Reviews in this issue:
Paatos - Timeloss & Kallocain
It is no big secret that a lot of good progressive rock and metal comes from Sweden. It will therefore not really come as a surprise either that we can add yet another band to the already long list, which contains names like The Flower Kings, Evergrey and Galleon. Stockholm-based five piece Paatos released their debut album Timeloss in 2002, featuring an interesting blend of seventies (progressive) rock and jazz-rock with psychedelic edges. The follow-up, Kallocain, came out in June and contains some rather radical style changes, which were actually already hinted at on their first CD. In other words, it is very well possible that someone who liked the first CD will not be too crazy about the second and the other way around. Judge yourself; both CDs will be discussed below.
Tracklist: Sensor (5:11), Hypnotique (8:32), Téa (5:45), They Are Beautiful (7:44), Quits (12:17)
Bonus Track: Hypnotique [videoclip]
The first time I came into contact with Paatos was when they were the support act for Porcupine Tree during the Swedish leg of their European tour last year. I had been chatting a bit with Paatos's manager before the show and was not really convinced when he claimed that this band was something different and that they didn't use any distorted guitar sounds. I mean, every manager will tell you that "his" band is really groundbreaking and well, distortion has more or less become a must-have in today's rock scene. I was wrong on both accounts. Paatos proved that guitars can have a lot of power without distortion and their blend of old and new music styles was something that I for one had not heard before.
Four out of five band members come from two other, known Swedish progressive rock bands. Reine Fiske and Stefan Dimle played guitar and bass respectively in Landberk, while Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm and Johan Wallén played drums and keyboards in Ägg. They met each other in a rock club in Falköping in 1993, but it wasn't until the year 2000 that the four musicians decided to form a band together, recruiting Ricard's wife Petronella to fill the spot behind the microphone.
Paatos's first CD Timeloss is of LP length, just under 40 minutes. The general atmosphere is rather melancholic, which is expressed both through the gloomy black-and-faded-pastels still-life photographs on the cover and in the booklet and through the lyrics that seem to have disappointment as a leitmotiv. Mind you though, this is not to say that this album will leave you in a deep depression. On the contrary, on many occasions the music soars high above the dark clouds.
The first track, Sensor, is with its 5:11 minutes the shortest on the album. It starts with a warm, jazzy intro with a clean electric piano scattering some relaxed notes around. After a minute, the feel of the song changes completely. It becomes a fast, bass- and drums-driven track with shreds of mellotron strings, not unlike the faster parts of Genesis's Fountain of Salmacis and Watcher of the Skies from the early seventies. We are also introduced to Petronella Nettermalm's voice, which has a strong reminiscence to Björk's, especially in this song. Very refreshing to hear a female singer who can lash out vocally in a prog band for a change! Apart from that, the track features some of the already mentioned soaring; Fiske is almost leaving the earth's atmosphere, while the rest of the band strides on majestically. This all evolves into a somewhat chaotic ending, reminding once again of the final parts of some early Genesis songs. Great track!
The beginning of Hypnotique is very calm and could easily be the soundtrack of a dark movie. Petronella almost whispers the lyrics over a slightly jazzy background, which brings Portishead's Beth Gibbons to mind. We are treated to another grand finale, featuring echoes from Pink Floyd and Court of the... King Crimson and some more, rather mean flute soloing á là Focus and Jethro Tull. Great to hear how well this band handles dynamics!
Fiske, Dimle, Ricard Nettermalm and Wallén toured with Swedish folk singer Turid Lundqvist for a while before they formed Paatos. She is the writer of the Swedish lyrics to the next song, Téa, which she wrote the same night as Ricard and Petronella had their first baby, even though Turid did not know that at the time. Interestingly enough, the music wavers between a lullaby (beginning of the song and the verses) and a fast prog rock song. The lyrics are delivered with the kind of tenderness that lullabies are often sung with, which is a rather big contrast to the rather dense, almost heavy texture of the instrumental parts. Some lovely guitar playing and a series of mellotron-borne climaxes prevent the track from becoming top-heavy.
They Are Beautiful starts - surprisingly - with the disturbing sound of a singing saw, which gives me the Evil Jam shivers (see Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). A double bass, a harmonium, a clarinet, a cello, some Hackett-like guitar playing and more half-whispered vocals give this track an intimate, though dark, atmosphere. The addition of a Hammond organ towards the end of the song sees Bo Hanson's The Lord of the Rings marching in the background.
The final track, Quits is a heartfelt reproach from a dumped man or woman. Great to sing along to when you're experiencing a case of the blues, I can tell you! Having a trip-hop/drum 'n' bass foundation, this song stands clearly out in contrast to the rest of the album and gives a big wink to Portishead, Lamb and no-man. Combined with more progressive elements, Quits makes an interesting mixture between older and newer styles. A thread that is surfacing regularly under the duration of the song, are somewhat disconcerting sound waves, which are moving on the edge of dissonance and have the effect of sending some delicious shivers down my spine. After roughly 9 minutes, the track turns into the kind of organized chaos, which King Crimson probably owns the copyright to. I have to admit that that is the point that I usually turn the CD off, since I am (still?) unable to appreciate such passages. Not my thing, but ear candy to the KC lovers among us.
Wow, what a great debut album! My only complaints would be that it is rather short and that Quits ends the way it does, but other than that, it's all thumbs up. I should, of course, mention that I am a sucker for the sound of a mellotron, so if that is not your cup of tea, then you'd better avoid this CD. But for to all of you out there who are in for some well-crafted, instrumental climax-stuffed progressive rock with great dynamics, references to the seventies, jazz and more modern genres, plus a female vocalist with a bite on top of all that, I can say only one thing: "Buy this album!"
*In December 2004 Timeloss was re-issued on the InsideOut Label, thus making the album more readily available outside of Sweden, and with the addition of a multimedia section.
Conclusion : 8.5 out of 10
Tracklist: Gasoline (5:55), Holding On (5:00), Happiness (5:20), Absinth Minded (4:49), Look At Us (5:25), Reality (7:37), Stream (5:17), Won’t Be Coming Back (5:32), In Time (6:34)
Looking at Paatos's biography, it's clear that the five members of the band come from (and in some cases still inhabit) a wide range of diverse musical backgrounds – drummer (and main songwriter) Ricard Huflux Nettermalm, for instance, has played for drum and bass acts, electronic pop outfits and decidedly heavier outfits (including German industrial rockers Rammstein). No surprise, therefore, that Kallocain is hardly your standard prog release. The band themselves describe their music as ‘melancholic post-rock’. I’m still not sure exactly what ‘post-rock’ is supposed to mean, but if it means a synthesis of the early nineties wave of Swedish progressive rock (bassist Stefan Dimle was a member of the highly regarded Landberk) with more modern, dub and trip-hop influenced artists such as Portishead, then this description would certainly fit Paatos’ music. The ‘melancholic’ part is certainly apt.
This album actually starts rather uncharacteristically with Gasoline, where the strains of a cello played as if it was part of an Romany Gypsy folk act give way to a pulsating bass-line certainly a little reminiscent of one you might find on a Landberk record, which (in combination with the cello) drives this powerful track, which balances tempered verses with a dark, fairly heavy chorus.
This is not however characteristic of the album – the only other track which you could conceivably call ‘up-tempo’ is Won’t Be Coming Back, and whilst there are traces of the aggression shown on Gasoline on other tracks (Absinthe Minded, for instance) its not the prevailing mood here. Far more characteristic are the likes of Holding On and Look At Us, which are superb pieces of dreamy melancholia, perfectly merging strings and subdued, jangling guitars into a vaguely modern, ambient backdrop, with Petronella Nettermalm’s fragile voice floating effortlessly over the top. The promo material compares her voice with that of Bjork and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons; both valid comparisons, but I would add a third name, Sylvia Erikkson of White Willow – the similarity is particularly striking on Holding On.
Other highlights include Happiness, which has something of a Porcupine Tree feel (circa Stupid Dream) – probably not a coincidence, as PT mainman Steven Wilson mixed the album, and the slow burning Stream, which builds from a sparse, piano-and-vocal beginning to a powerful, mellotron and cello-drenched climax. Sometimes, however, the band seem to let the tricky sound effects and clever ideas get the better of them, and forget about creating music which actually connects with the emotions; the result being that parts of Absinthe Minded and Reality come across as rather cold and lifeless. There is also a tendency for some tracks to drift aimlessly in places, with nothing for the listener to really latch on to.
Overall though, this is a highly credible effort from Paatos, and when it’s good, it’s frequently very, very good. Certainly recommended for those who like many of the aforementioned bands, and in general for prog fans open to bands who take as many influences from modern contemporary outfits as they do from the classic bands of the seventies.
Paatos's second album Kallocain marks both the replacement of guitarist Reine Fiske by Peter Nylander and the move to the well-known progressive rock label Inside Out. Contrary to what one would expect, does most of this album sound a lot less progressive. Funnily enough, this is caused by the fact that the band has progressed towards a more trip-hop and drum 'n' bass oriented style which features only occasional outbursts of the symphonic bombast from Timeloss.
The intro of the first track, Gasoline, consists of some dramatic cello music, which could have easily come from one of the many CDs featuring Gypsy jazz (a style also known as Hot Club de France) violinist Stéphane Grapelli. A sampled guitar marks the transition to a more "normal" rock song, in which the cello still adds to its oppressive feeling. This atmosphere is further enhanced by the eerie mellotron and the somewhat desperate vocals which follow the Arabic scale. The combination brings both goth-metallers The Gathering and Porcupine Tree in their darker moods to mind. Singer Petronella Nettermalm sings with full intensity, sounding a lot like Björk again here. The ending of the track is somewhat chaotic, but underlines the alienating feeling it causes. Very nice track indeed!
The trip-hop and drum 'n' bass oriented Quits which seemed to be only a small excursion into a different music style on Paatos's debut album, was obviously an indication of what the main part of their second album was going to sound like. Six of the seven tracks after Gasoline pick up where Quits stopped; they sound even more like Portishead, Lamb and no-man than that song did. If someone would have told me that Holding On or Reality was originally from Portishead's CD Dummy, then I would not have been very surprised.
On those six tracks, Petronella's vocals are mostly trimmed down to the near-whispering, ethereal level we could hear on Téa from the first album. Even though the dream-like atmosphere this creates is nice, the fact that they are used so often makes the songs rather similar to each other. As a supporter of non-stereotypical - i.e. rocky instead of sugarsweet - female vocals in progressive rock, I think it is a pity that we did not get to hear more of the sparks like in Gasoline, the big chorus in Absinth Minded, Won't Be Coming Back and most of the debut album. Still, I must admit that the chorus of Happiness does stick in one's mind for quite a while, soft vocals or not.
Almost the same remark about homogeneity can be made about the tempo of the songs. Since the main part of the album is rather laid-back, one hardly notices which song one is listening to; it all just flows by calmly, only to be "disturbed" by faster passages like Gasoline and Won't Be Coming Back. Don't get me wrong, not every album needs to be full speed ahead for me, but the emphasis is too much on slower songs now and makes the CD somewhat unbalanced. Climactic instrumentals do fit into a trip-hop environment as well, I would argue, and a song like Absinth Minded demonstrates that.
I also agree with Tom that there are quite a few moments (e.g. in Reality, Stream and In Time) where the band lingers on a certain passage in which not much at all is happening. Where Timeloss was stuffed with climaxes, they are almost absent on Kallocain. Not even the guitar solos really seem to reach for the skies, but just ripple on randomly.
Won't Be Coming Back is my other favourite on Kallocain. This song starts with some extremely reverbed guitars, which remind me of Mike Rutherford on Genesis's ...And Then There Were Three.... A fast, Doors-Riders On The Storm-like combination of bass guitar, drums and some lovely, undistorted guitar sets the pace for the rest of the track. The vocals are dreamy during the verses, but demonstrate more emotion in the chorus, which lifts this song up significantly. The instrumental parts have a strong Porcupine Tree feeling to them and have great dynamics.
Talking about Porcupine Tree, their foreman Steven Wilson has lend his hand with mixing the album. I don't know whether he has caused the PT/no-man-ish feeling which Kallocain has (e.g. hints of Stupid Dream on Happiness, a Chris Maitland-like drumsolo on Look At Us and the Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape/The Sky Moves Sideways-inspired melancholic soundscapes on In Time, shards of no-man in Reality), but otherwise I could imagine that he was interested in the band because of their "familiar" sound. Whichever is true, he certainly added the kind of transparency to the mix that PT is famous for.
Summing things up, Kallocain is a nice album to listen to and it contains some great passages, although the balance between fast and slow songs, whispered and rocky vocals could have been better, in my opinion. So if you are in for some well-crafted progressive rock with a modern edge, then you should check this album out.
Mirage - Tales From The Green Sofa
Tracklist: Secret Place I (9:03), You Don't Fool Me (10:29), Friends of Mine (11:19), Gone Margarita (9:24), Tales From the Green Sofa (12:34), Secret Place II (7:43)
Three years on from their debut album, A Secret Place, Mirage return with their second release which is once again inspired by the classic Camel albums of the early 1970s. Make no bones about it, the influence of the humped one strongly pervades this French group: the name of the band, the instrumentation, the style of writing and the overall sound all cry out Camel. As if the point needed emphasising further, the lyrics to Friends Of Mine (about being fans of a band that is struggling to make headway in the prevailing musical climate) are even illustrated with a photograph of a ship of the desert! However, that is not to say that Mirage are a mere tribute band, they are bloody good at what they do and the fact that they produce music reminiscent of another band should not be interpreted as meaning they have nothing new to offer. Tales From The Green Sofa provides the listener with an hour of top quality music that is in fused with melody and ranges from pieces of almost sublime fragility to rather more harder hitting (although in a not too aggressive way) instrumental sections with twinned keyboards and electric guitar.
In many ways the album can be viewed as a suite of songs, each conjoined by keyboard-generated sound effects. There is a consistent style with the first four tracks all featuring instrumental introductions that guide the listener into the piece. These sections range from the mood evoking start to Secret Place I that creates an aural soundscape akin to Lunar Sea from Camel's Moonmadness album, to the flute-lead preambles into You Don't Fool Me and Friends of Mine. With an average span of ten minutes, each track is a nice balance of vocal and instrumental sections. The incisive electric guitar of Stephan Forner is reminiscent of Andy Latimer but also has shades of Nick Barrett from Pendragon in places. The keyboards, played by Philippe Duplessy, are mostly period instruments that generate the type of sounds closely associated with the heyday of progressive rock. The main focus of the band seems to be the desire to invoke and sustain a mood throughout each piece which is predominantly achieved by use of flowing passages of music. However, the band do sometimes let loose, the title track containing the best examples where the four main musicians get away from the more tranquil aspects of a lot of the album. Vocals are not the strongest I've ever heard but are quite inoffensive and for the most part suit the music well. There are also some strong vocal melodies (the chorus on A Secret Place I, for example, is a very memorable piece of music that sticks in the mind far too easily).
I suspect that Tales from The Green Sofa will either be loved or hated. Loved by those people who are fans of bands like Camel and their ilk who don't mind listening to modern music inspired by music of the seventies, and loathed by people that think it has all been done before and has nothing original or innovative to offer. Whatever your point of view, one can't deny the fact that Mirage are a bunch of talented musicians, composers and arrangers who are passionate about the music they love. And one can't say fairer than that.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
with the caveat that if you don't like Camel then you probably won't like this!
Arcansiel – Swimming In The Sand
Tracklist: Swimmer In The Sand (4:50), Angel Of March (10:33), Holy Wolf Suite (13:52), Evelyn (6:54), I’m Still Searching (21:02), The End (6:56)
Arcansiel were one of the most impressive Italian bands of the late eighties Neo-Progressive wave, mixing influences from the British scene (Pallas, IQ) with touches of the classic Italian groups (PFM, Banco). After three albums they called it a day.
Now, to celebrate their reformation, they present Swimming In The Sand, consisting of one entirely new song – the catchy, radio-ready prog-pop Swimmer In The Sand – and five re-workings of what they consider to be the best of their earlier albums. Evelyn is the sole offering from their debut 1988’s Four Daisies; I’m Still Searching and Angel Of The March are from 1990’s Still Searching; and Holy Wolf Suite and The End are from 1994’s Normality Of Perversion.
My initial impressions of this disc were very good, but subsequent listens have revealed one or two minor faults, which slightly mar the overall effect.
On the plus side, Arcansiel are very strong instrumentally, with guitar and keyboard-led arrangements spiced up with flutes, violins and saxophones to create a variety of moods and atmospheres. There are some very tasteful and catchy electric piano parts, reminding of Supertramp or Kayak at times, and on Holy Wolf-which most resembles Pallas- there’s even some prog metal crunch and growly vocals. On this song in particular, there is a tendency to stretch things out a little too long, and occasionally the arrangements are a little disjointed.
Angel Of March is a strong piece with a fine melodic opening with superb guitar and marvellous electric piano and develops to a memorable chorus with a jangling guitar backing. Very catchy. Evelyn starts off with gentle vocals and ethereal piano, but hots up to include some soaring melodies, a touch of Celtic influence and some stomping stop-start riffs before cooling down again at the end.
The twenty plus minute I’m Still Searching is perhaps the best track, featuring much instrumental development including delicate acoustic guitar passages (recalling Genesis), thrilling electric guitar soloing, smouldering sax and very nice interplay between organs and synths which is very well handled. The vocals are also particularly good here. The brief chamber music passage featuring violins and flutes, which occurs a couple of minutes in is especially nice. Lovely stuff.
The minus points are:
- Tracks four and five are reversed on the track listing (at least on my demo copy), a small point I know, but it is a trifle confusing.
- Swimmer In the Sand whilst pretty enjoyable, is a touch bland when compared to the other material, and is perhaps a step too far in the commercial direction for my tastes. One track like this on an album is fine, but I wouldn’t want a whole discs worth.
- Finally, and most importantly, the otherwise mostly excellent Holy Wolf Suite is spoilt by the mispronunciation of the word Holy, which is rendered pretty much throughout as Holly, making for an altogether more prickly character than I assume was intended. Of course, the singer’s English is light years ahead of my Italian, but mistakes like this do tend to detract from the lyrical impact. However, as the lyrics to this particular song include expletives and references to anal sex, and a section where the singer is almost rapping, perhaps it doesn’t make that much difference.
On the rest of the disc, the English vocals are really good, so all this does in the end is knock a point off the overall score; I wouldn’t let it stop me investigating their work further. Lyrical faux pas aside, Arcansiel are a good group, with a lot to offer the adventurous Neo fan, bridging that style nicely with the classic 70’s style. This collection makes a very good starting point for exploring their catalogue.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Delusion - The Tragedy of Regret
Tracklist: I'll Fly (433), My Child (4.55), In my Life (4.09), Feel This Way (3.38), Thru The Night (3.38), What's been Remains (3.30), Beyond The Door (3.53), Falling (3.13), Rain (2.56), Strings of Illusion (1.59) the Truth I'll Tell (3.19)
It's been a long, steady journey, but Maryland four-piece Delusion has finally arrived at the station called Debut Album Release. The vehicle for guitarist/songwriter Phil Carnes, The Tragedy of Regrets has been eight years in its creation. Despite only ever having had a few tracks on compilation albums until now, the band has built up a healthy level of support. It has an official fan club based in the UK which boasts almost 5,000 members!
Featuring ten tracks, woven with an intense mood and melody, is this album worth the long wait? Well, the answer is a measured yes.
What Delusion have put together here, is a very listenable mixture of light progressive metal that runs from gentle piano ballads to more complex rock. There are elements of Queensryche, Crimson Glory and Fates Warning but measured with a more straightforward approach of say Savatage and Judas Priest.
One of the main attractions is the voice of Walt Downey. Spending a lot of time on the upper registers, there's the obvious comparison in style to Geoff Tate. Downey isn't quite in that league (yet) and has enough of his own character to stand on his own two feet. Carnes too, delivers a good variety of clever riffs - although he has an occasional tendency to resort to more predictable fare.
The best tracks to these ears are when Carnes cranks it up a bit on the opening three tracks. I'll Fly opens with a nice use of dynamics in a Priest-meets-Crimson Glory sorta way. My Child chucks in a clever, bluesy riff with a John Arch-era Fates Warning sound - especially in the vocal patterns - while In My Life could have been lifted off The Warning or the Queen of the Ryche sessions. The emotion that resonates through this disc, is heavily-led by the frustration that Carnes endured during a ten-year custody battle for his daughter. Just dip into the lyrics of tracks like My Child and The Truth I'll Tell to get an insight into the trauma he went though.
Where I hold back on the praise, is that too many of the tracks, while being far from poor, just fail to develop from the basic theme. Take Through The Night. A brooding Queensryche-ish ballad that with a lush, warm, polished production could be quite stunning. But after around three minutes, when it should develop a few new ideas and build on its foundations - it just comes to an end. The same applies to Strings Of Illusion - although this track, doesn't even make it to two minutes!
Elsewhere, What's Been Remains is just predictable and Feel This Way seems unfinished. Add to that a need for a serious improvement in the vocal harmonies - listen to this and then listen to the new Pyramaze album and see how an imaginative use of vocals can transform a band's sound.
I'm being critical, because overall this is a strong debut that shows plenty of promise. It should be more than enough to ensure the fan club membership grows well beyond 5,000 members.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Greg Rapaport - Azrael Block
I feel I must becoming somewhat an "expert" in the immensely populated field of the guitar instrumental - pity none of this is reflected on my own fret board. The CD currently in my player is the latest independent release from Greg Rapaport, Azrael Block, which takes over from where Wyrd (2001) left off and continues Greg's skilful combination of metal/prog metal, fusion and jazz funk styles.
The music shifts from deep [seven string] metal riffs to gentle, deft jazz chord progressions and then back again and all in a relatively short space of time. Interspersed within these passages are a number of keyboard atmospheres and the occasional bouncy "New Age" synth, and should you not be totally confused then Greg steps in with some grooving bass lines. The resultant music manages to both capture your attention and then hold on to it. The recording (all undertaken by Mr Rapaport) is crisp and clean and complements the tight changes in mood and dynamic. The programming is also top notch and although no drummer is employed you are rarely aware of this. Good samples, thoughtful mixing and an understanding of drumming techniques (and in general the avoidance of tom fills) ensure that the rhythmic backbone of the music is additive rather than irritatingly subtractive.
Overall the album is heavy, however what makes it for me are the numerous changes of mood - this can be found early on as in Sever. The track opens with percussion, a nice chordal structure, moving bass and a infectious little synth line - this then develops with a guitar theme before the middle bludgeoning metal riffs. The track then returns to its opening form. It's these contrasts that make this track (and others from the album) work. Another great example is the very strange Skitzophraniac's with its jazzy chordal progressions
interspersed with manic guitar riffs and soloing. It's all in the title!
I would suggest listening to the samples on Greg Rapaport's site to illustrate this, however most of the samples concentrate on the heavier side of each of the tracks.
Once again it is somewhat difficult to single out tracks of note as the album is consistent throughout and it is apparent that Greg Rapaport has given great thought to his material. The gentle and textural Interlude - A was a track I returned to often as was its counterpart Interlude - B, again one of the lighter tracks from Azrael Block - this time an upbeat jazzy little number. Staying with the jazzier theme would be my favourite track Uncle Knucklez, a grooving bass and drums lead us into a brief walking jazz sequence, a slight respite, a more up-tempo grooving jazz section and then the gloves are off.
Azrael Block is a CD that grows with each listening, although I did find that at around the hour mark my retention levels were fading fast and that at 75 minutes it was just over-long. This said, I couldn't say that any of the material towards the end of the album was sub standard, but rather that it had already been covered admirably.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Francois Breant - Voyeur Extra-Lucide
Tracklist: Poursuite Sur Le Peripherique Nord (5:06), 8 Aout 0H15 125-Eme Rue (5:13), L’Amour Au Grand Air (5:59), Cadence D’Eperonnage (3:59), Danse Rituelle Talmouse (4:19), L’Eveil De L’Acrobate (3:08), L’Obus Rouille Trouve Dans La Dune (3:09), Les Funerailles Du Voyeur (4:13), We Ate The Zoo (2:13)
Bonus Tracks : Ko (3:37), Fille De La Ville(La Nuit) (3:47), Passage De La Fonderie (1:28)
Judging from the title and cover of Francois Breant’s second album from 1979, He saw himself as a "Clairvoyant Voyeur", peeping into the future like some mad professor, to bring us a series of high tech and heavily synthesised, largely instrumental pieces. Like his first album Sons Optiques, which was presented as the soundtrack to an imaginary film, these short pieces are ideal as accompaniment for daydreaming, and many and varied are the images and moods that may spring to mind whilst listening.
Breant is an excellent keyboardist and I was reminded in a few places of Patrick Moraz. The first two tracks here, in particular, take me back to Moraz’s self titled third album, with its jazz-fusion/symphonic progressive/proto-world music mix. Like that album, there are some great moments here, and plenty of invention and surprises in every tune, but also like that album, the end result falls short of completely satisfying.
Breant is ably assisted by some of the big names of French prog and fusion, with Magma’s Klaus Blasquiz, Stella Vander and Diddier Lockwood being the most notable. Lockwood contributes his usual superb violin playing to several tracks, particularly L’Amour Au Grand Air and L’Eviel De L’Acrobate. Blasquiz and Vander only appear on We Ate The Zoo, which is also the only song on the album, but its cod –operatic and supposedly humorous delivery leaves me cold.
The album is at its most successful when the classical influences come to the fore as on L’Amour Au Grand Air which begins with some delicate piano before gradually becoming more synthesised, ending up in the same area as Tomita’s synthetic re-creation of Debussy's music on the groundbreaking Snowflakes Are Dancing. Cadence D’Eperonnage is another great track, with its opening choral vocals (courtesy of Lisa Deluxe) achieving a very Magma-like grandeur, with a hint of their menace, but also with a more classical structure and influence. On many of the other tracks, jazz fusion is the main inspiration, and the bright synthesised instrumentation results in a brew that is a little too slick and I found it easy for my mind to wander a little.
Breant has since gone on to achieve fame as a composer/arranger in the mushrooming field of World music, working with Salif Keita and many others. It can’t be a bad thing that Musea have chosen to re-release both his albums, as the music here is never less than interesting, but the album as a whole lacks cohesion, and the individual tracks are also often a little too bitty for their own good. Like Mr Moraz, Francois Breant is a consummate musician who never quite fulfilled his progressive potential.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10