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Ain Soph - 1991/2005 - "Marine Menagerie"

(56 min, Poseidon PRF-029 / Musea FGBG 4630)


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                             
                       
1.  Wind & Water 0:33
2.  Flooded by Sunlight 7:18
3.  Marine Menagerie 10:38
4.  Little Piece III 1:27
5.  Variations 8:49
6.  Ride On a Camel 13:53
7.  Metronome 7/8 13:43

LINEUP:

Kikio Fujikawa - keyboards, pianos, Moog 
Yozox - electric & acoustic guitars
Masahiro Torigaki - bass 
Taiqui - drums

Prolusion. In distant 1970 the first three musicians, whose names you can see in the lineup above, initiated one of the legends of Japanese Prog, AIN SOPH, although the outfit received its current name only seven years later. The band's status is still "active" (they did four gigs in Japan last year, for instance), but it's hard to find their discography to be abundant in, say, epochal releases. In the course of their long history Ain Soph played live much more often than they recorded in the studio, so they have only four studio albums to their credit: "A Story of Mysterious Forest" (1980), "Hat & Field" (1986), "Marine Menagerie" (1991) and "Five Evolved From Nine" (1993). The latter two were lately reissued via the tandem of Poseidon and Musea Records.

Analysis. As mentioned on the band's website, "Marine Menagerie" was recorded in the summer of 1991, but all the compositions were written in the '70s. After hearing this album every tested Prog head will immediately realize that such titles as Ride on a Camel or Hat & Field aren't accidental. These are nothing else but the band's unabashed hints to the primary sources of their inspiration, namely Camel and Hatfield & The North, of course. However, it would be both unjust and incorrect to call Ain Soph the imitators of their idols, and not the followers of them. There are obvious traces of artefacts of the band's benefactors on the album, but not everywhere, while one of the seven tracks present (to be named in due time) is free of any influences. "Marine Menagerie" is not devoid of original ideas in general, while the infiltration of acoustic guitar solos into the electric textures, which takes place on most tracks, is distinctly innovative. The half-minute atmospheric intro, Wind & Water, is too short to describe in detail. There is another short track on the album. Located right at the core of it, Little Piece III is something of a sensible sketch for a piano interlude. The real opener, Flooded by Sunlight begins and develops rather smoothly, the energy level remaining mostly muted. The rest of the piece is more intense, intricate and diverse at once, but much of it is still built around melodic hooks, which doesn't imply many changes in direction and genuine improvisations either. If you can remember the most jazz-inflected tracks from Camel's least jazz-infected '70s albums, such as "Raindance" or "Breathless", you can get the rough idea of what Flooded by Sunlight is about, though of course, the absence of vocals is of help to Ain Soph (which sounds more complicated than its meaning). All in all this is a good piece, but not, by a long way, a classic. The title track follows and is much more compelling. The striking prevalence of quasi-improvisational harmonies makes it closer to National Health, though another comparison would still be to Camel - around the time of their most successful experiments in combining Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion ("Moonmadness"), with a similar balance between melody and complexity. The fifth composition, Variations, is filled with a wide variety of variations on multiple themes, stylistically moving from symphonic Prog, through the numerous bordering manifestations of Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, to Jazz-Fusion with RIO-like atonalities. This is a really stunning track, of the highest progressive caliber, and is amazingly original in addition. While taking the Ride On a Camel, you will certainly meet the legend's mirage, but only at the beginning and at the end of the piece. Surprisingly, the middle sections lie not near by any busy musical highways. The structure is fairly recognizable (atmospheric Space Fusion), the arrangements are transparent, and yet, there is something fascinating, which somewhat grasps my attention each time I revisit the composition. The only time that the band really falls down is on the last track, Metronome 7/8. The initial theme, set up by the playfully affirmative synthesizer passages flowing to the marching drums, is shamelessly repetitive, besides which it occupies most of the piece's space.

Conclusion. Despite some obvious flaws, there is plenty of highly enjoyable music on "Marine Menagerie", so I believe it's more than merely a good album overall. Recommended, above all to those keen on Art-Rock bordering on Jazz-Fusion or vice versa, which is the same and is quasi Jazz-Fusion in my understanding. I consciously didn't use the term Canterbury in the review, because I don't recognize the genres named just after the places that they have originated from. Just compare the avant-garde / free jazz of Soft Machine and the light fusion of Caravan and ask yourselves the question whether these so-different bands can be regarded as representatives of the same style. Or take French TV, which is usually listed within the same category, too. What has this RIO-related group, 'broadcasting' from the American state of Kentucky, to do with the Canterbury scene?

VM: February 23, 2006


Related Links:

Musea Records
Poseidon Records
Ain Soph


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