Two thousand seventeen has brought us yet another fantastic instrumental prog album that I want to share with you. I’ve been listening to so much more instrumental prog this year than I ever have in the past, and I’m learning that these albums generally operate on an entirely different set of rules than “normal” albums. This debut from On the Raw is a case in point of fantastic instrumental music that comes at our ears from a different perspective. “Big City Awakes” is a complete success.
On the Raw hails from Spain and consists of Jordi Amela on keys, Jordi Prats on guitars, Pep Espasa on sax and flute, Toni Sànchez on bass, and Alex Ojea on drums. The style here is an organic, sublime fusion of jazz and progressive rock, with some folk and even funk elements sprinkled in here and there. This makes for a groovy, eclectic album which features a wide variety of sounds and textures. The album features heavy usage of saxophone, synth, and flute alongside the standard guitars, bass, and drums.
This band and album oozes class and sensibility, and this comes across in their amazing ability to craft each and every track to be interesting and even surprising. Just when you thought that you knew what to expect, a track will completely shift tone and genre, but it all makes perfect sense after it happens. One thing that is readily obvious is that the band never overdoes a certain musical idea. If a rhythm or melody has run its course, they move on to other things and whole new ideas.
Somehow, the album feels both urban and pastoral at the same time. So, while the classy subtlety and folksy flutes feel rather along the lines of Big Big Train in this quiet and comforting fashion, the music is also quite urban in its tone and in the feelings it evokes. The steely beauty of the city at sunset: That’s often the feeling I get in this album. The artwork for the album makes this readily available too, as if the band wants to celebrate the beauty of human designs and pedestrian places in this discreet yet colorful fashion.
One of things I like best about this album is that the saxophone is not just an instrument saved for special moments, nor is the flute: You will find that Pep’s performances on these instruments often lead the way in several tracks, and the pairing with Jordi’s keys and synth is so very magnificent and somewhat outside the box. Jordi’s guitars are suitably technical and emotional, with plenty of riveting solos and fingerwork. I’m also a huge fan of Toni’s excellent bass sense and composition. He creates a jazziness with this energetic atmosphere that creates a darker and more urban tone for the album.
My one real complaint about the album lies in the mixing of the drums. While Alex does a great job in creating voluptuous fills and beats, the drums are often not given their due place in the mix. This is a small complaint, though, especially since the drumming is so good.
Overall, “Big City Awakes” plays by its own rules. It excels at giving us an idyllic feeling toward a more hardened human landscape, and so the feelings evoked are often different than you might expect. I find new emotions every time I listen.
The tracks here all work well together. The title track is an excellent intro song with a truly classy groove backed by wonderful flute and sax, plus a great guitar workout near the end. “Roller Coaster” starts out very “predictably” somehow, but then throws a left hook with some very cool rhythms, which happens quite often in this album. “Dreams in a Box” is jazzy track with some ethereal elements that feel like desperation and longing. “Looking for Mr. Hyde” is one of the most interesting tracks with its quirky jazziness. It’s also the only track with some vocals on it, and they are quite well done.
“Day 49” is the best track on the album. It features a wonderful groove to begin with that transitions into a beautiful flute segment that turns into a rock portion. This song really melds into “On the Raw” perfectly, almost like sister tracks. And the album often does this thing where the songs transition right into each other with fantastic results.
I really love this debut album from On The Raw. “Big City Awakes” is a wonderful album of the type that you’d listen to while wordlessly driving through the city during the darkness of night. On your drive, you will see the bright lights of the city and the silent monolithic structures that signal the presence of mankind, and somehow this band has transferred those sights into beautiful music. I highly recommend this fantastic debut.