""The Traveler" is Dave Kerzner's third solo studio album. The protagonist from his first album "New World" makes a comeback taking listeners deeper into the journey on this most current release. On this 2023 release the keyboardist, composer, and producer links stories not from just his first three solo albums, but also ties in with the In Continuum's "Acceleration Theory" project narrative and beyond.
Additionally, for the first time Kerzner has collaborated with band mates from four different bands/projects: In Continuum, Sound of Contact, Mantra Vega and Arc of Life! This tour de Force of musicianship features an all-star cast of Prog musicians including Fernando Perdomo, Durga McBroom, Nick D'Virgilio, Marco Minnemann, Randy McStine, Matt Dorsey, Francis Dunnery, Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, Alex Cromarty, Stuart Fletcher, Ruti Celli, Joe Deninzon and more!
Of greatest interest to Hi-Res Edition readers is most likely either the Deluxe Edition 7-disc box set or the Special Edition 4-Disc Box Set. Both editions are housed in a 5" x 7" box that includes the main two album Special Edition CDs, plus a custom CD that look like a classic 45 vinyl disc featuring an alternate version of the album known as "Listen Party" version, plus a DTS 96kHz / 24-bit 5.1 Surround Sound and a 48kHz / 24-bit LPCM Stereo mix on Blu-Ray. Exclusive to the Deluxe Edition are the three additional CD’s that contain outtakes, alt versions and instrumental mixes plus brand-new re-recordings of SOC's "Not Coming Down,” “Realm of In-Organic Beings,” "Closer to You" and more), plus another custom CD that look like a classic 45 vinyl disc titled "The Traveler Singles EP." Also in both box sets is a commemorative laminated backstage pass, guest pass sticker, 2" album cover sticker, Traveler postcard signed by Dave Kerzner and Fernando Perdomo, signed CD packaging with included booklet of lyrics and liner notes.
As an independent artist, Kerzner took on some hefty expenses when creating his first ever studio album 5.1 surround mix, which led to initially following in the footsteps of major labels by only including the surround mixes in these fabulous Special Edition Box Sets. Yet, over the years Kerzner has pushed the envelope by releasing hi-res stereo downloads as an option for each of his albums. He comments on what initially inspired him to release his albums in high resolution audio formats, “I've always felt that the next step after CD 16 bit 44.1k quality should be higher resolution like 24-bit 96k especially since this is what we use in the recording studio. Why record at such high resolution and then master it for a lesser format only? That never made sense to me. Still, the irony is that 16-bit uncompressed CD quality is better than certain compressed streaming formats and MP3! But, it is ultimately up to the listener how important the audio quality needs to be.”
Naturally, I was even more curious at what point Kerzner decided to release The Traveler in a surround format, and he replies, “My goal is to release all my solo albums and some of my band/project albums in surround. I'm still trying to decide between doing DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and/or Dolby Atmos or both. For now, I'm doing just the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. I only released The Traveler in surround first because that's what I was working on already, so, I prepared the stereo and surround mixes at the same time thinking of both. For my previous albums, I'll have to revisit them on older computers and print the tracks which means to make "stems" or essentially bake in any plug-ins or outside analog gear that was used then in the mix. It's a bit of work, but, I'm going to do it. All current albums I'm doing will be done the way I did The Traveler though. A standard CD, a hi-res stereo download, and a surround sound Blu-Ray.”
I continue to be impressed by the sonic clarity of the recordings, overall balance of parts, musicianship and writing on Kerzner’s releases. There is a similar progressive thread across his solo works, with each one adding new refinements, especially when it comes to dynamics and depth. Now his music can be heard in 5.1 surround, which had been tested on multiple systems and many ears before the final mixes were completed, and this preliminary work absolutely paid off.
Diving into the surround realm, one is immediately immersed from the start of the album on “Another Lifetime” with guitars accenting from the back channels. A smooth and solid bass is naturally placed upfront underneath the clear and steady drums. Keyboard have been spread widely across the front with vocals emanating from the left and right mains, along with a focus dry vocal gently placed in the center channel, with ambience spreading out to the rears.
However, it is “Ghostwritten Fables” that gains more of my immersive attention with the haunting guitar spirits surfacing from behind the sweet spot. An extremely full base grounds the song with a resilient rhythm work striking from the drum kit. Additionally, there is a catchy clean guitar riff popping out of the back left channel that is mirrored by a slightly distorted version out of the back right channel, both play off as an accent to another melodic synth riff upfront. Kerzner makes use of the center channel primarily for drum parts on this track, instead choosing to place vocals directly in between the left and right front speakers while delaying them towards the back right speaker.
Not only does Kerzner cover dynamics, transparency, and sound quality with utter ease and mastery, he also paints a distinct aural pallet for each song. As one progresses through the album, this becomes even more noticeable especially with the continual changes in instrument balances from track to track, such as the pulling back of the bass on “A Time in Your Mind” which provide more room for the drums to strike with even more vigor, standing out in perfect clarity with a crisp snap of the snare and punch of the kick drum. Also, there is a responsive delay between the instruments from the left to right front channels, plus the overlay of the harmony vocals adds pleasurable depth to the tune.
For me, as a progressive rock enthusiast, I rather enjoy the transcendence from the classic progressive rock sounds onto the neo-prog elements. Regardless of the root genre and style, Kerzner absolutely finds the perfect synth and guitar sounds that evoke those eras, nicely matching the music. Check out some of the psychedelic edges and jangly guitar punches that rise and fall, lending to the modern day feel on several pieces while the solo Arp synth sound harkens back to early Genesis on a few other songs.
While the multi-channel mix is not adventurous from the perspective of movement of parts around the surroundscape, it absolutely is fully encompassing throughout, clearly elevating Kerzner into the world of immersive mixing. When asked about any unique challenges in moving into the surround realm and if he experimented with multiple mixes, Kerzner replied, “Fortunately my style of music, which is progressive rock is similar to bands like Pink Floyd or the Alan Parsons Project, tends to lend itself well to a surround mix. In fact, what sometimes sounds rich but also potentially a bit dense in stereo with layers of guitars, keyboards, vocals, and orchestration all fighting for that space has a chance to open-up in surround formats. On the other hand, you do potentially sacrifice some of the glue of the stereo mix though, so there is a lot of back and forth trying different things out, especially if you care like I do about retaining the power of the stereo mix while benefiting from the spatial room for certain things you want to be heard more clearly, or in a different position, or even potentially moving/panning. Although the motion and panning thing can be gimmicky, so, I think you have to be careful. If it's a sound effect that's supposed to move then no problem. If it's a musical part that can work too sometimes as long as it's not distracting. Everything I do in the mix. whether it's stereo or surround; has to serve and enhance the presentation of the song allowing it to retain the emotional impact of the performances. A good surround mix to me is something that makes it tastefully 3D without giving you a headache and ear fatigue from spatial theatrics.”
“Here and Now, Part 2” happens to be my favorite immersive mix on the album with its many parts spread around the surroundscape. The sound quality remains stellar with deep bass tones, synth parts that transparently soar across the front channels, then in turn reverberating out to the rears. Kerzner‘s vocals are focused and dry in the center channel, spreading onward with spatial ambience and delays across the sound field. Surround enthusiasts will certainly be excited by the drum rolls that extend across the main channels while a windy effect moves towards the back speakers, closing out the first part of the album.
The traveler affectively contains two albums, with the second part called the “Dream Realm Suite” adding another 14 tracks that have been seamlessly bridged together on the Blu-ray. This contrasts with what is heard on the two compact discs, wherein these two parts are separated, in a way standing alone as separate albums. Still, most of the songs segue into one another, creating an uninterrupted flow that engages the listener throughout the entirety of the 24 tracks found on The Traveler Blu-ray.
By no means is the Dream Realm Suite an afterthought, offering up several instrumental tunes and others that continue the lyrical storyline. Kerzner has mixed a few front centric mixes, but the majority are completely immersive. It is this artistic design that makes the aural palette for each piece unique, giving something new for the listener to key into as each track unfolds.
Another aspect that I enjoy about the album is how themes are tied together across multiple tracks. Specifically noteworthy are the three parts to “Here and Now” and their continuity that has been spread across the album which provides a feeling of familiarity, yet their differences that add freshness.
Upon listening to the stereo mix, I am reminded just how well-suited Kerzner‘s music is to multi-channel mixing. I can only imagine what he’ll do in the future, possibly mixing his albums into Dolby Atmos, but meanwhile I am very satisfied with the airy and encompassing nature of the surround mix. For stereophiles, Kerzner continues to present a cohesive mix that gels across all levels. Even parts that were given extra space on the 5.1 version are vividly present on the stereo version, making both mixes a worthy listen for all high-resolution enthusiasts.
Kerzner shares a bit more about his mixing process, “I always like to do the stereo and surround mixes at the same time so I can have them match without feeling I have to add more to the surround mix. But, up until now most of my surround mixes have been live shows. The Traveler is the first studio album mixed in both stereo and surround. When I go back to mix my previous studio albums in surround, I will have to obviously do it after already having done the stereo mix and will have to decide then what it needs. It would go faster if I had made printed stems, but unfortunately, I didn't so it'll be some work.”
Both of his box sets contain some intriguing bonus material. The instrumental mixes are perfect for a chill listening session, and naturally the Listen Party CD is a fantastic alternate arrangement of the album. As a musician myself, I found the demos to be of great interest, as they give a glimpse of how the songs developed, plus the single disc offers nuanced differences for listeners to enjoy. Both limited edition sets are currently available at the time of this writing.
Speaking of the box sets, when conversing with Kerzner, I also asked what advice he could offer to new artists, producers, and engineers, especially when it comes to producing elaborate box sets. He comments, “I think it's good to offer various deluxe edition box sets with extra discs and swag to your fans. It helps compensate financially for the other end of the spectrum where many people expect to just stream your album for free on Spotify et al.”
He continues, “Now, the Blu-Ray authoring part is annoyingly tricky. Not a lot of software support is available to do it on your own and it is costly to do it with a CD/Blu-Ray manufacturer. I've run into some weird time-consuming issues with that part. But ultimately, it's worth the trouble.” As a collector, fan, and hi-res music enthusiast, I will say that I pay greater attention to artists who release their music in high-resolution formats, and Blu-ray happens to be my preferred physical media. In short, I am delighted that The Traveler is released on Blu-ray!
Strongly recommended for fans of Dave Kerzner, collectors of progressive rock and neo-prog, along with surround sound enthusiasts seeking high quality immersive listening experiences. The entire presentation and sound quality are truly fantastic. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy.
Released January 20, 2023.
6 or 3CD + 1 Blu-ray box set featuring 5.1 DTS surround 96kHz / 24-bit and 48kHz / 24-+bit stereo mixes. Also available for download and via streaming.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.