Not every supergroup works. Sometimes, when you put really talented people together, they do the musical equivalent of people talking over each other, and the end result is confusing and less than a sum of its parts. When you put together Jimmy Pitts (Scholomance, Eternity’s End), Marco Minnemann (Necrophagist, The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, Paul Gilbert, so many more), Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschlager (Fountainhead, Nader Sadek, Obscura) and Jerry Twyford (Scholomance), that’s a very impressive line-up and at a glance this project could go anywhere. Well, it goes to amazing places full of jazz fusion and old-school progressive metal. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
It’s hard to truly appreciate an album like this. It takes time and conscious effort to get the most out of it. Now, that’s not to say that this album isn’t good for a casual listen, because it is. They’ve managed to give it both breadth and depth. But the true beauty here lies in the details. There is truly never a dull moment here, which is very important for an instrumental album. Overplaying is a real issue for some artists, one which these guys easily avoid. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of over the top, insane solos in here, but they manage to integrate all of it smoothly into their framework. They’re definitely very over-the-top, but it’s somehow very well-balanced. The songs flow so smoothly that it’s hard to notice how intense they actually are.
What is the framework here? Well, a very heavy jazz fusion vibe dominates the conversation. A lot of metal bands that claim to have jazz fusion elements often end up simply paying lip service to jazz elements while still remaining firmly within the metal framework. That’s not the case here, as this comes from a place of pure jazz. Marco Minnemann’s playing drives the entire project, with him challenging his band mates with complex drumming patterns ranging from blast beats to Whiplash-esque solos. On top of that foundation, they build a house of progressive rock and metal, augmented by a flair for retrofuturistic space sounds. Jimmy Pitts uses his keyboard for orchestral synths, classical piano arrangements (in fact two tracks, “The Guide” and “Of Colors, Spontaneous” are just that) and as a lead instrument. Tom Geldschlager uses fretless guitars for their trademark “out there” sound, plays rhythm guitars, and provides many subtle augmentations to the framework with atmospheric chords. Jerry Twyford both lays down the framework for the sound and also has the solo chops from a bassist you’d expect in a jazz project. They also have guest musicians, with Joshua Thomson of Atlas Maior on sax and Jim Shannon on the trumpet. The musicianship on here is just delightful.
It’s quite a diverse mix of elements as well. Jazz can sometimes be, well, too jazzy, focusing on a feel that is often very singular. Being a fusion band, Pitts Minnemann Project avoid that. In addition to the aforementioned piano interludes, they have quite a wide range of sounds in general. Some songs lean heavier on the progressive metal sound, evoking Dream Theater, whereas at other times they’re playing straight up smooth jazz. The real highlight here, of course, is the 25-minute title track. It’s an insane journey through so many styles and riffs and solos that somehow is still cohesive. The beauty of the composition is that it’s not just musicians’ music. It definitely is, but it can also be enjoyed at a casual level, which is definitely non-trivial to do with music this complex. Yet they’ve done it, keeping the music interesting on all levels. This ridiculous track feels both carefully composed and effortlessly jammed at the same time, every element flowing into each other without falling into rote patterns. While the other songs are definitely more than worthwhile as well, the title track is definitely the highlight.
In the end, The Psychic Planetarium is an incredible jazz fusion record. Incredibly talented musicians getting together to perform ridiculous music is always a good thing, but it’s even better when it actually works well – in this case it does! Anyone remotely interested in jazz, prog metal or musicianship will definitely find a lot to enjoy here.