"Leviathan" CD - Michael Bernier

2011 CD, New Spectrum Records

review by Greg Howard

Michael Bernier: Chapman Stick, guitar, bass, violin, acoustic drums, V-Drums,
         bowed Stick and vocals

guest performers
Pat Mastelotto/drums
Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet and piano
Caryn Fitzgibbon/violin
Kandy Harris/Vocals

Multi-instrumentalist Michael Bernier's new release, Leviathan, doesn't so much invite as compel the listener into the deep, where the sounds are loud, heavy, energetic and eerily beautiful. If you go by first impressions, the odd time signatures, angular guitar licks, soaring whammy-pedal distorted melody, and relentless polyrhythmic drums are a clear offshoot of the King Crimson branch of the progressive rock family tree. But Michael is adept at re-inventing his medium, and so there's another layer to this album, that of an original stylist with his own approach to music.

The title track is by turns dense and powerful, then spacious and open, giving guest drummer Pat Mastelotto plenty of room to stretch out, and for Michael to take a truly lyrical bass solo. "Sunrise" is lushly layered with ambiguous chords and rhythms, a most effective contrast to the opener.

Though he could easily have made Leviathan a one-man show (his own drumming, guitar, bass, vocal and Stick work are on display), the guest performers add their own personal color and brilliance to the album. "Parasite" introduces us to Michael Schirmer's voice-like bass clarinet, and Caryn Fitzgibbon's driving "rhythm volin".

"Burbur" and "Circus Elephant" with their electric piano and rolling open-ended cadences recall a heavier side of the progressive music family tree (bands like Soft Machine and even echoes of Frank Zappa). His use of these sounds pushes the bounds of the heavier progressive context. It's a kind of inventiveness that shows up in other distinctive ways, like when he takes the cello bow to The Stick (a Bernier signature technique), or pairs bass clarinet in unison with chunky heavy metal guitar chords. It's great to hear Michael's fast and fluid Holdsworthian two-handed melody soloing applied to the bass side of The Stick as well.

After four instrumentals, "Leviathan" itself is reinvented the powerful vocal track, "The Old Ways". Half rock ballad, half death metal, somehow it all comes together as a memorable song. His standout Stick bass part provides a powerful counterline to the vocal. You'll find many great arrangement ideas for The Stick throughout this CD.

Unlike his recent Stick Men CD and live tours with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto, this music was not born in live performance, but was carefully crafted in the studio. Here the elements fit together in compositionally imaginative ways, proving that Michael is as adept in the studio as onstage.

All tracks by Michael Bernier:

1 - Leviathan (Pat Mastelotto/drums)
2 - Sunrise
3 - Parasite (Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet, Caryn Fitzgibbon/violin)
4 - Burbur
5 - The Old Ways
6 - Lumberslush
7 - Circus Elephant (Michael Schirmer/bass clarinet)
8 - Morning (Michael schirmer/grand piano, Caryn Fitzgibbon/violin)
9 - G.D.D
10 - My Sorrow (Kandy Harris/Vocals)

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