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(58:01, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Crusader 4:06 2. Blue Rice 3:40 3. Into the Sea 5:11 4. MNK 5:37 5. The Sparrow 6:07 6. Anticlimax 6:55 7. Omoplatta 4:28 8. Travelling Space 5:18 9. Joanni 7:22 10. Lights That Fall Down the Hill 5:33 11. Epic 5:04 LINEUP: Miki Fujimoto – violin Ryuichi Odani – keyboards Junpei Ozaki – guitar Naoki Kitao – bass Masataka Suwa – drums
Prolusion. FANTASMAGORIA is a Japanese outfit led by classically-trained violinist Miki Fujimoto. “Day and Night”, released in March 2009, is their debut official album, following a self-titled, ‘energetic’, live demo recorded in 2004. After their first release, the band appeared at the 2005 of the BajaProg festival, which introduced them to an international audience.
Analysis. While it is associated both with classical and ‘ethnic’ music, the violin makes somewhat infrequent appearances in rock. Even in the ambitious progressive rock milieu, bands featuring violins or other strings are more the exception than the rule, despite the lofty aspirations of the genre. Therefore, an album that bears the caption of ‘Violin Progressive’ immediately beneath the band name cannot but attract some attention, and not necessarily in a positive sense. In this particular case, however, it would be wrong to fling accusations of pretentiousness at Fantasmagoria. In fact, “Day and Night” presents to its listeners a very tasty slice of flawlessly crafted, yet surprisingly accessible instrumental prog, centred on the impressive skills of violinist Miki Fujimoto as much as on those of the four musicians who accompany her. Though her violin is undoubtedly the star of the show, the contribution of the other band members is essential for the final result – which does not come across as a vanity project – let alone a one-woman show - but as a cohesive group effort. The music, though showing unmistakable influences from some of the best-known, violin-led progressive rock acts (such as Curved Air, King Crimson and The Mahavishnu Orchestra), has enough individuality to stand on its own without being tagged as derivative. In addition, it possesses that essential quality of great music – a beautifully natural flow that makes listening easy on the ear, in spite of the obviously high technical content. “Day and Night” also scores highly, as regards running time – something that can easily be the undoing of an instrumental album. At under one hour, with track lengths averaging 5 minutes, it avoids relying on more or less large amounts of ‘padding’, as is far too often the case with recent releases. Miki Fujimoto’s classical inspiration occasionally comes through in some of the mellower, more lyrical pieces, but in a rather unobtrusive way, eschewing the dreaded ‘classical remake’ syndrome that spoils so many albums by similarly trained musicians. The album’s sound, on the other hand, is unmistakably modern, brimming with energy, blending intriguingly asymmetrical rhythm patterns tradition with a healthy dose of melody, and showcasing violin’s uncanny ability to both mimic and engage in duels with other instruments. Given the constantly high quality of the compositions, it is not easy to pick out individual tracks for analysis. Though the violin clearly holds sway, the other instruments do more than just complement Miki’s flights of fancy, as is immediately evident in opening track, Crusader, introduced by the unmistakable sound of a harpsichord. The interaction of violin and guitar is reminiscent of a more melodic High Tide – one of the pioneering bands as concerns the use of violin in rock. Jazz-fusion influences abound, as well as harder-edged ones – MNK is a textbook example of the kind of heavy fusion pioneered by the likes of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire”; while Anticlimax opens with a Black Sabbath-like guitar riff on which Miki’s violin soon starts emoting, weaving in and out of the tapestry provided by the other instruments. On the other hand, the lively, upbeat Omoplatta has shades of Dixie Dregs, or even Kansas, with their blend of feel-good country music and heavier elements. Joanni, at over 7 minutes the longest track on the album, is a head-spinning cavalcade that opens and closes with a beautifully melancholy violin solo suggestive of Venetian composers such as Vivaldi. It also showcases the talents of each musician, with a particular mention for the stunning performance of the rhythm section. As a closing remark, my sincere praise goes to Miki Fujimoto for avoiding the route chosen by far too many female musicians, even very talented ones – that is, using her physical appearance as a marketing tool. Posing in revealing outfits (as opposed to wearing flattering yet tasteful clothing, as Miki does in the concert pictures included in the CD booklet) will only perpetuate the stereotype that sees women mainly as eye candy, rather than help them gain credibility as artists in their own right.
Conclusion. Highly recommended to fans of violin-based progressive rock, and instrumental music in general, “Day and Night” will appeal to most prog fans – unless they have problems with the absence of vocals. A finely crafted album, it displays a very high degree of technical and compositional skill, not to mention professionalism, in the best Japanese tradition. It is to be hoped that Fantasmagoria will not turn out to be a one-off, but rather continue to release more music of the same high level of quality.
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