Review Summary: The Keyboard Wizard creates an impressive fusion of classical and progressive rock with the help of an orchestra - but it's a shame a lot of the album doesn't include it.
Having studied classical piano at Juliard, Jordan Rudess is certainly no stranger when it comes to classical music. With the help of the Sinfonietta Consonus orchestra (who most notably cover Dream Theater songs under the alias Symphonic Theater of Dreams') and fundraisers from PledgeMusic, Jordan Rudess explores the classical genre whilst also drawing progressive influences from his other works.
The suitably titled 'Explorations' features an opening piece split into three 'Movements' which touch upon a range of genres, including but not limited to flamenco, symphonic rock, jazz and electronic, as well as having a prevailing classical theme, ranging from delicate to thunderous tones. The rest of the album includes other original tracks as well as covers of Jordan's previous work such as 'Screaming Head' and 'The Untouchable Truth'; yet despite featuring an orchestra, several tracks have little to no appearance of this valuable resource and instead focus solely on Jordan profusely twinkling the ivories. Although he is a phenomenal pianist, Jordan as ever feels it necessary to flaunt his talent even at the most inappropriate of times - because of this, intentionally emotional pieces are ruined by unnecessarily complicated piano playing.
The utilization of an orchestra is a refreshing change from Jordan's heavy dependency on synthesizers to make symphonic patches in his other works; so in this album, the sounds of strings, wind and brass is far richer and organic. Jordan's keyboards are still prominent in this album in the form of piano, lead synths and other weird and wonderful sounds, but are thankfully relatively restrained. One complaint about the instrumentation is the drums - especially in 'First Movement', the snare drum sounds thin and tinny and adds little to the dynamic that it's trying to achieve. Despite this, the rest of the instrumentation is quite brilliant.
Despite all the complaints, there are some truly fantastic moments in this album, especially in the notable 'Mission Impossible'-esque breakdown in 'First Movement' and the ethereal guitar solo in 'Screaming Head' which surpasses its original counterpart, as well as other diamonds that sparkle throughout the album. The three 'Movements' in their entirety are consistently solid in composition and instrumentation, as well as having excitingly unpredictable progressions. However, old habits die hard as a sizable proportion of the first three tracks are dedicated to keyboard solos; it is to be expected of course, but the solos contrast the rapid progression of the 'Movements' by being relatively drawn out - because of this, the solos come across as stagnant in comparison. They are by no means bad solos, but in comparison to the rest of the tracks, they just aren't as exciting.
In conclusion, 'Explorations' shows the impressive capabilities of Jordan as a classical composer, and has created a great fusion of different genres with the help of an orchestra rather than his arsenal of synthesizers. However, the potential of the orchestra feels unfulfilled and restricted as a lot of the album focuses solely on piano. If Jordan allotted more album time to more tracks like 'Movements', 'Screaming Head' and 'Over The Edge', and kept his piano pieces on his other solo album, then 'Explorations' could have been even greater. A great album nonetheless.