Martin Tillman, Superhuman

tillm_superhReady to be stirred? To feel like you’re smack in the middle of a really good movie? Or several of them? With his experience working on a number of film soundtracks with Hans Zimmer, it’s no surprise that cellist and composer Martin Tillman brings plenty of  vivid, cinematic narrative energy to his album Superhuman. The mental pictures are full-screen and the emotions are spot-on across all these tracks as Tillman moves from soundtracks in search of a scene to thumping club-influenced dance numbers. I’ve had a lot of fun listening to Superhuman despite the fact that, to be honest, it can be a little sweet for my tastes, a little heavily skewed to a New Age sound. Within that context, however, it absolutely works and will hold a lot of appeal for fans of that sort of style. And, admittedly, I have caught myself many times firmly grooving on something I never thought I would. The title track, for example, opens quietly but then spins itself into a very techno, whumpa-thumping thing. Tap that hi-hat, kick that bass drum, and set me chair-dancing without apology even as the synth hand claps and dance-music chords that should be pissing me off for their cheesiness are making me somehow dig it more. Damn it, Tillman, you made it fun.  On another side of the equation I pick up─as Tillman intended─a cool Pink Floyd vibe off the start of “Celluloid Spaces.” Take a listen, and tell me you can’t hear Richard Wright in those keyboard chords  “I wanted to do one track which covers thirty years of drugs from LSD to ecstasy,” Tillman says in his liner notes. The piece accordingly evolves through styles while keeping its thoroughly trippy edge. With “Cracked Diamonds” and “Translated to Beauty” we’re brought into Tillman’s sketches for a spy movie soundtrack. “Cracked Diamonds” has symphonic depth, complete with spiraling string stings for emphasis. It’s familiar and still original. “Translated…” gets its scene across with a shuffling beat, a whistling melody, and the lonely twang of a Goldfinger-style guitar riff. The album closes with the beautiful piece “The Invisible Shield of Strings and Bows.” which piles on a ton of emotion in another big, symphonic composition. It surges and rises on a classically romantic melody played out on strings and keys, building in potency until its quiet finish.

Tillman has pulled in some pretty heavy hitters for the album, including Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone, Toto mainstay David Paich, and noted session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, among others. Dee Lewis Clay contributes beautiful wordless vocals on some tracks, and Tillman also works in a contribution from renowned polyphonic group Anonymous 4.  Take this, add his clear compositional prowess, and underscore it all with the artist being driven to create works to encapsulate his wife’s struggle with multiple sclerosis, and Superhuman becomes a very powerful suite of songs. From a personal taste standpoint, some of it is a touch overly grand, but never so to the point where I can’t listen. The uptempo work is packed with hooks, the symphonic pieces have their grandeur, and the quiet passages are soothing. New Age fans and folks who love a good soundtrack─even for scenes without an accompanying film─are going to truly enjoy this Superhuman effort.

Available from Martin Tillman’s web site.

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