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Alain Blesing - 2007 - "Songs From the Beginning"

(67:16, Musea Records)


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Slightly All the Time 9:37
2.  Beautiful As the Moon 9:57
3.  California 5:37
4.  Mumps 9:28
5.  1983 11:47
6.  Behind Blue Eyes 5:58
7.  Fracture 14:53

LINEUP:

Alain Blesing - guitars
Hugh Hopper - bass
John Greaves - vocals
Nicolas Fargeih - clarinet
Catherine Delaunay - clarinets; accordion
Philippe Bolta - saxophones, flute
Francois Verly - piano, keyboards
Jean-Luc Landsweerdt - drums 
Yves Rousseau - bass 

Prolusion. The name of this French guitar player, Alain BLESING (formerly of Eskaton, who in turn are usually recognized as followers of Magma), is hardly on everyone's lips, but should be well known to fans of Zeuhl and RIO. This time around Alain releases an album under his own name, though I doubt these "Songs From the Beginning" can really be regarded as his solo creation, inasmuch as the CD doesn't feature any original material.

Analysis. So, here's yet another set of covers, and I must confess I fear I won't be able to avoid sketchiness and cliches when commenting on it. Supported by six French and two English musicians (legendary bassist Hugh Hopper who, besides Soft Machine, played with too many bands to list here, and singer John Greaves of National Health fame), Alain Blesing presents a 7-track compilation on which he virtually revisits some of his all-time favorite pieces of music. Four of the remakes sound instantly familiar to me, since I'd listened a lot to their original versions. These are Slightly All the Time (Soft Machine, "Third", 1970), Beautiful As the Moon (Henry Cow, "In Praise of Learning", 1975), Excerpts from Mumps (a sidelong epic from Hatfield & The North's "Rotter's Club", 1975) and Fracture (King Crimson, "Starless & Bible Black", 1974/2). All being the highlights of this collection, each represents one of the highest creative successes ever achieved in the field of their respective styles, namely Jazz Rock, RIO, quasi-symphonic Jazz-Fusion (stop reiterating me it's Canterbury!:-) and the Fifth Element (with Crimsons' still very own vision of Zeuhl and progressive Doom Metal dominating in this particular case). Totaling 43 minutes in duration, all are brilliant creations, veritably unique patterns of semi-epic-form progressive rock music, full of whatever a true prog heart desires. Covers cannot be stronger than source material, that's an axiom, but these sound at least refreshing, all embodying the intensity documented in the originals, each standing out for its excellent instrumental and vocal performances (except for Mumps, since it's the only track here with a narration instead of singing). After so many years I can't be sure, but I have a feeling that Alain's interpretation of Henry Cow's piece reflects a more symphonic approach than its prototype. John Greaves' vocals are very solid everywhere they are, but are especially impressive on Soft Machine's Slightly All the Time (where he effectively operates with his timbre, appearing as a chameleon singer), and also on Jimi Hendrix's 1983 (on which he shines with some innovative vocal arrangements), while King Crimson's Fracture probably best of all showcases Alain's versatility as a guitar player, his craftsmanship in riffing in particular. The variation on 1983 is overall very decent, especially bearing in mind that that song's typically rock instrumentation is here supplemented with brass and chamber instruments and is lushly enriched with corresponding colorations. Nevertheless, while being presented in the same semi-epic-length format as the four previously described tracks, it obviously lacks in changes and transitions and thus appears to be quite strongly inferior to any of those, despite its power, beauty and other pan-musical virtues. Much less successful, however, are Alain's renderings of Led Zeppelin's California and Behind Blue Eyes by The Who, both working in an almost acoustic vein, none featuring drums. To cut a long story short, both come across exclusively as makeweights, reflecting a certain oddity of Blesing's tastes - not with respect to the bands of course (who would cast doubt on the majesty of each, in terms of progressiveness included?), but regarding the tracks chosen.

Conclusion. To keep the high progressive level safe everywhere on the disc, Alain should have chosen any stronger creations by Led Zeppelin and The Who alike, seeing that there is no shortage of those in both cases. Hopefully enough said.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: December 31, 2007


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