Rodney Matthews & Jeff Scheetz with Oliver Wakeman
RODNEY MATTHEWS and JEFF SCHEETZ with OLIVER WAKEMAN
"Master of fantastic imagery returns to his classic designs to dress sights into sounds."
Even though Rodney Matthews’ name has been synonymous with music for decades now, the British illustrator’s own sonic exercises remained unseen – or rather, unheard – until recently, when the veteran reverted to his erstwhile pastime of playing drums and composing with sound… and vision, too. That’s the idea behind this album, devised in alliance with American guitarist Jeff Scheetz: to give the veteran’s artworks a new layer of meaning and bring them to life in a different manner. It took the project a couple of decades to come to fruition, the record’s background both tragic and inspired, buy the results feel worth the wait on many a level. Matthews’ music may seem like pure prog, yet it’s magnificently unpretentious. Humor and grotesque being as vital parts of Rodney’s paintings as the sense of immersion and natural beauty, all these qualities inform “Trinity” whose bombast is tempered but melodies are arresting.
As if to move any doubts about Rodney’s performing abilities out of the way right away, the album begins with instrumental number “The Heavy Metal Hero” – a juggernaut cut, chugging down Jeff’s jagged passages and arpeggios and clothed in cosmic keyboards by Oliver Wakeman, the last of the album’s prime movers, to showcase Matthews’ belligerent assault without ever losing sight of a tune – before letting John Payne and Sarah Prothero enter the stage and give the voice to the epic magic of “Mirador”: arguably, its creator’s most memorable image, aurally steeped in folksy detail and panoramic depth. Payne’s bass propels the piano-splashed waltz “The Granite Curtain” towards a tempo-shifting futuristic fantasy which is stricken with sax and smelling of nocturnal fatigue in a bar at the edge of the Universe where a brawl can break out any minute, although the real menace is concealed in the ecology-minded “Stop The Slaughter” where the contrast between infernal riff and new-age serenity drives this whale of a track into the sunset.
Not surprisingly, adventurousness reigns supreme here, “The Hop” offering a radiant dance on a sawdust floor and “The Leavetaking” taking a defiant, cymbals-caressed stroll over moonlit vista, wrapped in faux woodwind and supported by Tony Clarkin‘s mighty four-string rumble. His MAGNUM partner Bob Catley joins the party to provide handclaps on the titular piece – the warbler will add vocals to “I Saw Three Ships” on the vinyl album’s bonus side, where Ms Prothero will sing “Trinity” – that share the space with Rick Wakeman‘s harpsichord and church organ which smear spirituality over this majestic tapestry, as guitars rage and drums accentuate the otherworldly vibe.
No less impressive is a hefty, if funky, arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Night On The Bare Mountain” that lends its orchestral landscape to wah-wah groans and ivory-laden grandeur, leading to the playful “November Wedding” which Oliver wrote for Rodney and Sarah’s nuptials and fleshed out later for the entire ensemble to elevate beyond the celestial. Once there, the enchanting scene of “Rivendell” emerges from acoustic mist and embraces electric miracle until spoken words draw the curtain on the pastorale and render these fairy tales fairly inhabitable – just as Matthews wanted. He and his co-conspirators have built a stupendous display of the wonders one’s wild imagination can invoke, with a booklet delving further into each of the record’s stories and unfolding paintings for the listener to admire. A brilliant design – nigh on perfect.
Until I came across this album, I only thought that Rodney Matthews was an artist whose breathtaking work has adorned many albums in my record collection. Nazareth, Praying Mantis, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, Magnum and Asia to name but a few. So it turns out he is also a rather accomplished drummer to, playing since the early 1960’s and plays on this Trinity album backed by a myriad of guest musicians that include guitarist Jeff Scheetz with whom the seeds for the album were sown with in 1993, songs being based on some of Rodney’s artwork.
Fast forward to the present and it finally sees the light of day with ten tracks that astound on a mixture of various styles.It’s mainly instrumental, kicking off literally with the aptly titled ‘The Heavy Metal Hero’. It’s a feisty headbanger with snappy snare work. Strong bass guitar lines add a palette for virtuoso guitar and keyboards come from Oliver Wakeman. ‘Mirador’ is just jaw-dropping! Almost nine minutes of ambient prog featuring laid back vocals from John Payne and Sarah Prothero. Sarah’s vocal really tugs at the heart strings until the song heavies up with forceful guitar and drums. ‘The Granite Curtain’ amazes with its variety of soothing pieces that add colour to poignant guitar lines. Jazzy drum splashes and a surprising jig midway also enchant.
‘Night Of The Bare Mountain’ has a film score vibe (point proven by liner notes saying it came from 1940 Disney film Fantasia). It has medieval bombast that add muscle to earworm keyboard and guitar histrionics. The piano piece outro brought back many childhood memories. ‘November Wedding’ is a joyous romp as jaunty keys raised a smile over pomptastic guitar and drums. ‘Stop The Slaughter’ is a meandering opus. Almost five minutes of hypnotic, captivating and inventive musicianship.
‘The Leavetaking’ is a bit of a curiosity piece. On the one hand, you have these boisterous call to arms grooves alongside soothing woodwind. Bass guitar duties are handled by Tony Clarkin from Magnum. ‘The Hop’ begins like a gleeful Mike Oldfield tinged piece but gains momentum when Rodney kicks in with verve. Keys weave around quaint strings as it heads off to a guitar-heavy outro. A true kaleidoscope of music!
Lord Of The Rings buffs will love ‘Rivendell’. Acoustic guitar lines fly out like musical fireflies as electric guitar lines flow in. Bass and drums lock in tight around them and recorders add a moment of calm until synths and heavier riffs approach an emotional spoken-word outro. This celebration ends on my personal favourite, the title track. Wondrous guitar from Jeff tie up with Oliver who is joined on keyboards by his father Rick Wakeman on harpsichord and church organ. Rick closes the album on a poignant segment of the hymn ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’
Trinity is a 'decades in the making' album from world renowned artist Rodney Matthews, who just happens to also play drums and has long had a dream of making his own prog-rock album. Many musicians & vocalists have jumped on board the project over the years, and the finished results are finally here on Trinity, an album inspired by the many works of art Matthews has created over the years, his longtime friend, guitarist Jeff Scheetz, helping to assemble things along the way.
The complete line-up for Trinity includes:Rodney Matthews - Drums, Lyrics and Words
Jeff Scheetz - Guitars and Bass
Oliver Wakeman - Keyboards
John Payne - Bass and Vocals
Pete Coleman - Bagpipes, Recorders and Keyboards
Tony Clarkin - Bass
Steve Amadeo - Bass
Rick Wakeman - Harpsichord and Church Organ
Bob Catley - Hand Claps/Vocals
Charles McNeal - Alto Sax
Sarah Prothero - Vocals
Mark A. Williams - Narration
Of course, a few notable names on that list, including current & former members of acts such as Yes, Asia, Magnum, and others, giving plenty of credibility to this project. Things kick off in heavy prog fashion with "The Heavy Metal Hero", crunchy arrangements bolstered by Scheetz's massive guitar firepower, and that's followed by the melodic prog rocker "Mirador", complete with plenty of of keyboard orchestrations, emotional vocals, and a sizzling guitar solo. "The Granite Curtain" blends old school '70s prog with classy jazz, McNeal's tasty sax solo dropped in between grandiose Wakeman keyboard tapestries and powerful rhythms, Scheetz again impressing with a wild, wah-wah soaked guitar solo. "Night on the Bare Mountain" packs plenty of bombast, the guitar & keys battling for supremacy, while "November Wedding" offers up grandiose melodies led by Wakeman's enchanting & nimble piano as well as some bluesy Scheetz guitar solos.
The musicians go for a darker feel on "Stop the Slaughter", where heavier guitar riffs saddle up alongside wispy synth flutters, and "The Leavetaking" mixes classical, World Music, Celtic, and prog themes for a majestic ride. Perhaps the most enchanting song here is "The Hop", a rousing Celtic flavored jig with some engaging recorder, guitar, and keyboard passages that is an absolute joy to listen to, Oliver Wakeman again coming up big with some splendid synth explorations. "Rivendell" brings to mind legendary prog act Gentle Giant with its use of counterpoint, synths, organ, piano, guitar, and recorder all weaving and twisting around each other as Matthews & Payne keep the rhythms pumping yet locked in. A gem of a track.
Closing out the show is the grandiose title track, Scheetz laying down bursts of scorching guitar over symphonic arrangements, poppa Wakeman blending in some stupendous harpsichord & church organ while son Oliver dresses it all up with tasty synth embellishments & solos.As great as the music here is, equally as exciting is sitting down with the booklet and looking at the paintings that inspired each song, and reading Rodney's history of the art and how the music was born from each. Make sure you check out either the CD or LP version of Trinity folks, otherwise you will miss out on that very important aspect of this release. An impressive album, and a job well done from everyone involved!
Renowned fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, illustrator of over140 album covers, is also a jazz/rock/prog drummer of note, and has previously recorded solo and with guitarist Jeff Scheetz. Here he teams up again with Scheetz and former Yes keyboard player Oliver “Son of Rick” Wakeman. There are also a number of high calibre guests, including Pete Coleman, Asia’s John Payne and Magnum’s Tony Clarkin. There’s also an appearance of Rick “Dad of Oliver” Wakeman.
Many will know Matthews’ work through his long time relationship with pomp/prog rockers Magnum, with his work also appearing on albums by Nazareth (the iconic No Mean City), Scorpions, Asia and Praying Mantis. And of serious note are German progressive rock band Eloy, whose Time To Turn and Planets albums musically matched Rodney’s artwork perfectly. And don’t forget the early 90s Christian Metal scene.
This largely instrumental album (there is some narration) paints a picture that showcases not just Rodney’s ability but just how much his graphic style matches the music he plays (as much as the bands he works with). But it’s not just about Rodney’s influences, each musician makes a notable contribution.
Opener ‘Heavy Metal Her’o (also the name of Rodney’s train that adorned a Diamond Head LP) features some thunderous drumming, jazz undertones, and some great guitar work. Between guitar solo work, the drums, keyboards and guitars come together nicely. There’s also a keyboard solo between some crunchy guitar work that stands out, as heavy as anything Yes ever would have done. Some good riffage going on here.
Running at well over 8 minutes, ‘Mirador’ (get the Magnum connection?) is more a soundscape, and progressive too, with some heavy moments and some much gentler long periods too. Female vocals over piano and acoustic guitars between segments of heavy prog, majestic on every level.
‘The Granite Curtain’ is one of the jazzier tracks, interesting rhythm, it’s quite an uplifting rock tracks in places. The switch between jazz, rock and marching band rhythms is done cleverly, the guitar work over the top matches nicely. Nice saxophone work too.
There’s some classical influence on ‘Night Of The Bare Mountain’, another wonderful track.
The whole album rocks and is uplifting. A variety of soundscapes, there’s a smooth feel throughout and more than enough to satiate the progressive rocker too.
One of the biggest joys of the return of vinyl has been the ability to appreciate album art in a way that has been largely hidden in the recent era of CDs and downloads. Back in the halcyon days of the 70’s and into the 80’s the cover art was a hugely integral part of the music scene and these images were pored over endlessly, absorbing every detail, along with the joy of gatefold sleeves, coloured vinyl and lyric sheets.
One of the leading proponents of this art is Rodney Matthews, possibly best known for his work with Magnum, Nazareth, Diamond Head and Praying Mantis, his work adorning the album sleeves and posters in many a home. An artist with an incredible imagination and a beautiful touch, what’s lesser known about him is that he is also a very good drummer, having cut his teeth on bands in the 60’s.
Trinity’ seamlessly links the two, with the material based on and illustrated with some of his best known pieces as he shows his percussive firepower along with American guitar guru Jeff Scheetz and keys wizard Oliver Wakeman.
The album gets straight down to business with the hard driving Prog Metal of ‘The Heavy Metal Hero’, as it scorches fretboards and stabs with keys as the drums fly and roll underneath it all.
As with the rest of the tracks on the album, this really shows the incredible musicianship, each player a master and it all gels incredibly well as everyone steps backs and lets others have their turn in the spotlight. ‘Mirador’ is more laid back, beautifully layered and benefitting from a great lead vocal by former Asia frontman John Payne, it builds and builds into a wonderful flight of storytelling and prog grandeur.
As you make your way through the album, you can only marvel at what you hear and its details and flourishes. Barring the aforementioned ‘Mirador’, it’s a purely instrumental project and runs the gamut of all the various influences that each musician brings, from hard rock, prog and with a little jazz thrown in for good measure.
Brilliantly played and constructed there are many gems herein, making it something to truly listen to, preferably wearing headphones. ‘Night on the Bare Mountain’ sees Mussorgsky’s classic given the Prog Metal treatment and ‘November Wedding’, written by Wakeman for Rodney and Sarah Matthew’s wedding, is a joyful and utterly lovely creation. Elsewhere ‘Stop the Slaughter’ boasts military drumming and some incredible playing by Sheetz whilst ‘The Hop’ is a fabulously rural and carefree jig that captures bygone eras and Summer days perfectly.
‘Rivendell’ sparkles like a stream in Spring and closing track ‘Trinity’ is a sprawling epic, almost too large and impressive to cover its seven–minute length, it’s a journey through time for heart and mind.
With guest appearances by Rick Wakeman and Magnum’s Tony Clarkin, this album may have been a long time in coming but it’s something as intriguing, imaginative and breathtaking as Matthews artwork. You don’t just have to be a Prog Rock fan to appreciate ‘Trinity’, just someone who loves great music, played incredibly well. A tip though, it’s worth the stretch to buy the double vinyl album as you get to appreciate the stunning pictures in the accompanying booklet.
Like those images, this album will take you to worlds and times you’d never dreamed of, all from the comfort and warmth of your favourite chair. It’s certainly a trip worth taking.