Mandoki Soulmates — A Memory of Our Future (Album Review)

Review of the new Mandoki Soulmates album ‘A Memory of our Future’

By Nick Tate

If progressive rock is, as some of us believe, the classical music of our times, then Leslie Mandoki is one of its chief progenitors. Mandoki Soulmates, the collective he founded in 1992, has produced some of the finest mélange of progressive, fusion, pop, classical, jazz, folk and world-beat music that has emerged over the past three decades. Mandoki Soulmates’ latest release, “A Memory of Our Future,” ranks among the best of collective’s dozen albums. Featuring a who’s who of prog, jazz and rock luminaries, the new record doesn’t just bridge stylistic boundaries — it blows them up entirely.

The lineup on the album tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the level of musical sophistication and professional respect Mandoki commands, as a composer, bandleader and collaborator. Joining Mandoki are longtime Soulmates Ian Anderson, Al Di Meola, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Till Brönner, Cory Henry, Nick Van Eede (Cutting Crew), Simon Phillips, Tony Carey (Rainbow), John Helliwell, Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp), Julia Mandoki (Leslie’s daughter) and a host of other talented musicians who bring a remarkable range and virtuosity to the album.

In addition to this all-star lineup, two distinguishing features make “A Memory of Our Future” such a satisfying and unusual album. First, it was recorded and mastered entirely in analog — a rarity these days — using Mandoki’s own decades-old equipment. Mandoki explains in a Facebook interview, “It’s real and raw — a snapshot of the creativity and talent that emerges at the moment of recording.” Secondly, the music was developed and recorded live in a studio, with the musicians performing together — another rarity in these days of digital file-sharing.

Those twin factors give the music a palpable vibrancy that sets it apart from many recordings made over the past four years, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced musicians to record separately and give up touring. It is a welcome back-to-the-future development (as the album’s title implies).

Another feature that enhances the album: Mandoki has composed every track, but he left arrangements for every passage to be created by the assembled players in the studio (although he does write certain sections of music with particular musicians in mind). As he said in a recent interview: “Like Jack Bruce used to say, ‘Leslie knows exactly who’s supposed to be doing what, but after these two bars or those two bars, I can be myself.’ Of course, I would never say to Ian Anderson which kind of flute solo I imagine. I’ll say: ‘This is your 16 bars and you come in there,’ and this is the way it is.”

For “A Memory of Our Future,” Mandoki took that same approach, he explained in a new interview with the Prog report about the album: “Everything was written down, but nothing was arranged like, ‘Here’s an eight-bar saxophone, here’s an eight-bar guitar solo.’ Everything developed naturally.” (Read more of the Prog Report’s interview with Mandoki here: Leslie Mandoki on his favorite albums from the Mandoki Soulmates members and the new album ‘A Memory of Our Future’)

That resulting live-in-the-studio sound reverberates throughout the album, which doesn’t contain so much as an ounce of filler. Every note, passage and interlude on each of the 12 tracks counts. But a few standout performances are noteworthy:

• Two of the strongest tracks on the album, “Blood in the Water” and “Devil’s Encyclopedia,” are extraordinary showcases for Anderson’s trilling, dirty-flute lines and inspired soloing. In places, these pieces echo the best of the Scotsman’s distinctive instrumental work with Jethro Tull and on his solo recordings, including the semi-classical “Divinities: Twelve Dances with God” and “The Secret Language of Birds.” Anderson’s flute solos not only introduce the musical themes that run throughout the two tracks, but they also help lead the other players through range of styles — from symphonic rock to prog, jazz and even world beat. Also worth noting: On these songs and others, Mandoki’s powerful melodic drumming doesn’t merely keep time; instead, he drives everything forward from behind the drumkit, like a steam engine, running the band through every twist and turn.

• Four of the most wide-ranging pieces here — “Enigma of Reason,” “Age of Thought,” “Melting Pot” and the title track — are terrific examples of Mandoki’s facility for writing, multi-layered music that has more in common with classical compositions than pop, rock or jazz tunes. Clocking in at 10 minutes-plus, “Enigma” features fiery acoustic fretwork from Di Meola, soloing over an orchestral-rock ensemble of violins, woodwinds, brass and piano. The track seamless blends swirling symphonic strains, intense jazz-fusion breaks and charging prog-rock passages, all overlaid with a radio-friendly vocal line that ties it all together. The title track, “Age of Thought” and “Melting Pot” are similarly structured, following classical motifs — main themes are introduced, reinterpreted and then recapitulated in a series of multi-part suites featuring different instruments, voicings and time signatures. These four tracks unabashedly reflect that Mandoki’s writing has been influenced by everyone from Bartók to the Beatles.

• “The Big Quit” pushes Mandoki’s classical-meets-jazz/rock approach to the limit, blurring and stretching the boundaries of symphonic, fusion, prog and pop music in ways that echo musical innovators like Pat Metheny, Radiohead and Sigur Ros. It may be a bit of a stretch, but if you can imagine Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite reworked to allow orchestra members to play free solos extrapolated from the musical themes of the five main movements — that’s akin to what you get with “The Biq Quit” and the best of Mandoki’s work.

• The lone ballad on the album, “The Wanderer,” is an introspective piece — part prayer, part call to action — that plays like a prog anthem. The lyrics are among Mandoki’s most personal, speaking to post-pandemic alienation, social isolation and the divisions that separate us politically, culturally and geographically (a theme running through many of the Soulmates’ songs). But the track ends on a positive note, ultimately expressing hope for a brighter future and calling to mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s memorable line: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

• Although Anderson and Di Meola figure most prominently as lead players on the album, most tracks feature a revolving door of musicians delivering sax, piano, Hammond organ, guitar, bass, sitar, cello, violin and vocal lines — solo, in tandem and even in trio. These musical textures add color and depth to every piece. Most tracks never stay in one place, style or time signature for long as they evolve and progress through a series of musical themes that twist and turn like burning rope.

On the whole, there is a timelessness to “A Memory of Our Future” that transcends most popular music today. At the end of “Devil’s Encyclopedia,” Mandoki sings: “When words fail, music speaks.” After more than three decades of music making, it’s clear Mandoki and Co. still have much to say.

Released on May 10th, 2024 on InsideOutMusic

1. Blood in the Water – 06:54
2. Enigma of Reason – 10:06
3. The Wanderer – 05:03
4. The Big Quit – 08:35
5. Devil’s Encyclopedia – 05:47
6. A Memory of My Future – 06:26
7. I Am Because You Are – 04:32
8. My Share of Your Life – 07:48
9. Age of Thought – 04:38
10. Matchbox Racing – 06:56
11. We Stay Loud – 05:25
12. Melting Pot – 05:51


Leslie Mandoki
Ian Anderson
Al Di Meola
Mike Stern
Randy Brecker
Bill Evans
Till Brönner
Tony Carey
Cory Henry
Nick Van Eede
Simon Phillips
Jesse Siebenberg
John Helliwell
Mark Hart
Julia Mandoki
Steve Bailey
Richard Bona

Order A Memory Of Our Future here:

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