Zodiaque is one of several New Age recordings by British keyboardist Rick Wakeman that were released in the 1980's. This album, recorded with Wakeman's longtime drummer Tony Fernandez, was released in 1988 on the UK's President Records label. Zodiaque is composed of twelve individual musical interpretations of the twelve signs of the astrological zodiac, and is about as close to an ambient record as Wakeman ever produced. It's a wonderful album, not so much for the topic but for the quality of the music. It is entirely instrumental, and the two musicians use only electronic keyboards and percussion (except for the cymbals on the drum kit). It creates a wonderful, quiet, contemplative space whenever I put it on, and is one of my favorite Wakeman albums.

The premise of the record is that each of the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the planets which "rule" them, impart a certain character to those born while the Sun resides in their sign. Wakeman and Hernandez tried to fashion songs with similar moods and characteristics to the nature of each sign. Whether or not they actually believe in astrology is irrelevant, as they're merely trying to interpret artistically the perceived influence of the signs. Though my knowledge of astrology is limited, I think the two musicians do an excellent job of bringing the zodiac (or "Zodiaque") to life.

The twelve songs (with their descriptions in quotes) are:

  1. Sagittarius (4:19) -- "Ruler: Jupiter. Traits: Optimistic, active, and restless"
  2. Capricorn (4:42) -- "Ruler: Saturn. Traits: Careful, ambitious, and pessimistic"
  3. Gemini (2:51) -- "Ruler: Mercury. Traits: Lively, versatile, and inconsistent"
  4. Cancer (3:17) -- "Ruler: Moon. Traits: Imaginative, sensitive, and possessive"
  5. Pisces (4:43) -- "Rulers: Neptune and Jupiter. Traits: Caring, intuitive, and vague"
  6. Aquarius (3:52) -- "Rulers: Uranus and Saturn. Traits: Independent, original and obstinate"
  7. Aries (5:22) -- "Ruler: Mars. Traits: Brave, energetic and impatient"
  8. Libra (3:57) -- "Ruler: Venus. Traits: Idealistic, romantic and frivolous"
  9. Leo (3:15) -- "Ruler: Sun. Traits: Strong, creative and pompous"
  10. Virgo (3:48) -- "Ruler: Mercury. Traits: Modest, practical and aloof"
  11. Taurus (4:14) -- "Ruler: Venus. Traits: Determined, warm and stubborn"
  12. Scorpio (3:21) -- "Ruler: Pluto and Mars. Traits: Passionate, purposeful and jealous"

The songs match the "characteristics" of the individual signs perfectly. Songs like Sagittarius and Aries are lively and uptempo to match their "active" and "energetic", Capricorn is dark and brooding to match the "careful and pessimistic" sides of its nature, and Leo takes on the air of an imperial march for the "strong and pompous" king of the beasts. But regardless of the emotion and temperment being conveyed, they're all very beautiful pieces. Each has a lilting, ethereal quality that makes them peaceful to listen to. But they're also melodic enough to make them engaging and interesting at the same time.

The liner notes are scarce, but Rick Wakeman used Korg synthesizers throughout. Tony Fernandez' equipment isn't listed, though it is apparently a mixture of electronic, sampled drums, and tuned percussion and cymbals. I have to say that Rick Wakeman is a bit more prominent in the mix, though that may be because I'm more attuned to what he's doing. Despite that, both musicians are billed equally, and they both share composition credit for all tracks.

Rick Wakeman has put out several albums in this vein over the years. My favorites include the trio of Country Airs, Sea Airs, and Night Airs (recorded simply with a grand piano and no accompaniment), and a musical impression of the Isle of Man (Wakeman's adopted home) called Chronicles of Man. But Zodiaque is still one of my all-time favorites of his. It reminds me a lot of some of Vangelis' work, and might appeal to Vangelis fans, and those interested in new age electronica or ambient music.

The CD was originally released on President in the UK, and on Relativity here in the United States. The cover is crimson, with a wheel of the zodiac in the center. The catalog number of the CD I have is Relativity-President 88561-1024-2.

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