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(59 min, Mellow)
TRACK LIST: 1. Summer Triangle 7:07 2. Al Abordaje 7:01 3. Estrella en el Camino 6:24 4. El Bosque Encantado 11:21 5. Tal Compo lo Oyes 8:55 6. Tiempos Dificiles 8:36 7. Placido Paseo 8:53 LINEUP: Alfredo Arcusa - drums Emilio Ruiz - keyboards Albert Guitart - bass
Prolusion. Titled simply "III", the third official release by Spanish outfit ALTAIR follows their eponymous debut CD (1990) and "Fantasias Y Danzas" (1999), although they also have a few cassette albums.
Analysis. The CD booklet says the material was recorded live in the studio. However the applause that meets the coda of each composition is loud and numerous enough to suppose the band performed before an audience of 20, at least. Well, it doesn't much matter; perhaps there is a tiny club in that studio. In any event, the album's sound is good for a live recording. As to the music, already Altair's lineup configuration can be quite eloquent in this respect. Indeed, the overall appearance of their music is quite typical of keyboard trios performing Prog Rock, but does this sound exhaustive for you? Even my familiarity with their past creation was not always of help when I listened to their new offering, which turned out to be rich in surprises. The band's founder, leader and primary songwriter Alfredo Arcusa (please note he is a drummer) is a top-notch musician, still shining with performance mastery as ever. However, it's in many ways thanks to newcomer Emilio Ruiz that "III" shows a solid improvement in comparison with either of the group's previous two CDs. Emilio is a much more competent and skilled musician than Isabel Muniente who was responsible for the keyboard department prior to him. The album contains seven instrumental pieces ranging from 7 to 11 minutes, and even those in Altair's traditional style are better than anything I've heard from them before. These are the first two and last tracks, Summer Triangle, Al Abordaje and Placido Paseo. The album's opener is good, and is diverse and complex enough to be appreciated, and yet I find it to be my least favorite track here. It's a bright example of intense keyboard-laden symphonic Prog of a classic model (although they use exclusively modern synthesizers), which on the other hand is also its weak side. The influence of Cozy Powell-era ELP touches each of the three, but here, on Summer Triangle, it is evident practically everywhere. The idiom is widespread on the other two as well, but there also are a couple sections of symphonic Space Rock on each, and these are free of derivative features. Alfredo's little benefit performance (drum solo) closer to the finale of Placido Paseo is quite appropriate there. The four core tracks run about 36 minutes and are not only free of any cliches, but also reveal plenty of brave and unexpected decisions, each featuring piano apart from synthesizers, plus sounds that imitate those of Moog and Hammond, in places. Remarkable quasi Jazz-Fusion arrangements with piano improvisations to the fore are an important part of both Estrella en el Camino and Tiempos Dificiles, although the latter is basically a blend of Space Rock and classically inspired symphonic Progressive. Very good stuff. Nonetheless it is the longest two pieces, El Bosque Encantado and Tal Compo lo Oyes, that most of all embellish the album. Even Art-Rock-related maneuvers are highly impressive, abundant in complex stop-to-play movements and intricate measures. Most part of each however, concerns directly the Jazz-Fusion genre, all three of the musicians providing genuinely improvised solos, not only the pianist.
Conclusion. "III" is a strong comeback for Altair and is undoubtedly their most accomplished and tasty effort to date. The album's potential audience might embrace fans of ELP, Carl Palmer Band, Triumvirat, Greenslade and Colosseum, plus those into keyboard-laden Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion in general.
VM: June 8, 2006
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