ADVENT n’est pas ce que l’on peut appeler un producteur de d’albums à répétition, le dernier étant paru en 2006 et s’intitulait « Cantus Firmus ». Donc depuis sa création en 1989, le groupe nous a offert trois albums et nous avons le privilège de nous entretenir avec les membres fondateurs du groupe qui sont Alan BENJAMIN, Mark PTAK et Henry PTAK pour parler de leur plus récente réalisation « Silent Sentinel » et aussi d’en apprendre un peu plus sur eux.
ADVENT is not the reputation of invade us their music, the last being published in 2006 and was titled "Cantus Firmus". Therefore, since its inception in 1989, the Group gave us three albums and we have the privilege to speak with the founding members of the group who are Alan BENJAMIN, Mark PTAK and Henry PTAK to speak of the third and most recent entitled "Silent Sentinel" and also learn a little more about them.
Chronique de Silent Sentinel
ADVENT – Sentinel Sentinel – Autoproduction /CD Baby – 2015 - USA
Par Denis Boisvert
Advent est un groupe issu du New Jersey qui se passionne pour le prog classique et tentent de la perpétuer. Peu connu et à ne pas confondre avec un autre groupe américain qui fait dans le hardcore chrétien (quelle abomination !), nos amis prog utilisent toute une brochette d’instruments qui rappelleront Gentle Giant (mandoline, flûte à bec et les mêmes harmonies vocales). Je l’ai déjà dit avant mais Gentle Giant était 30 ans avant leur temps et nous jamais été reconnu à leur juste valeur ! Vous reconnaitrez aussi des relents de Genesis dans le jeu de guitare tant sèche qu’électrique.
Le groupe n’est pas très productif et donne l’impression d’être hobbyiste. D’aucuns trouveront la ressemblance avec les années classiques fatigante mais n’a-t-on jamais assez d’une bonne chose ! Car le contenu est sucré je vous préviens. Il y a la pièce épique obligatoire et qui porte le titre de l’album. On retrouve aussi plusieurs petits morceaux qui font des ponts et qui contribuent à donner un album suffisamment diversifié et complexe pour vous garder en haleine. Les voix sont belles et harmonieuses. Le reste de l’instrumentation est sans reproche. On a apprécié l’apport de nombreux invités et les orchestrations. On voit que le produit est travaillé tant dans le studio que dans sa structure. La plus grande critique vient du sentiment rétro et des ressemblances trop fortes avec certains styles.
Malgré tout, les inconditionnels en auront pour leur argent et apprécieront l’hommage et le dur travail. Si vous aimez Genesis, Gentle Giant et le progressivo italiano vous serez en terrain connu et passerez un bon moment. Mais l’absence de risque et d’exploration leur coûtent quelques points au classement.
1. In Illo
Tempore- To Dunsinane (7:43)
3. On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 1) (2:16)
4. Voices from California (7:34)
5. The Uncharted Path (6:22)
6. Reloj de Sol (2:35)
7. On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 2) (2:20)
8. The Silent Sentinel (19:11)
9. 12/12 (2:38)
10. Sentinel's Reprise: The Exit Interview (5:12)
11. Second Thoughts (2:21)
12. On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 3) (2:24)
13. Full Moon and Empty Hours (1:59)
14. Riptide in Aeternum (2:45)
15. Romanitas (12:00)
claviers, mandoline, percussion, voix principale
Alan Benjamin: guitares, basse, violon, mandoline, flûte à bec, glockenspiel, claviers, percussion, accompagnement vocal
Mark Ptak: claviers, percussion, voix
Greg Katona: guitares, percussion
Joe D'Andrea: batterie, percussion, voix
Brian Mooney: basses
Invités: Thérèse Ptak- solo soprano (10, 15), choeur, Ben "BenZuda" Harrison- violon (2),
Dan D'Elia- percussion (2, 14)
- Amy Benjamin, Matt Brown, Kerry Chicoine, David Kowalski, Steven Kugelmass, Joanna Lovell, Roe McBurnett, Dave Rollins / chœur
Joe Greg Alan Henry & Mark
PR - Firstly a sincere thank you for agreeing to answer the Profil questions.
Henry: A great pleasure—thank you for asking us.
Mark: It’s a pleasure!
Alan: Thank you very much, Richard. It’s an honor and a privilege for us!
PR - You want to present your new album Silent Sentinel? What is the title of the album has a special meaning?
Henry: In a nutshell, it has to do with the whole idea of the passage of time and how it’s used by individuals, groups of individuals, and larger institutions in general. There’s always an urgency to act upon something with a finite temporal window for its execution at every stage of most peoples’ lives, and I was interested in exploring the implications of timelines met or missed (and potential consequences flowing therefrom), as well as personal impressions of various symbols and objects that are emblematic of the passage of time.
PR - What is the theme of the concept?
Henry: The album as a whole is a series of vignettes for the most part, rather than a story told sequentially from start to finish. There are occasionally references back to the title track both musically and (obliquely) in the lyrics as well, but the title track was really the springboard for the variations on the theme and meditations that followed in the other tracks.
“The Silent Sentinel” (the title track) was inspired by an interesting bed-and-breakfast my wife and I stayed in near Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fascinating old place, with a vibe not unlike Windward House from the film The Uninvited. All sorts of quaint antiques, a great library, and a real harpsichord in the “conservatory.” Appropriately, my late-night reading material on the trip was a 17th-century work by Fr. Martin von Cochem about the eternal implications of the use of one’s time. The grandfather clock on the landing became the poetic centerpiece for the whole stay—in the middle of the night, the pendulum, the nocturnal sounds out in the garden, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed made-to-order from a thematic standpoint.
PR - How long do you work on Silent Sentinel? This return to writing was difficult?
Henry: We’d pretty much exhausted and/or developed all of the stray “work-in-progress” bits we had in writing Cantus Firmus so, in a very real sense, we were starting from zero again. When that happens, it takes a bit of thought and discernment to figure out what you’re going to write about—sometimes that doesn’t happen until you just sort of jump in and begin. For example, the title track was only originally supposed to be about 8-10 minutes long, but as we periodically moved from song to song, the possibility of some sort of thematic connecting tissue began to emerge, and before we knew it, it had expanded to almost twenty minutes. All the while, other members are likewise working on stuff, and we’d meet as usual to (literally) compare notes. Since there were longer intervals without completely finished works this time, we didn’t realize until we were almost done that we had pretty much a double album’s worth of material. That’s part of what took so long.
Mark: Most (if not all) of “Voices from California” was written quite early on, but it was the last song to be mixed. I had hit a roadblock with “Voices” at a certain point, and Henry came in to help in the writing. By the end of it, we had what we thought was a pretty exciting tune but, due to time constraints, we almost ended up shelving the entire second half in order to finish the last mix in time. In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t!
Alan: Although a little preliminary compositional content existed beforehand, I’d say that we really started working on the album in earnest around 2009. (After the release of Cantus Firmus in early 2006, the band focused on live performance for the best part of the next three years or so, only taking a little time out for working on our contribution to the Colossus/Musea Dante’s Inferno compilation that was released in 2008.) It seemed like a great time to start locking ourselves back in the studio to work on creating new music again and, from my vantage point, this seemed a natural and comfortable transition—although one that also required a solid commitment to ensure everything moved forward in as timely a fashion as possible.
PR - You have not skimped on quality, there is even a choir that accompanies you on the album?
Henry: Mark and I (and as it turns out, Joe also) have backgrounds in some sort of choral work, so using a choir at some point seemed natural and inevitable. We remembered that amazing sound on "Grand Hotel" by Procol Harum, and made a mental note that given the opportunity, we’d try to do something with a real choir somewhere along the way with Advent. There’s really not a whole lot of difference between writing for a choir, a small schola, or a small jazz chorus—the only thing that changes significantly is the harmony. It was great fun to work with the group we used on the CD, too—they were so amazingly upbeat and full of enthusiasm, and actually re-energized the rest of us. All of the choir parts (for each respective track) were cut on the same session, so it was a bear of a lot of work, but they were wonderful—they hung in there right until the bitter end, God bless ’em!
Mark: And not only the choir, but also the multi-person percussion session was a great deal of fun, where we had just about all of the band members, as well as a special guest drummer, Dan D’Elia, involved in a live drum corps-style ensemble recording for “To Dunsinane” and “Riptide in Aeternum.”
PR - You welcomed new musicians, you can submit them?
Alan: Yes, we have been extremely fortunate in adding three amazing and wonderfully compatible musicians (both musically and personally) to the Advent family over the past few years. All are probably worthy of their own separate feature, but I’ll try my best to provide a brief introduction to each….
Shortly after Cantus Firmus had been completed, we (my wife, Amy, and I) went to see Foxtrot, who had been one of the most respected Genesis tribute bands in the northeastern USA at the time, perform at a local club. I was immediately taken by how Foxtrot’s guitarist, Greg Katona, performed Steve Hackett’s contributions on stage—and, in addition to gaining a new appreciation for the intricacy and subtlety of the original parts, I couldn’t help but notice how Greg’s technique reminded me of my own guitar approach in Advent (although I have to admit that, as much as I love old Genesis music and hold a special fondness for what Steve brought to the band, I never considered him a direct influence on my playing). It also became readily apparent that Greg would be an ideal partner to take on our additional guitar role, both in terms of playing together and also handling some of the difficult parts that I never expected to find anyone else to cover. Fortunately, he was taken in by our music and joined almost immediately. As an unexpected bonus, I’m also so thankful for how Greg’s compositional talents have contributed to the group—and it’s been a particular pleasure working on our acoustic duets together.
Advent started performing live in the spring of 2007 and we maintained the same six-piece lineup up through our performance at the inaugural MARPROG festival in July of 2009, at which point Greg decided to retire from live performance with the band (strictly due to personal reasons)—however we are very fortunate that Greg has remained a very active member of the creative/studio side of the group ever since. Shortly after Greg’s retirement from our live shows, though, the band also lost both members of our rhythm section (bassist Benjamin Rose leaving first, followed by drummer Drew Siciliano). Feeling a bit stressed out about these departures, I took to Facebook to vent my frustrations—and that resulted in my old friend, Joe D’Andrea, responding directly to my post.
I’d first met Joe back around 2005 as a result of having just taken up the Stick and connecting with his musical partner (and close friend) Ray Ashley, who had been very active in bringing local “tapping” players together at the time. (Very sadly, Ray passed away from cancer several years ago, but his friendship and character live deeply in our hearts.) We’d all jammed a few times and Joe had been familiar with Advent’s music from the time our first album was released. Based on Joe’s response to my Facebook post, followed by an extremely impressive audition, it was a great pleasure bringing him in to the band. In addition to his masterful and extremely musical drumming, Joe’s vocal prowess and violin-playing capabilities have also added several new dimensions to our sound—both live and in the studio.
In addition to being a founding member of Advent (and also having played with Mirthrandir for several years), I’m also the production manager/technical director at the NJ Proghouse—the premier live progressive-music series here in New Jersey. As a result, I see a lot of very talented musicians perform on a regular basis. In a somewhat similar fashion to what happened when I saw Greg playing guitar in Foxtrot, I couldn’t help but notice the immense talents of bassist Brian Mooney when he performed at the Proghouse in his top-tier fusion tribute band, Piktor’s Metamorphosis. When I first reached out to Brian about the possibility of auditioning for Advent, he was too busy to consider the opportunity—but, thanks to Facebook once again, my posting a “web preview” video of “Sentinel’s Reprise: The Exit Interview” led to catching Brian’s attention once again. Thankfully, the timing was also better at this point and we’ve been thrilled to have Brian’s amazing bass work completing the group’s new sound.
PR - Cantus Firmus was released in 2006 and then is silence. Why did you decide to return today?
Henry: The obvious answer is, of course, because the material was ready now. Unfortunately, progress was also slowed a bit because, speaking for Mark and myself, we had to divide our time by caring for our mom, who died about a year and a half ago. The kind of work we do tends to be extremely detailed, and we quite honestly just accomplished what we could under circumstances that did not afford us the option to work with undivided attention on the music. I’m not making excuses—clearly, other people have things they can’t opt out of, and still manage to get material out in half the time that it takes us. I guess the short answer is that we just don’t write stuff we’re happy with as quickly as they do.
Mark: We always planned on returning, but there were just some unavoidable personal family matters that kept delaying things. We never stopped working completely, but we would slow things down as much as necessary at the time.
Alan: As Henry and Mark already stated, it was really a matter of the time it took to fully realize and finish the work in its entirety. We always intended on putting out the album as quickly as possible and I think our first anticipated completion time was about three years earlier. In addition, we’d originally planned for an album duration of about 45-50 minutes—but the more we worked on the music, the longer the overall form became. By the time we were finished, the fully realized concept had grown to over 77 minutes in total, which I think turned out to be a perfect length for the statement as a whole.
PR - You continued to make music during these years?
Mark: Aside from the writing of a portion of “Voices from California,” a lot of my personal time was spent on research in order to upgrade my own home studio setup, and then learning additional recording and mixing techniques to help propel the new material to a higher overall degree of sonic enjoyment for ourselves and, hopefully, for our listeners as well.
Alan: Following the release of Cantus Firmus (in February of 2006), Advent shifted focus to live-performance mode almost exclusively for the next few years. Other than setting a little bit of time aside to work on our submission for the four-CD Dante’s Inferno compilation that Colossus put together (released on the Musea label in 2008), we spent virtually all our time performing on stage and expanding the group’s live repertoire during this time. I’d also joined the reformed incarnation of Mirthrandir in late 2005 and played a series of shows with them between 2006 and 2009, which kept me quite busy as well.
If memory serves, Henry, Mark, and I all started developing the beginnings of the first few pieces for Silent Sentinel between 2008 and the first part of 2009, making the decision to shift priorities back to making an album after performing at MARPROG in July of the latter year. We did take on a couple of additional gigs after that as well, which also took a bit of time away from working on all the new material. In the end, I think the balance worked out fairly well, but the results did push the release of Silent Sentinel back a bit longer than we had originally hoped or anticipated.
PR - Group was created at the end of the 1980s, what were your motives at this time?
Alan: After making a living in the early part of the decade playing cover tunes in a Philadelphia-based band called Merlin for (about 15 months), I’d really burned out on playing cover tunes and also came to the realization that I no longer wanted to focus musical energy on playing any music I didn’t fully enjoy (even though I actually liked quite a bit of the material Merlin covered). In spite of this, I tried forming another cover band that I hoped to leverage as a catalyst for making original music immediately afterward, but that group imploded before playing out and further attempts at finding musicians to collaborate with were very short-lived until I moved to New Jersey several years later—then reuniting with an old friend from boarding school and forming my first original prog band called Tangent. Unfortunately, that band also fell apart before any concert performances or studio recordings and I spent quite a bit of time afterward trying to find an existing group to join, which also turned out to be an increasingly unsatisfying experience.
After playing a couple of gigs with a hard rock band called Riff Raff in 1989 (which I very much enjoyed), though, I decided to quit and focus on forming a brand new group that would be tailored to the music I really wanted to make. Although I’d have to say the vision was far more developed in an abstract sense, my goal for this new band could be summarized as trying to bring the best of 1970s progressive rock into what was then the modern age—or, to put it another way, to reconnect with the point where prog left off at the end of its heyday and continue onward in a manner that retained the substance and spirit of the old but did not sound inherently retro or dated. To this end, I placed some ads in a local music newspaper called The East Coast Rocker and Henry answered one of these ads in October of that year (still 1989)—and, within a few minutes of meeting him, I knew beyond doubt that I had found the perfect partner to form this dream band I was envisioning.
PR - Your music is strongly influenced by Gentle Giant, but you feel that you use as a springboard to develop your own music that is what particularly attracts you in this style of music. You agree?
Alan: I had fallen in love with Gentle Giant’s music shortly after dropping out of Berklee College of Music (just around the time I turned 17) and they quickly became my “reference standard” for how to approach bands and musicians I wanted to work with. Merlin was actually the first such band, coincidentally, as they had just morphed out of a very interesting progressive rock band called Kid Gloves and the Gentle Giant connection was a significant factor in what made our immediate relationship so strong (in spite of the fact that they were now looking to work as an FM top-40 cover band at that point).
When the time came to realize my part of the vision that would later become Advent, I had leveraged Gentle Giant as a reference point many times—though none as strongly or directly relevant as in this case. However, I had no interest in the band being a GG clone or even sounding directly derivative in any way (as it was more of an ethos than anything else). That being said, Henry’s use of counterpoint can’t help but elicit references to Gentle Giant in some manner—especially when delivered in a prog-oriented context like ours, as there are so few prog bands with composers that possess this capability on such a thorough level.
As such, I think your using the word “springboard” is both insightful and accurate. There are a lot of things I love in music, but counterpoint has definitely been one of my favorite musical devices since childhood. It’s something I’d love to study and master as well (although, for the time being, I have to admit that I’m kind of stuck trying to “fake it” as best I can with my own composing and arranging initiatives).
Henry: It’s obvious that we’re all fans of Gentle Giant—they cast a very long shadow indeed (as “giants” tend to do). If you have some knowledge of (and more than just a passing interest in) the various currents in the history of western music, past and present, GG had something for you. Additionally, their live shows were nothing short of jaw-dropping on a good night.
That said, however, I think it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that we’ve always been more interested in those influences which shaped those artists whose music we love, the people they listened to. A surprising number of people (even in the prog community) seem to be unaware of the musical antecedents that predate the work of their heroes by centuries. They hear a few vocal lines that overlap, and their frame of reference is GG, rather than Palestrina or de Victoria.
Don’t get me wrong—GG really raised the bar in terms of how much music you had to be acquainted with to fully understand and appreciate what they were able to do. It is our hope, though, that in trying to “drink deeply” from the same musical well, there’s enough that’s different in what we do to distinguish us, even though we’re admittedly grateful to be compared with what most people seem to regard as the best practitioners of the genre.
Mark: As we’ve always said, there is a well that the bands that we like to listen to (Gentle Giant, Genesis, Fairport Convention, etc.). We try to draw from that same well, rather than copy another band’s style. It requires a little more effort sometimes, but the result is much more desirable, I think.
PR - What are your future projects?
Henry: To get out and play live again, and to get a jump on some new material for the next release. We have a few works in progress that didn’t make it onto Silent Sentinel, primarily because we had discovered that we already had more music than we needed. With luck (and hopefully fewer interruptions this time), we can shorten considerably the lag time between releases.
Mark: Looking forward to preparing our live set and to playing as many gigs as we have time for.
Alan: Performing on stage again in the near term (staring with our NJ Proghouse show scheduled for April 29, 2016) and then working on the next album as well. Would really love to book some dates outside of the USA as well this time around, if possible.
PR - You have the final word...
Henry: We’d like to thank everyone for being so patient and supportive—we hope you’re enjoying the new album, and we look forward to meeting some of you at one of our upcoming live shows. And, of course, thank you also, Richard, for giving us this opportunity, and for playing Silent Sentinel on your program.
Mark: Thank you very much for your interest in the music, and for the opportunity to answer your questions.
Alan: Thanks so much, once again, for your interest and support! It really means a lot to us all.
Thank you very much.
Henry: Our pleasure, much luck and success to you, and see you soon.
Alan: The pleasure is ours. All the best to you and your listeners!
Richard for Profil