Odyssey: The Greatest Tale

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This is project number four in Marco Bernard's series of large-scale conceptual albums involving the magazine Colosseus, the record label Musea, and several progressive rock bands from different countries. Odyssey: The Greatest Tale retains the "three epics per disc" format of the previous two albums (The Spaghetti Epic and The Colossus of Rhodes), while tackling a fundamental story, as did the very first project, Kalevala. The Odyssey is, of course, Homer's tale about Ulysses' travels following the Trojan War. Homer's narrative has been segmented into nine chapters, and nine progressive rock bands were enlisted to turn these chapters into songs, each 20 to 30 minutes in duration. The diverse roster includes Canadians Nathan Mahl, Americans Glass Hammer, Argentineans Nexus and Tempano, Frenchmen XII Alfonso and Minimum Vital, Swedes Simon Says, Italians C.A.P., and Brazilians Æther. Again, all bands had to stick to vintage '70s keyboards and guitar effects. No electronic drums or programming was allowed. The result is slightly less evocative than the two Sergio Leone-related albums -- the bands got a bit lost in Homer's rich tale. That said, the set once again delivers its fair share of highlights: Nathan Mahl's "Of Longings, Suitors, Deities and Quests" is a captivating piece of mean virtuosity and strong writing. C.A.P., recording here as an eight-piece band, pull out the strongest, most suitable performance with a complex song involving seven characters (including a Greek choir, a traditional character in Greek tragedy). Glass Hammer's "At the Court of Alkinoos" contains the most moving melodies and, for many listeners, it will be the defining moment of this triple set. On the other hand, XII Alfonso are slightly disappointing with their "From Ismarus to the Land of Death," which doesn't have the evocative appeal of their usual work (and that piano interlude is just too close for comfort to one of Steve Hackett's tunes). As for Minimum Vital, here recording as a quartet sans lead singers Sonia Nedelec and Jean-Baptiste Ferracci, the epic format is clearly not their cup of tea. These weaker points are largely compensated by the lavish presentation, which, as with the other albums in this series, includes an introduction to the project, a detailed synopsis of Homer's Odyssey, comic artwork, and lyrics (with English translations where applicable). You might want to try The Spaghetti Epic or Kalevala first, but Odyssey is up to par with the quality of the whole series.

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