there where no counterpoints in music
where the band slowed down a little bit. It was too much for the European
audience. I’m sure I was not the only one who made this remark.
The music is still up-tempo and full of power but it has now also classical
intermezzos with fantastic piano and keyboard work. Alfonso
Vidales is one of the great prog keyboard players of our times.
After the instrumental opening “Jerezcali
(Pueblo de Dos Mundos)” (Jerezcali (People of two worlds))
has some melodic vocal parts and a high-speed synth solo. The long (more
than 17 minutes!) and instrumental third track “Encrucijada”
(Crossroad) is devided into the parts a) Ascención (Rise) b) Retorno (Return)
and c) Conversión (Conversion) and the music just blew me
This is the best Cast I have ever heard. The music is rich and variated. The keyboards have often a classical touch. I would describe this as delicious keyboard drenched Symphonic prog. “Lamento del Gato” (Cat´s lament) has melodic vocal refrains and nice flute work. The listener can catch some breath with the next instrumental “Damajuano”. This track is a short instrumental with some nice flute and melodic guitar work. The first CD alone I would have given five stars. On this album my favorite tracks are “Viajero inmóvil” and “Encrucijada”.
The second CD has also five tracks. The first is called “Viento” (Wind) and starts with a delicate vocal line accompanied by piano and flute. It is a beautiful ballad with a classical touch. The next song “El Puente” (The Bridge) is divided in the parts a) Vida Real (Real Life), b) El Puente, c) Luz al Final del Túnel (Light at the end of the Tunnel) and d) Valle de los Sueños (Valley of Dreams). Well you can call this a suite because it is 22 minutes long. The opening is slow, with melodic guitar and a romantic piano that is cruising through the music. Very slowly the tension of the music is building up. But before ending in a climax the track becomes again romantic and relaxed, beautiful vocals and flute work can be heard. And half way the rhythm goes up and we can listen to great sympho with fantastic keyboard work and screaming guitar solo’s. Alfonso’s wife Lupita Vidales is joining with some harmonic vocals. This piece is in general not as hectic as the killer tracks from the first CD. It is more classical orientated. It is great to hear Cast performing in this way; the music has more depth now because it is so variated. Also I can hear in this album that Vidales loves the Dutch sympho from bands like Kayak and Focus. “El puente” is the third killer track on this album and the ending is very nice with a melodic guitar solo. “La Ballesta” (The Crossbow) is also a more classical piece with piano and acoustic guitar and flute. The second album ends with two instrumental tracks. The first is called “Ensamble Al-Mayá” and has some Arabic influences. This guitar orientated piece is ending a little bit bombastic with heavy guitar licks and great drumwork. Kiko King is doing a great job on this album. It is not easy to follow up a great drummer like Antonio Bringas but he is doing fine and I like his personal drum style. The last piece “Ansia, Angustia, Desesperación” (Yearning, Anguish, Despair) is a typical up-tempo Cast song. Warm South American progmusic with a lot of temperament.
Well, what can I say? I’m impressed by this double album of the Mexican Cast. In my opinion this is the best Cast album. If you can only buy one Cast album, this is the one! The first CD just blew me away. The second CD shows the more classical side of the band. But in general this double album has a more classical touch than before. This is because of the keyboards. There is a lot of great piano playing on this album. Alfonso Vidales has a very personal style and if you have seen this guy performing live you will already know that he is a great keyboard/piano player. I think he is a little bit underrated by the prog audience. Believe me this musician is one of the best keyboard players of our times. Cast has made the album I have always dreamed of. I knew they could do this. And even the sound quality is much better than we were used. Can’t find weak spots in this album. Highly Recommended!