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Ain Soph - 2007 - "Studio Live Tracks '80s & '05"

(59:19 / Poseidon & Musea Records)


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TRACK LIST:                   
                               
1.  Flight 2:13
2.  Oddessa 10:33
3.  Pipe Dream 7:37
4.  Swan Lake 5:26
5.  Magic Carpet 7:26
6.  Hat & Field 10:03
7.  Natural Selection 7:14
8.  Triple Sequence 7:45

LINEUP:

Yozox - guitars 
Taiqui - drums 
Kikuo Fujikawa - keyboards
Mitsutaka Kaki - keyboards
Masahiro Tagaki - bass
With:
Jin Nagao - sax (8)
    

Prolusion. This somewhat awkwardly titled CD, "Studio Live Tracks '80s & '05" (I suppose "Live-in-the-Studio Tracks from the '80s and 2005"), marks the long-awaited comeback of AIN SOPH, who were definitely one of the strongest bands that came out of Japan during the first wave of the progressive rock movement. This outfit's history is dated as far back as 1970, although their first album, "Ride On a Camel", saw the light of day only eight years later. Their other previous releases, "A Story of Mysterious Forest" (1980), "Hat and Field" (1987), "Marine Menagerie" (1991) and "Five Evolved From Nine" (1993), are all fully-fledged studio albums as well, from which follows that the hero of this occasion is their first compilation.

Analysis. The CD comprises eight instrumental pieces, of which the tracks "from the '80s" (3 to 7), Pipe Dream, Swan Lake, Magic Carpet, Hat & Field and Natural Selection, all have their, so to speak, fully-fledged studio counterparts on the band's second and third album; the first two, Flight and Oddessa, are both fresh variations on their original versions; finally the last one, Triple Sequence, is a completely new composition. I don't know whether it's due to the fact that they were recorded in 2005, but the latter three cuts are all vastly different from the rest of the material. Speedy, with the energy brimming over in each, these are abundant in improvisational jams, but while on the first two the music from time to time exceeds the bounds of orthodox Jazz Rock, the concluding number appears to be the band's jazziest tune ever, with not even a hint of symphonic harmony. The one with a guest saxophone player involved, Triple Sequence reveals plenty of sax, organ and electric piano impromptus at the fore on the one hand and a few guitar solos on the other, structurally reminding me of a cross between classic Soft Machine and Weather Report. Personally I am inclined to think that this, the group's newest composition signifies their change of course, suggesting what the listener might expect from their upcoming new studio CD. Flight and Oddessa are both much richer in guitar patterns and can relatively be compared to the work of their countrymen Side Steps, as well as those Return To Forever creations that find Chick Corea and Al Dimeola equally contributing to their soloing department, though on the latter piece can also be heard some echoes, again of Soft Machine, but circa "Bundles" this time around. Not surprisingly, the five tunes recorded in the '80s are all representative of the ensemble's trademark style, which is a unique symbiosis of composed and improvised substances, often eliminating any frontiers between Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion. Each frequently shifts in theme, direction and pace all alike, still being rich in the explosive keyboard and guitar duels, all of which has always been typical of Ain Soph (and, hopefully, will be - unless they'll really turn to purely improvisational Jazz Rock in the future). Kenso, Camel, National Health, Hatfield & The North and Caravan all would probably serve as a collective reference point regarding Magic Carpet, Hat & Field, Pipe Dream and Natural Selection, although the latter piece additionally stands out for some subtle hints of Japanese music and is generally the only track here on which can be traced any other tunes apart from those originating from western lands, figuratively speaking. Swan Lake is the richest in art-rock-like arrangements, now steering towards pure Symphonic Progressive (at times being even ornamented with kind of baroque monograms), now resembling Camel circa "Moonmadness". Considering the years the said five were recorded in, their sound quality is perceived as good rather than acceptable, but nevertheless it's clear that all of them were converted into a digital format without being remastered. One way or another, while the creations in the band's classic style in no way surpass the three that are recorded recently, those are somewhat closer to my heart, which is certainly just a matter of taste.

Conclusion. The playing is superb; the musicians' command of their respective instruments is astonishing; the group shines with their huge technical skill almost throughout the album, but never just for the sake of the pyrotechnics themselves or to the detriment of a melody line either. Despite some minor flaws, this CD would be of interest to anybody who equally comprehends and likes all the aforesaid performers, beginning with Ain Soph fans themselves for sure, save probably only those who already own all the band's studio recordings and, at the same time, hate any type of compilation.

VM: July 2, 2007


Related Links:

Musea Records
Poseidon Records


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