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Mandoki Soulmates 'A Memory of Our Future' album review: "where words fail, music speaks"

Leslie Mandoki's inspirational life and career reads just like the plot from a Hollywood movie: A 20-year-old rebellious musician rallies against Soviet oppression and censorship in Hungary. Inspired by Miles Davis and British prog rock bands, he realises that he won't live out his musical and artistic ambitions in his homeland. With his father's words ringing in his ears "live your dream and don't dream your life', our story's protagonist courageously flees his homeland via a railway tunnel to claim asylum in Bavaria in 1975. When an official asks what he plans to do with his life in the West, he replies that he wants to make music with his heroes, Jack Bruce, Ian Anderson and Al Di Meola. This isn't fiction and Leslie Mandoki becomes a modern pro hero and goes on to do exactly what he planned and a whole lot more.

Mandoki has gone on to produce No Angels, Lionel Richie, Phil Collins and realised his dream of putting together the ultimate fusion of British prog-rock and American Jazz-rock by forming Mandoki Soulmates. Over the last three decades, the cooperative has featured some of the biggest names in prog, rock, soul and jazz, with a flavouring of folk and world music for good measure.

The music on 'A Memory of Our Future' is once again composed by Mandoki, but offers the musicians flexibility to bring their arrangements to the table. More importantly, the album was recorded with analogue gear and all the musicians were in the studio at the same time, and it shows. These days it's easy for individuals to record their parts anywhere in the world and then email their contributions and then everything is knitted together. It may be convenient, but it makes for a sterile sound.

'A Memory of Our Future' draws some of the most influential and skilled musicians into the fold. Al De Meola has called him the 'Hungarian Quincy Jones'. Mandoki certainly has a way of working that brings out the best in the musicians he works with him at the helm of the project, the artistic freedom and vision he's always wanted can come to the fore.

Ian Anderson's unmistakable flute heralds the opening of the album with the first of many socio-political tracks, 'Blood in the Water'. The track utilises its three vocalists as much as it draws out the experimental and expressive side of Anderson's remarkable flute playing. Cut to, 'The Devil's Encloydedia' and that punchy trill reminiscent of Jethro Tull where the flute is almost played like a guitar.

'Enigma of Reason' features Al de Meloa and this beautiful jazz fusion track will have your jaw on the floor from the sheer impeccable musicianship on offer. Mandoki continues to work his own brand of alchemy throughout the album with 'The Big Quit' exemplifying Mandoki's love for jazz fusion. The tender ballad 'My Share of Your Life' has some expressionistic arrangements and a swooning fretless bass, along with some Al Jarreau style scat singing, which highlights the track's sentiment.

'We Stay Loud' could almost be straight from a Toto album with the dynamic syncopation and breakouts, if it wasn't for the trumpet descant and more swinging scat singing. It's a defiant track that harks back to Mandoki's early days and encourages difference, freedom and creativity. Finishing off with the sublime semi-instrumental 'Melting Pot', which finds a way of drawing all of these influences into a blender of musical ear grabs.

Lyrically 'A Memory of Our Future' has a strong message of unity and freedom that weaves through the album. With a record this musically complex, the lyrics don't try to compete, they just stick to doing their job of expressing a sentiment or feeling as best as they can. But of course, language is limited. The vast suaves of emotional impact this album has come from the music. As the lyric suggests 'where words fail, music speaks' and Mandoki Soulmates hit the spot once again with a glorious album that has a strong focus on the universal language of music.


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