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Mark Murdock — The Phoenix Has Risen
(Bandcamp no#, 2021, CD / DL)

Mark Murdock — Visitors from Another Planet
(Bandcamp no#, 2021, CD / DL)

Mark Murdock / Dmitry M. Epstein — Oblivion Bound
(Bandcamp no#, 2021, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2021-12-31

The Phoenix Has Risen Cover artVisitors from Another Planet Cover artOblivion Bound Cover art

Mark Murdock has been very busy of late, with his Nuclear Bird album, two albums under his own name, and a collaboration with lyricist Dmitry M. Epstein all having 2021 dates on them. Murdock’s resumé includes a band called Cymbalic Encounters, which plays jazz-rock along the lines of Brand X (even featuring Brand X members at times), though on these solo releases he leans more towards progressive rock. Elements of Brand X style fusion do crop up in the instrumental arrangements, often to quite good effect. “Compromised” on Phoenix Has Risen features a great fretless bass part by Kenta Shimokuni that is very much in the style of Percy Jones, and “Time Travelers from the Future” on Visitors from Another Planet has a lightning-fast unison lick that punctuates sections. Another reference that comes to mind frequently is Genesis of the …And Then There Were Three period — something about the keyboard arrangements and how the melodies fit in, as well as the tones used on guitar parts. I half expect them to break into “Scenes from a Night’s Dream” or “Burning Rope.” Murdock, who plays drums and keyboards, is joined on most tracks by Shimokuni on bass and Tim Pepper on lead vocals. A number of guests contribute on various tracks across the three albums, including guitarists Katsumi Yoneda (French TV), Preston Murdock, David Rambeau, Fernando Perdomo, Daniel Kubota, Dave Juteau, and Joe Berger; bassists Rod Farlora, Alan Thompson, Derek Moore (Nektar), Jeff Curry, and Ray Bennett (Flash) show up here and there; and Murdock is spelled on drums by Ron Howden (Nektar), Alan Childs, or Ric Parnell (Atomic Rooster) on a few tracks. Pepper’s voice is pleasant and tuneful, though he doesn’t express a lot of emotion in his delivery, and he handles the lyrics nicely, with their science-fictional and philosophical themes. While the songwriting and performances are good, I find that these albums have the same issue I found with Nuclear Bird: the mixing leaves the music a bit flat, sounding overly clean and polite even when the individual parts sound like they should be exciting — a little grit would enhance the energy level significantly. (I would also note that Oblivion Bound sounds significantly less polished in its production, almost sounding like high quality demos in comparison to the other two.) This is a relatively minor point in the grand scheme, and only catches my attention from time to time. These three albums are quite similar in most ways, and you could rearrange the 35 tracks into any combination of equivalent length without having any song sound out of place. Oblivion Bound is billed as a concept album with a story, though the individual songs can stand on their own. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be The Phoenix Has Risen, though Visitors from Another Planet is also a worthy effort; Oblivion Bound is much less appealing by comparison.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): Fernando Perdomo, Mark Murdock / Cymbalic Encounters

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