17 Pygmies: Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics)

Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) brings to a close an ambitious trilogy that began in 2008 with Celestina and continued on with the blues-influenced CII - Second Son in 2011. In keeping with the ambitious scope of the Celestina recordings, the project includes a three-part short story written by Jackson Del Rey (inspired by the fifteenth-century novel La Celestina by Fernando Rojas), with the story's third part included in the new album's packaging in a mini-booklet format. Science fiction by genre, the story concerns a mission involving the crew of the Celestina who have been commissioned to explore a newly discovered anomaly, possibly a Black Hole, in the grand nebula of Cassiopeia. Along the way, a robot community and the Holy Father (among others) are encountered, and a voyage to the Orion Nebula undertaken. The final part, which musically might be described as sci-fi balladry complemented by a generous helping of prog-rock (the latter heard most clearly in the instrumental overture and the ten-minute “Celestina XVII”), concerns the final flight aboard the Celestina. Overall, the material, often gravitating towards a lullaby waltz form, is somewhat more mellow than what one might have expected, though not displeasingly so.

Jackson Del Rey (vocals, synthesizer, guitar, bass), Meg Maryatt (vocals, synthesizer, guitar, piano), Jeff Brenneman (guitar, synthesizer), and Dirk Doucette (drums, synthesizer, guitar) are the four primary musicians, but there's also a small coterie of guests that contribute oboe, strings, bass, and vocals to the album. Celestina appears to be primarily the conceptual brainchild of Del Rey (he does, after all, receive sole credit for the story), even if the sound most prominently featured on this final part is Maryatt's voice. No worries there: her singing is fine, whether heard as a haunted incantation (the “Cassiopeia” chanting in “Celestina XXVI”) or as part of a lullaby waltz (“Celestina XXVIII (Celestina and Dr. V)”).

The songs are often sonically ornate in a way that suggests some mutant Magical Mystery Tour-Brain Salad Surgery hybrid, and their melodies are often haunting (consider “Celestina XXIX (Red to Blue Faster)” and the lilting meditation “Celestina XXX (Could This Be Heaven?)” as two such examples). The vocal songs are a potent and melodically rich lot, whether oozing bluesy portent (the regal “Celestina XXIV (Blues Theme)”) or cultivating enchantment and wonder (“Celestina XXV (Red to Blue)”). Though there are a couple of exceptions (“Celestina XVII,” for example), the arrangements, instrumentally speaking, are largely stripped-down rather than over-embellished, and the twelve pieces are rooted in an understated palette of synthesizers, guitars, and glockenspiels, with drums and percussion (bells, sleigh bells, etc.) generally used more for colour than beats (interestingly, the album material was originally conceived for string quartet, and in places strings appear alongside the other instruments, most noticeably during “Celestina XXX (Could This Be Heaven?)”).

All told, the strikingly packaged Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) is a marvelous song-cycle that can be enjoyed on its own or as a concluding chapter in the trilogy. Regardless, the richly rewarding final part holds up strongly under repeated visitations. One leaves the project sorry that 17 Pygmies didn't conceive of Celestina as a four-part work, as doing so would have allowed us to look forward to at least one more chapter.

February 2012