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Dave Kulju - Abstract Expression Reviews


Stephanie Sollow (ProgressiveWorld.net)

Rating: *****

Dave Kulju is one of two members of Electrum to have released solo albums in the past year or so (the other is Gino Foti). Abstract Expression is guitarist Kulju's entry, and it's an all instrumental affair, putting the guitar front and center, naturally. Joining Kulju are various guests - Frank Basile and Bryan Powers on drums; Joel Mahathy on theremin and a guitar solo ("Picnic At The Slag Heap"); an organ solo from Doug (or as listed Douug) Upton ("Somnium"); and Ian Cameron on violin ("Pleiades"). Dave himself handles guitars, bass, drums, guitar synth, keys and programming.

In the broad view, you can hear a strong Rush influence in most of the tracks (not just in the throaty, heavy feel, but also in the interplay between guitar, bass, keys and drums). But it's not a series of "YYZ" wanna-bees or anything, because it just as much as a decidedly fusion feel about it, too. Sparks fly in the jazzy "Picnic At The Slag Heap," for example, given an odd spin by the addition of theremin. Call it Rush influenced fusion with a metal edge, in a nutshell. Kulju is equally adept at shredding as he is at playing lighter, more fluid lines, and these can easily appear in the same song -- listen to "Don't Mind Me," for example, a track that demands you pay him mind.

"Hieland Road" has a churning sense of movement that speaks to racing down a highway flat out (professional driver; closed course; do not attempt). In fact, I'd say much of the music here lends itself to the iconic image of zipping along in a convertible, hair flowing in the breeze. (And didn't Rush evoke that with "Red Barchetta"? Not to harp on the Rush element… although it was evident in Electrum, too). And opener "Internal Combustion" is as fiery as the title suggests, a rocking-with-attitude juggernaut that isn't just overstated bravado, but progressive instrumental rock to asserts itself with assured authority.

"Pleiades" is a beautiful tune that incorporates piano (or piano-like elements) and violin to give it the requisite open feel, a Midwest feel. Darker elements come from slightly distorted guitar used sparingly; and Kulju interjects the mid-tempo arrangement with a peppy, though brief, guitar solo.

"Depth Of Autumn" begins as an acoustic pastoral piece, and then shifts into a shiny and bright contemporary instrumental. It's fresh and airy but far from lightweight. I used to listen to this mellow, mid-tempo stuff quite a bit, diving into much that Narada and Higher Octave (and others) was putting out… stuff that got thrown into the "New Age" section, but didn't quite fit there. The story here is told entirely by Kulju's guitar, resonant, chiming tones; Basile's drums defining the rest of the shapes.

In "The Water Discipline," synth washes and programmed drums (or so they sound) serve as back drop for Kulju's sweetly soaring soloing. It's another Narada moment, this one. It's a piece to give you an easy, peaceful feeling… but oddly, when the song comes to an end, and thus the CD, you expect there to be more… one more track. Good thing you just hit play again (or, better yet, set repeat).

The addition of organ to "The Main Attraction" recalls classic prog, a hint of ELP, a hint of Genesis, a hint of Kansas and more than a hint of 80s Rush. But the prog epic is the following track, the sprawling "Somnium." While glissandos, breathy piano, shimmering guitar, and effects create a liquid opening (not unlike mid-90s Marillion), this is merely the calm before the storm. Thenceforth, it becomes a churning, evolving piece that pays equal attention to guitar - fuzzed and throaty - as it does drums. The use of organ nearly throughout underscores its prog nods, subtly creating open space for the guitar and drums to dance and leap through (and right near the end, more fusiony, a la Niacin). Later, about half way through, swirling atmospheres return - watery keyboards overlying secondary beds of keyboards create that "frozen moment" feeling, whilst an industrial machinery marches alongside … giving way a minute later to a piano interlude. Then we're on the move again, darting off into another racing passage. The piece takes on many moods, almost all upbeat and energetic, that to pin it down as any one style, or referencing any one influence is difficult. It's prog rock, fusion, guitar rock, contemporary instrumental, avant-garde-ish (at least right near the end) … all flowing together. ELP-Rush-Crimson… those are three influences you'll find.

This is a fabulous CD that features guitar but doesn't overstate its presence. These are fully-fleshed compositions that demonstrate a breadth of styles that flow quite naturally.

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John Patrick (Progression Magazine)

Sound: 3.5 of 4 stars
Composition: 3 of 4 stars
Musicianship: 4 of 4 stars
Performance 3.5 of 4 stars
Overall 14 of 16 stars

Artists who draw inspiration from Rush are on the incline, while the multitudes who plunder the temple of Genesis are (finally) dwindling. This do-it-yourselfer (with a little outside assistance) from Electrum guitarist Dave Kulju falls into the former category, and he serves us up with a winner.

In an interesting way, Abstract Expression is an unrelated near twin to the Speechless disc I spun last quarter. Kulju likes to interject hairier riffs at more frequent junctures ("Pleiades", "Picnic at the Slag Heap") than the Atlanta group, but like Mr. Tonar, eschews flashy soloing in favor of meaningful thematic development. Close analysis reveals "Hieland Road" to posses an architecture unconsciously similar to Rush's YYZ. The 15-minute arches through a widely varying series of moods and 'tudes with pleasingly cohesive symphonic rock structure.

Abstract Expression lies on the cusp of being a phenomenal achievement, as this is practically a one-man show. But Kulju, like most overachieving mega talents, couldn't but help himself by featuring even more involvement from other musicians.

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Rick Dashiell (Aural Moon)

"Here's a review of "Abstract Expression", a new CD from Dave Kulju. I picked this up without knowing anything about it being released. I have the Electrum "Standard Deviation" CD, and find that fairly interesting. That's Dave with a couple of bandmates from 2002. It's kind of fusion, but a bit more experimental.

Having a bit of predjudice about what I was expecting, I was thrown off. AE is a wonderful instrumental record that never bores. Dave brings some great ideas and mixes them with some unusual patterns that makes a winning combination.

The CD opens with "Internal Combustion", which is representative of the great fusion discs. It has a bouncy, happy driving feel like a Frank Gambale piece. However, most of the instruments are Dave (except for Bryan Powers on drums, this tune and next) - that gives it more of a song structure instead of a wankfest. The use of keys in the bridges is a great touch. Some soloing throughout, but not overbearing. A great opener.

"Don't Mind Me" is a song that takes you back a few years in its style. A nice, easy start with lots of full chords and piano (I'm a sucker for piano). The connections between verses are very post-Counterparts Rush, with the bounce on the bass and the full guitar. About the three-minute mark Dave throws in a ass-kicking solo, just when you get comfortable. There's a lot of this surprise on AE, some unusual patterns. I find this almost a necessity on an instrumental record to keep the interest throughout. The Rush-guitar reappears to finish off the song.

"Hieland Road" trades off on alternately complex and simple verses. It appears from the liner notes that this is a one-man song. The midsection has a little "YYZ" action... you'll understand when you hear it. After that another sweet lead, one of the best I've heard here. Supported beautifully by the drumming and the acoustic guitar. Another winner of a song.

"Pleiades" (not the King's X song!) meanders until a nice lead about the two and a half minute mark, then another fast lead at four minutes changes thing up yet again. Back to the main theme after that, it's over before you realize.

"Depth of Autumn" starts off slow, then moves into a standard fusion verse (I hear Gambale, Morse, etc again). It says Ian Cameron plays violin on the last cut, but I hear him here. Error in the liner notes or my ears? Yet another nice, subtle lead comes in to save the song when it starts to drag. Frank Basile's drumming on this is excellent. He plays drums on cuts 4-7.

"Picnic At the Slag Heap" is a two-minute hoot. Joel Mahathy does a Goodsall impression on a ripping lead, supported by Theremin (also played by Joel). A good one to keep you on your toes.

"The Main Attaction" has a carnival-like organ line that is the basis for the first verse. It's not exactly 4/4, but I can't tell you what it is (I'm not a musician). I was starting to have this song figured out, but it changes consistently throughout and you need to pay attention to follow it. That makes sense after I read that it's the only collaboratively written song. The chorus reminds of something, but I'll probably figure it out next year. If I had to compare the song to anything, it would fit well on a Djam Karet record. A song that I thought would bore me but turned out to be one of the best on the CD.

"Somnium" is 15 minutes in length. Doug Upton plays a bit of Organ, but otherwise it's all Dave. The Electrum disc has a long Kulju-penned song also. That is heavier at the beginning and the end, a bit bombastic, with a long mellow middle section.This song is quite different. After a minute or so of setup, a standard evil sounding very Prog theme appears. Several shape-shifts continue, keeping the song very Prog and very interesting. It's a demanding piece on the ear. Evil theme comes back briefly at the five-minute mark, then a nice, short National Health part. Up to seven and a half it rocks, then it crashes into a wall...with some nice keyboard-dominated passages for a few more minutes. Then crank it up! We're taken home with some exciting music, including the Organ solo and some fine combinations of guitar and keys, especially the closing guitar solo (before the theme refrain). A song that will be on your shuffle for a long time (not mine...I don't own an ipod).

Closing out the disc is "The Water Discipline". Another solo effort, it's sort of Pastoral, that is very inoffensive. A great song to hear while just waking up camping. I think it's a drum machine, but it doesn't detract from the song.

I usually don't have time to write reviews, but this is a CD that needs some love. I hope you find it as rewarding to hear as I do. Thanks to Dave for a great effort, and hope that his next one is easier to find than this one!"

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Adam Baruch (Jazzis)

"1st album by US guitarist Dave Kulju, who is a member of the Prog ensemble Electrum. Recorded over a period of two years (with some music written even before the actual recording), it presents a portrait of a sensible artist, who shares with us his intellectual and emotional travels in search of his musical identity. Kulju plays almost all the instruments involved in the recording, using a few guest musicians to spice the wonderful musical dish here and there.

The album’s title fits the musical contents perfectly – although mostly in the vein of instrumental Prog, it includes many different moods and influences, such as contemporary classical music and Fusion. The music is both intelligent and emotional, flowing smoothly from one theme to the next, merging perfectly the electric and acoustic instruments. The lead guitar is not trying to show off or dazzle, but simply plays the lead parts in perfect harmony with the other instruments. It’s quite evident that Kulju wished to present a total musical portrait of himself as a composer and player, rather than enter a pissing contest with others.

The longest track on the album, called “Somnium”, (which lasts for over 15 minutes) is quite brilliant and my favorite tune, but all the music is truly excellent. Somehow the mood of the album reminds me of Scandinavian Prog, perhaps a bit of Anekdoten, but that’s just my association. This album will probably (and sadly) be heard by a very limited number of people, but if you’re up to an intellectual challenge please don’t miss it. The beautifully designed packaging will be a bonus. Kudos Dave!"

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Mark Elliot (USA Progressive Music)

9.6 out of 10

Track 1 "Internal Combustion" starts with an instant high. Some great guitar playing interspersed with an interesting string section, moves along taking you in but not challenging you too much. A good start.

Track 2 "Don't Mind Me" is a more in-depth affair with a blistering solo and some wonderful guitar textures. Right from the outset Dave shows his skills as both a guitarist and a producer and it's apparent he really knows how to put his point across.

Track 3 "Hieland Road" starts with a lovely bit of Mellotron and then goes into a fantastic staccato riff which glides into a wonderfully sublime bass solo. Great playing throughout ensures that for a non-vocal album Abstract Expression manages to hold your attention.

Track 4 " Pleiades" is a beautiful piece with a classic Prog piano sequence which really takes you away. This is then followed by some great soloing and wonderful riffs. Again this piece is very instant.

Track 5 "Depth of Autumn" starts with a lovely acoustic folk section which is over too quickly for me. A clever chord sequence follows in 3/4 timing which then becomes 3/? timing. Very clever indeed. This is the best place for this track as by now the listener is ready for the more in-depth numbers and this one really captures your imagination.

Track 6 "Picnic at the Slag Heap" is a strange one with a sleasy 7/8 riff and some really abstract guitar and theremin sounds coming at you from all directions. I didn't realize coal mining was this scary.

Track 7 "The Main Attraction" is a much more standard affair but great nevertheless. I think there was a speech by Winston Churchill mixed in at the end which rivals Thomas Dolby's Dr Magnus Pike on "She Blinded Me With Science" anyday.

Track 8 "Somnium" is a 15-minute piece which really sums this album up. Melodic riffs with clever time changes and wonderful production, make a fantastic CD which you can get into on the first listening, but I'm sure has a lot more mileage in it the more you play it. Dave's solos are really interesting and textural and not just speed for the sake of it. They also aren't slapped all over the CD but placed carefully within the context of the piece and this is both rare and skillful.

Track 9 "The Water Discipline" ventures into "New Age" with it's keyboard intro and trance beat but when the guitar starts it crosses over into a great mix of the two types. This is a great track to go out on at the end of what was a fantastic album, which would appeal to Prog fans and Guitar Rock fans alike. It's rare to be both clever and musical at the same time, but Abstract Expression manages this brilliantly.

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Eddie Lascu (Gnosis)

Dave Kulju’s story is as simple as it gets. Born in 1970, he started playing guitar at the age of 12, after his mom urged him to take some lessons. His first influences were Rush, Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Yes, Led Zeppelin and The Who. After high school he enrolled to attend college at University of North Carolina in Asheville. There he studied under a tremendously talented pool of professors, including the late Dr. Robert Moog. He also attendee clinics of virtually every major artist coming through town, such as Chick Corea, Victor Wooten and Gary Burton (please note the diversity of instruments that caught Dave’s interest). With help from some proggy fellow colleagues, his horizon expands to include the likes of Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Mike Oldfield and Frank Zappa.

After graduation, Dave moves back to New Hampshire were he forms the band Electrum with whom two albums were released: “Frames of Mind” and “Standard Deviation”. Both have received very positive reviews in the Progressive Rock community.

It was during the recording phase of “Standard Deviation” in 2001 that Dave had some spare time and wrote and recorded “Pleiades”, the first song that appears on this record.

After releasing “Standard Deviation” (at the end of 2002), Electrum goes into a prolonged hiatus. Dave continued to write music so that by 2004 he realizes he was very close to release a solo album. After some upgrades done to his home studio meant to allow the recording of live drums, on June 28th, 2005 began a 22-month long process to record, mix and master “Abstract Expression”. Dave had the help of some guest musicians, most notable being drummers Frank Basile and Bryan Powers, violinist Ian Cameron, guitarist Joel Mahathy and organist Doug Upton. Dave Kulju did the rest, and that included playing the electric, acoustic and bass guitars, drum kit and keyboards.

The music is entirely instrumental, without a concept behind the tracks. In fact the artist invites us not to search any meaning of the music in the title of the songs, but rather to hear them as an argument of the concept that music is inherently an abstract form of art.

While guitar is the main form of expression, every piano and keyboard intervention sounds very inspiring. Interestingly enough, Dave doesn’t list Joe Satriani as an influence although I can’t help but observe some similarities between the styles of the two. Mind you, this is not pyrotechnics-filled, a-gazillion-notes-a-second type of music. But just like Satriani, I think Kulju has an evident ability to come up with some great, melodic riffs that will make you hum along by the third time you will play the album. All in all, a very enjoyable album that came from that little place called the soul of the artist.

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Geoff Feakes (Dutch Progressive Rock Pages)

Whenever I’m sent a release by an artist that’s new to me I usually check out previous reviews on the DPRP website. This often provides useful background information on the artist themselves, an insight into the musical style and a measure of how the latest release compares with the previous output. In the case of guitarist Dave Kulju I was surprised to find that it’s been five years since he last made a CD. On that occasion it was with the band Electrum whose album Standard Deviation received a positive thumbs up from our very own editor. Disagreement over musical direction (sound familiar?) and the band’s full time job commitments means that the follow up is yet to see the light of day. Kulju has made good use of this spell of inactivity to produce his debut solo album.

The most obvious comparison between Abstract Expression and Electrum’s work is the absence of vocals. That’s not uncommon in prog music of course but one assumption does immediately come to mind. If this is all instrumental then he must be an exceptional guitarist right? Well the simple answer is yes (thankfully) he is. If the second question concerns style and content then the unassuming artwork and title certainly give nothing away. We are in melodic prog territory here with a full on sound incorporating varied guitar textures plus keyboards, bass and drums played mostly by Kulju himself. If prog instrumentals are your thing then you will lap this up. I was consistently reminded of Steve Howe’s solo excursions (minus the suspect vocals of course) especially his Turbulence album.

Internal Combustion is a rock solid opener with a compelling lead riff and chunky rhythm guitar backdrop. The orchestral bridge comes courtesy of keys. Taken at a more relaxed tempo Don't Mind Me features a melodic guitar line underpinned by a counterpoint piano motif. A fuzzed guitar solo adds a hint of aggression. Hieland Road opens with a snatch of eerie early Genesis style mellotron. A tuneful guitar melody is offset by a busy bass solo accompanied by energetic drumming both provided by Kulju. Guest Frank Basile supplies the abstract drum pattern in Pleiades with one of the albums strongest melodies coming not from guitar but the bow of violinist Ian Cameron. This adds a Celtic folk feel underscored by piano and acoustic guitar before Kulju takes flight with a storming Steve Howe like solo.

Depth Of Autumn opens with a beautiful acoustic guitar lament that has a distinct Mike Oldfield flavour. The electric guitar line that follows is curiously reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper. It features a very spacey guitar sound throughout with some excellent soloing. The jazzy Picnic At The Slag Heap sounds like a pure slice of King Crimson with restless Bob Fripp inflected soling joined by tight drums and bass that bring the Bruford/Wetton partnership to mind. Guest guitarist Joel Mahathy adds a bombastic solo of his own although to be truthful I could have easily done without the Theremin squeals which brought back the uncomfortable memories of a recent visit to the dentist!

The final three tracks are for me the albums most wide-ranging and rewarding. The lyrical almost classical guitar that opens The Main Attraction gives way to an infectious organ signature overlaid by a busy but melodic guitar line. This is punctuated by a striking staccato riff that has Mind Drive by Yes written all over it. The lengthy Somnium with its epic structure sees Kulju employing every trick in the book. The spacey and atmospheric Pink Floyd flavoured intro contrasts with the heavyweight guitar and organ section that follows. A complex layering of different guitar parts adds a Gentle Giant feel to the proceedings. A soaring Steve Hackett guitar solo is underpinned by lush string drenched keys.

At the midway point of this penultimate piece a mellow section includes Mike Oldfield guitar atmospherics against a backdrop of electronic percussive sounds. The guitar adopts an aggressive tone joined by expressive bass work and a memorable organ solo from guest musician Douug Upton. Mellotron samples set the scene for a majestic guitar break that would not sound out of place from the fingers of Nick Barrett or Steve Rothery. This could have easily provided a stirring coda but Kulju can’t resist adding a heavy swing rhythm before playing out with a bombastic organ/guitar riff.

In contrast to the instrumental gymnastics of the proceeding track, The Water Discipline makes for an engaging and calming closer. It’s dominated initially by stately symphonic synths bringing an ambient Tangerine Dream vibe. The synthetic percussive effects sound very much at home here adding a decidedly modern edge. An understated but beautiful guitar melody with echoes of Andy Latimer subsides into rippling acoustic guitar to provide a sweet conclusion.

From the end results it’s obvious that the multi talented Dave Kulju has spent many hours labouring in his basement studio to produce this album. Each track has been meticulously constructed which a rich layering of instrumentation that’s often complex but always highly melodic. This is instrumental prog at its very best from a musician who clearly has a feel for the genre. Vocals are not a requirement here; Kulju lets his guitar do all the singing. I look forward to his next release either solo or with Electrum even if it does take another five years.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

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Richard Kolp (Upbeat)

"Dave Kulju’s Abstract Expression in many ways is just that. A guitar virtuoso’s painting by notes. Dave is the master mind behind this exquisite rendering and masquerades using electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drum kit, guitar synthesizer, Keyboards and all programming. We have a number of special guest that include Frank Basile on drums Pleiades, Depth of Autumn, Picnic at the Slag Heap and The Main Attraction, Bryan Powers on drums Internal Combustion and Don’t Mind Me, Joel Mahathy on Theremin and guitar solo on Picnic at the Slag Heap, Doug Upton organ solo on Somnium and Ian Cameron on Violin Pleiades. Let’s grab a brush and give this one a try.

Internal Combustion – Well if we were painting this first tune would have burned our canvas to cinders. It comes out combusting in a spontaneously ignitable aura of mass fusion. It pulsates as if it’s ready to explode but the interludes and orchestral keyboards in the middle temper its power. Its wrestling theme is punctuated by some fine drumming by Bryan Powers.

Don’t Mind Me – The mood that is created in this tune is totally abstract. It starts off with a beautiful guitar chord for the first forty seconds or so and follows with a layered guitar effect that becomes grungy and harsh. The piano then takes the led for a short time before Dave comes in over the top in a mild manner before becoming grungy and harsh all over again. A short guitar solo breaks in at just the right time.

Hieland Road – Strap on the back packs and let’s kick this hike into overdrive. The road features a driving led guitar over an acoustic back drop. We are on the edge looking down until midway when we shift to some fine drum programming along with some nice bass work and a sudden ending.

Pleiades – Frank Basile’s drums open this tune and do a nice job of cascading throughout the entire tune. We have a small piece of violin thrown in by Ian Cameron along with some precisely placed keyboard work by Dave. The layered guitars dual in and out in a meandering way as if to tell you something is about to happen. At the 3:50 mark Dave’s solo kicks it in high gear before Frank Basile’s drums ratchet us back. You can just feel the thought that went into a tune such as this.

Depth of Autumn – Once again the abstract master is in full effect. Here we start with an acoustic ballad that is manipulated into some type of swing that is transposed into a squawking guitar that over lies the melody. Dave’s guitar finally takes to the forefront and caters to this melodic tune.

Picnic at the Slag Heap – Talk about a mood swing. This tune has the feel of throwing paint at the canvas in pure fusion fashion. The notes are squirrelly in an obtrusive way. It sounds as if it’s getting ready to convulse and does it in a most enjoyable way. Joel Mahathy adds the Theremin and guitar solo to the mix.

The Main Attraction – Just listen to how Dave Kulju and Frank Basile traverse this song. They each take their shots as well as teaming up to create powerful tempo and melody. Peaks and valleys abound.

Somniun – (Latin for "The Dream") listen to this song and how it transitions around in a translucent kind of way. It in effect creates a convoluted listening environment perfect for dreaming and at fifteen minutes long gives you plenty of time for imagination. Doug Upton’s organ solo is a nice touch to a fine piece of art.

The Water Discipline – This tune sounds as if the painter ran out of water to mix with his paint. A big orchestral beginning followed up with a sad guitar line. He’s worked hard and has accomplished much and must now be satisfied. The picture is the end.

Observation – This just happens to be one well contrived piece of work by a wonderfully gifted musician as well as composer. I love his sense of timing and theme and how it is appropriately put together. The attention to detail as well as the playing and production are world class and deserving of much attention."

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Chris Piccirillo (ProgScape)

Dave Kulju’s first solo album “Abstract Expression” is an all-instrumental album, built from Dave’s wide host of influences. Artists such as Rush, Yes and Led Zeppelin grace this album, but it’s more than just rehashing the past. Dave’s progressive inspired songwriting is evident here, where songs twist and turn never getting stuck into the tried and true Chorus-verse-chorus trappings of pop music. However, Dave’s managed to take the melodic sensibility of his other influences (Hendrix, The Eagles, BTO) and mash the two worlds into a full album.

There will always be the inevitable Joe Satriani comparison – the two musicians have a similar “we don’t need to shred, but we can…so stay awake” mentality – but the comparisons end there. The disparity between the two artists are never so evident as on the albums epic 15 minute song “Sominum”. Tastes of U2, Rush, Genesis and Marillion gel together into a seemingly quick 15 minutes. That’s the mark of a great long form tune, in my opinion; the ability to take you on a journey and not have you looking at the clock wondering when the song will end. Also, the heavy use of keyboards really puts the Satch comparisons to bed. Mellotron, analog synth and organ permeate the guitar-driven songs to add a wonderful prog touch.

The songs drip with emotion and the lyrical style of Dave’s playing allows the melodies to get stuck inside your head long after each listen. Other highlights on this album include the wonderfully Genesis-like “Hieland Road” who’s Mellotron intro will have you immediately thinking Foxtrot before you get brought to an entirely different place. The upbeat drums and acoustics really drive this song along and I can absolutely see this being an excellent song to have blasting while driving on a twisting country road in the late summer. Another favorite is the dark, almost atonal blues nightmare “Picnic at the Slag Heap”; it bubbles and grinds, leaving you with an unsettled feeling. The hypnotic “The Water Discipline” closes out the album unexpectedly, almost like a cool-down after the preceding epic work-out “Somnium”.

The production on the album would be my only criticism. It’s a bit dry in spots; especially the drums that were recorded and played on by Dave. There are several tracks where Dave plays drums (Other drummers include Frank Basile and Bryan Powers) and basically every other instrument so this is a minor gripe, as the rest of the CD sounds good. Every instrument is very audable and fits well within the mix, never tiring the listeners ears like some modern recordings.

Dave Kulju’s Abstract Expression is a wonderful contrast in styles yet maintains an overall musical identity making for an extremely enjoyable song package.

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Pete Pardo (Sea Of Tranquility)

"Abstract Expression, the new solo album from Electrum guitarists Dave Kulju, is a solid collection of fusion and prog-rock songs that shows his love for bands like The Dixie Dregs, Genesis, Mike Oldfield, Rush, Echolyn, and Kansas. All instrumental, and not just a "guitar lovers" experience, Abstract Expression blends many styles and moods, proving that Kulju has a penchant for songwriting in addition to his fine guitar and keyboard skills. There's plenty of tasty playing here, but for the most part things are sort of restrained, so don't expect a "chops-zilla" type of environment.

Highlights are the 15-minute prog epic "Somnium", with no shortage of complex guitar & keyboard interplay, the meeting of Mellotron & Dregs-ish fusion on "Hieland Road", the raucous "Internal Combustion", and the calming ambient/jazz textures of "The Water Discipline". Dave has some friends helping him out with some various parts throughout the album, but for the most part it's him playing all the instruments, and he does a good job. Abstract Expression is a fun listen, highly melodic, and recommended to those who like instrumental progressive rock with a touch of jazz-fusion."

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MJ Brady (ProgGnosis)

"I came to hear Dave Kulju on his previous efforts with his band Electrum, (also reviewed here at Proggnosis), an instrumental trio that played music with a flare for the Rush vibe, with perhaps a more straight forward vibe, the band is a three piece, and I never really knew who was the main writer in Electrum, until I was able to not only hear this cd, but a couple of bassist - Gino Foti's solo cds. It's apparent that the Rush vibe is the ideal of Dave Kulju, who continues to proceed into the realm of all - instrumental progressive rock music on this, his first cd. Abstract Expression, a fitting title, is where Kulju demonstrates his writing talents, as well as his multi-instrumental skills. The credits list him as not only the songwriter and guitarist, but also bass, keys and sharing the drum kit duties with some other players as well.

As stated, this music is instrumental, yet not a guitar cd in the sense of what we have come to know guitar cds to be. I don't hear the guitar dominating the music, nor do I hear extensive soloing, or even the guitar as a voice in the melodic sense. Kulju writes for structure, in the same way vintage Rush did. It's about arrangements, moods, and movements, I am not convinced that Dave Kulju is of that kind of player to put his playing at the forefront of the music, but he is a good writer. Yes it's progressive, and it's rock as well. I never hear metallic sounds from either the guitar or drums, a bit more toned down than that, yet not fluffy or too mellow for those that like some energy to their music.

Each song is carefully constructed allowing many changes and swings in tempo, as well as mood. So no monotony to stifle the listening experience. I guess in hearing this cd, It's a lot like Electrum, except for whatever reason, I like the way this cd is written more than the Electrum stuff, it seems that it has a more concise sound, production and a tad more complexity. Kulju has a keen sense for finding nice moods and melodies to pair with his mechanized rhythms, which will not only remind you of Rush, but even some of the Police, Tiles and bands of that style. Where the guitar and bass can have that similar Rush feel, I really don't hear it in the drumming as much, no Neil Peart like mesmerizing playing, yet the drumming is not simplistic either, but tastefully done, and not overplayed.

Apparently Electrum is working on a new release, and if what Dave is doing on this cd is any indication, I think they are poised to release perhaps their best work to date. I always felt they were a band in the learning process since I first heard them, they had good ideas, yet were still developing as musicians and recording artists. This is most definitely the most mature and professional sound recording I have heard from the Electrum camp to date, and have found the cd to be quite an enjoyable discovery."

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Jean-Pierre Lhoir (Music In Belgium)

Né en 1970, Dave Kulju a débuté la guitare à douze ans. Après ses humanités, il rejoint le collège de Asheville afin d'y étudier la musique et de devenir ingénieur du son. Parmi ses professeurs, un certain Dr. Robert Moog qu'on ne présente plus. Aujourd'hui, Kulju, qui outre la guitare joue aussi des claviers, de la basse et de la batterie, sort un premier album solo entièrement produit et bien sûr mixé par lui.

L'album est entièrement instrumental mais, qu'on ne s'y trompe pas, il ne s'agit nullement d'un opus de guitar hero, loin de là. Les influences sont à rechercher dans le rock progressif. Si lorsqu'il est entré au collège il ne connaissait du prog que des groupes tels Rush, Marillion ou Dream Theater, des amis lui ont vite fait découvrir des gens comme Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Mike Oldfield, Frank Zappa et Tangerine Dream. Il s'est aussi ouvert au jazz et à la musique classique.

Dave Kulju a invité quelques copains histoire de ne quand même pas faire tout tout seul. C'est ainsi que Frank Basile tient la batterie sur quelques morceaux et Bryan Powers sur d'autres. Son ami Joel Mahathy fait un solo de guitare et joue un peu de Theremin, Douug Upton propose un solo d'orgue et Ian Cameron tient le violon sur "Pleiades".

A l'écoute de cet album, on ressent bien toutes les influences assimilées par Kulju que ce soit quand il est à la guitare ou aux claviers. Par exemple, c'est bien Mike Oldfield qui transpire du morceau "Hieland Road". Au fil des titres, le jazz-rock et même un peu de fusion se mélangent aux tons progressifs. Cela apporte une grande richesse aux neuf titres proposés qui représentent un cheminement de plusieurs années de compositions.

Sur "Depth of Autumn", après un début très Oldfield, il passe par une ambiance Marillion tout cela sans jamais prendre le pas sur ses compositions qui s'avèrent de très bonne qualité. L'artiste a vraiment un don pour la construction musicale et il apporte un grand soin aux arrangements.

La plage la plus intéressante et aussi la plus élaborée est sans aucun doute ce "Somnium". Les couleurs alternent passant de Zappa à Rush en traversant Yes, King Crimson, Genesis et même Pink Floyd et Tangerine Dream à un moment. Elle offre vraiment le panel complet de toutes les qualités de l'artiste.

En fait le seul handicap de cet album est d'être instrumental. Si vous pouvez passer au-dessus de cela alors vous ferez une belle découverte.

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Steve Roberts (ZNR Records)

"Fantastic solo album from Electrum guitarist Kulju. Continuing in the "power trio" vein of his group but leaning far more towards the fusion side of things, "Abstract Expression" is a powerhouse! Dave's music is similar in feel to recordings made by the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani or Eric Johnson. This is perhaps somewhat more in line with the prog tradition as Kulju grew up listening to all the 70s prog greats like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Rush and Gentle Giant. This is not to say that his music sounds like any of those artists (though maybe a little Rush seeps through now & then) but you can hear in the foundations some of the elements that made those bands so interesting. The guitar playing is second to none & the recording is extremely tight and crisp for an independent release. If you like guitar-centric instrumental progressive rock you will certainly enjoy this fine CD!"

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Conny Myrberg (ArtRock.se)

"Den Amerikanska gitarristen Dave Kulju är kanske inte så känd i våra breddgrader ,bland influenserna som nämns i konvolutet återfinns ändå svenska Änglagård. I bandet Electrum som gett ut två album spelar Dave både gitarr och keyboard, nu var tiden ändå mogen för första egna släppet. 2005 uppgraderades hemmastudion och nu två år senare släpps debuten. På vägen har han plockat upp flera instrument inkluderat trummor fast på de flesta av spåren har Kulju anlitat erfarna slagverkare.

Den instrumentala ”Abstract Expression” bjuder på en rad olika musikinriktningar men kan nog ändå sammanfattas inom de progressive stilarna med drag åt fusion.

En angenäm inledning med ”Internal Combustion” där det melodiska gitarrkonceptet blandas med mera klassiskt symfoniska inslag. Mer riffbetonat spelas i ”Don't Mind Me” där gitarren ballanseras med klang från pianospel ”keyboard” som motvikt. Genesis influerade takter inleder "Hieland Road", senare övertar basen taktpinnen och ett synnerligen behagligt gitarrsound för melodin åter till centrum. Dave Kulju hittar för det mesta det där behagliga i sina alster vilket gör plattan ovanligt lättlyssnad för att vara en instrumental platta inom genren fusion/progrock.

Här finns en del influenser som ibland lyser igenom ljudbilden, en är den nyligen återförenade gruppen The Police, tänkte då mest i spåret "Depth Of Autumn". Det kanske svåraste stycket också med den starkaste fusion inriktningen kommer med ”Picnic At The Slag Heap”, också ovanligt kort för att vara ett utpräglat fusion alster. Den 70-tals symfoniska progressiva rocken får sin beskärda del i ”The Main Attraction” med taktändringar, ”hammond sound” och en berättarröst i bakgrunden, ett spår som värmer i 70-tals själen.

Albumets klara höjdare är ändå längsta skapelsen ”Somnium” på dryga 15 minuter. Ett progressivt stycke som innehar allt man kan önska sig inom genren. Herr Kulju imponerar med sitt låtskrivande som framhäver melodin snarare en det tekniska kunnandet. En mer än godkänd debut och som vanligt med instrumentala album skulle säkerligen även denna nå högre höjder med några vokala insatser."

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Larry Kolota (Kinesis)

"Dave Kulju is the guitarist of the band Electrum, who have released two CDs of instrumental progressive rock. Abstract Expression is also an instrumental progressive rock album, and if it was advertised as the third Electrum album, none would be the wiser. While Kulju plays electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, guitar synth, keyboards and programming, a number of talented guest musicians contribute drums, organ, theremin, and violin.

Guitar has most of the lead work, but there are a lot of keyboards adding symphonic and spacey textures. In this way, the music is similar to Rush during their prime, though Rush is only one of several influences. This album is more imaginative than most guitarist’s CDs, more richly textured and symphonic. In fact, forget it’s a guitarist’s CD and just think of it as a very enjoyable instrumental progressive rock album at an attractive price."

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Roberto Vanali (Arlequins)

La scheda personale di questo chitarrista, polistrumentista, compositore e arrangiatore, con base a Rochester, NH ci dice che questo è il terzo CD in produzione, ma soprattutto inizia con ben 25 citazioni di gruppi e artisti che avrebbero influenzato le sue composizioni. Queste influenze (è bene citarle) vanno da Beethoven agli Anglagard, da Miles Davis ai Genesis, da Dvorak ai Marillion, passando per Yes, Niacin, Kansas, ecc. ecc. La cosa pazzesca è che, in effetti, queste influenze si sentono tutte, davvero, forse con qualche riserva per i Thinking Plague.

Ad ogni modo cosa ci si può aspettare da una descrizione così? … ve lo dico io: un disco dove si alternano, all’interno dei singoli brani, momenti di prog ricchi di suoni in bilico tra il moderno e il vintage, acustici ed elettrici, profusione di tempi dispari, momenti intricati che lasciano spazio a momenti tenui e vaporosi di una semplicità sconvolgente, praticamente pop. Questo altalenare avviene e si sussegue di continuo, quasi con scansione matematica ed ogni brano, dal più breve al più lungo funziona così.

La sorpresa è che appaiono (quasi) meglio i momenti semplici dove la melodia salta fuori come protagonista, rispetto a quelli più prog dove tutto è a servizio della sola ritmica e nulla più, dove tutti gli strumenti sembrano appiccicati su un 7/8 piuttosto che su un 5/4 o via di seguito, a titolo esemplificativo provate a pensare un’Apocalypse 9/8 dei Genesis senza assolo di tastiere, come se fosse solo ritmica. Duretta eh!

Comunque, pur con i limiti indicati, il disco nella sua totalità si lascia ascoltare e corre piuttosto bene e la grande varietà di riferimenti, suoni e atmosfere è pure piacevole. Certo se le idee fossero state sviluppate in maniera compiuta il disco avrebbe avuto un’altra sorte e un altro risultato che qui ha tanto il sapore delle cose fatte in maniera eccessiva, affrettata e quasi a livello dimostrativo, solo che nella musica, come nella vita, nello sport o nel sesso, c’è chi è nato per l’atto rapido e chi per l’esercizio lungo, ragionato e dilatato. Kulju è uno scattista: è un leone del prog, ne fa tante, ma brevi, brevi, magari con un po’ di psicoterapia…

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