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(55.26, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sawaka Song 2.22 2. La Machine 4.38 3. Le Cri De La Terre 7.17 4. Tri-Un 5.09 5. Mr Z 6.22 6. Energies 2.49 7. Toujours Courir 16.29 8. Circus 10.14 LINEUP: Alain Chiarazzo – guitars Thierry Masse – keyboards Fred Schneider – bass Marco Fabbri – drums With: Jean-Marc Negre – vocals (8)
Prolusion. Formed in 1989 under the name Eclat De Vers (the name featured on their debut album, issued in 1991) by guitarist Alain Chiarazzo, the Marseilles-based ECLAT are veterans of the French progressive rock scene. They have released four studio albums so far (their latest, “Le Cri De La Terre”, dates back to 2002), and two live albums. “Live au Roucas” was recorded at the ProgSud Festival in September 2007. The band’s current drummer, Marco Fabbri, is a former member of Italian band Odessa.
Analysis. Eclat are one of those bands (so rare nowadays) that, without ever claiming to be reinventing the wheel, possess a timeless appeal due to the sheer class of their approach to music. They may not present the listener with anything wildly inventive or innovative, but what they do they do with style, warmth and a true sense of enjoyment. Often lumped together with a number of rather different bands under the Symphonic Prog umbrella, Eclat are in fact more eclectic than your average ‘retro-prog’ band. Although I was not familiar with them prior to reviewing this album, I could not be but extremely impressed by their level of technical skill, coupled with a genuine ability to convey emotion through their music. They may not be the most prolific outfit around - as is often the case when a band or artist privileges quality over quantity - but obviously know a thing or two about structuring their own material. Indeed, “Live Au Roucas” is an impressively well-balanced effort, with a judicious blend of longer and shorter tracks, as well as enough compositional diversity to avoid the onset of boredom. Seven out of eight tracks on “Live Au Roucas” are instrumentals – the only song with vocals, album closer Circus (from the band’s second album, “Eclat II”), is interpreted by former member Jean-Marc N?gre (who appeared on their third album). Together with 16-minute-plus Toujours Courir they make up almost one half of the album, and are the only two items that can aspire to the used and abused definition of ‘epic’. The other tracks range from the snappy 2 minutes and 22 seconds of opener Sawaka Song (a new composition) to the over 7 minutes of Le Cri De La Terre (title-track of Eclat’s fourth album, from which come four out of eight of the tracks featured here). Sawaka Song warms up the atmosphere with intriguing world-music suggestions provided by the distinctive sound of the gamelan, and the first of many beautiful guitar solos by mainman Alain Chiarazzo. His clear, expressive guitar tone (often quite reminiscent of David Gilmour’s style) is at the heart of Eclat’s music, though without overwhelming the other instruments. In fact, if I had to name an individual member as the true star of this album, I would choose bassist Fred Schneider. His solo spot in Toujours Courir (an extended version of a track featured on the band’s debut album) is a masterpiece of jazzy licks combined with a keen sense of melody, seamlessly following Thierry Masse’s reggae-tinged keyboard solo. Schneider’s nimble fretless work runs throughout the album like a real backbone, bolstered by Marco Fabbri’s consistently brilliant drumming. Melody is very much at the forefront of Eclat’s sound, though the pervasive jazz-rock component is not to be overlooked. The latter shines through in the second half of Le Cri De La Terre, where it blends with the classical reminiscences evoked by the piano; Chiarazzo’s guitar solo, with its subtle Latin flavouring, brings to mind Santana’s early work. The somewhat more subdued Tri-Un brings more jazzy echoes to the table, especially in the stunning piano work weaving in and out of the main theme. On the other hand, a couple of other tracks choose a somewhat heavier route, namely the aptly-titled, organ- and bass-powered Energies, and the grandiose, dramatic La Machine, which is also the most distinctly symphonic track on the album, with sweeping, majestic keyboards that may recall Genesis’ more impetuous moments. Circus, bookended by a merry carnival-like tune, closes the album in style, offering mellow yet passionate vocals emoting over steady mellotron washes, beautifully expressive piano, and a clean, smoothly flowing guitar solo – though things speed up considerably towards the end. The four band members, though all extremely gifted, never surrender to the desire to show off that mars the output of far too many talented artists. The band comes across as tight and cohesive unit, each musician putting his individual talents at the service of the music, rather than the other way round. The result is 55 minutes of beautifully flowing, classic progressive rock that manages to keep its individual character without claiming to be innovative. This is not the kind of music that will exhaust the listener with its demands for almost total engagement – it is much more subtle than that, though equally rewarding.
Conclusion. “Live Au Roucas” is an ideal point of entry for those who are new to the music of this very talented band. It is a very stylish, classic live album that can be easily recommended to most progressive rock fans, and a very honest offering – just great music, performed with skill and enthusiasm, without any claims to be anything else.
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