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The Venezuela-based Backhand is a proficient prog rock ensemble that closely emulates their '70s inspirations.

Music Review: Backhand – ‘Through the Turbulence’

Hearing Through the Turbulence for the first time, listeners can be forgiven for thinking they’re hearing a new Emerson, Lake, and Palmer side project. Is that John Anderson singing the lead vocals?

backhandNo, none of the members of ELP or Yes or fellow travelers like Gentle Giant are involved in the band called Backhand. But the spirit of what such groups created back in the ’70s is very much in evidence. In fact, Backhand is a Venezuela-based ensemble consisting of Pablo Mendoza (guitars), Adolfo Herrera (drums), Adrian Van Woerkom (keyboards), Oscar Bushel (bass), and Phil Naro (vocals). It’s the Dutch-born van Woerkom who channels Keith Emerson so precisely and New York/Canadian Emmy Award-winning vocalist Naro (DDrive, Talas, Druckfarben) whose four-octave tenor voice effortlessly evokes Anderson.

Recorded in 2013 and formerly only available as an import, Through the Turbulence is slowly, very slowly, gaining an audience among those who like both prog rock and jazz rock fusion. That means, of course, the 12 tracks are filled with extremely proficient solos and many extended sections where the players can show off their chops. Naro, who also contributed to the songwriting, only appears on five of the songs: “Hold the Light,” “The Big Red Wall,” “A Million People Crying, Pt. 1,” “Crime Story,” and the closer, “Me, Myself and I.” It’s the stories Naro sings that makes Through the Turbulence accessible to a wider audience beyond those who are primarily interested in skilled instrumental virtuosity. Still, one suspects Naro isn’t really a full-time member of this ensemble, but is rather lending his voice to but one of many of his projects. After all, earlier this year, Druckfarben released their second album, Second Sound, and Naro was very much a presence on that Canadian prog rock release.

The 11-minute opener to Through the Turbulence, “Introspektion,” is a good showcase for what listeners can expect throughout. The first section sounds like a symphonic overture before the middle becomes a keyboard blues passage followed by a reminder of what prog rock used to sound like when ELP, Yes, and all those guys created the genre. “Hold the Light” introduces Naro to the mix, but perhaps his best contribution to the set is in “A Million People Crying Part I” which is a clear commentary on the cost of war. As the program continues, I was reminded more and more of Naro’s other band, Druckfarben. Both bands offer A-list performances, but have little to distinguish their music from anyone else in the tradition they so clearly love.

So it’s your own devotion to prog rock that’s largely going to determine your interest in Backhand. For some of us, we’ll have a been there, heard that before reaction; others will say, “That’s true, but give us more!” Well, here’s more. Backhand is a band to be admired, even studied, but they’re not likely to excite an audience not already enamored with classical/jazz/rock.

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About Wesley Britton

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One comment

  1. Actually Phil Naro is not a guest on the Backhand release, he is an actual member. The band just performed at the 20th Anniversary of ProgDay. Phil and the band are now working on the follow up to Through the Turbulence. for more information: http://mrrmusic.com/backhand/