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(53:07, Great Winds-Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Les Celtes 5:07 2. Sophia 3:39 3. Petits Pains 5:26 4. Les Deux Chattes 4:55 5. Le Voyageur Amoureux 3:57 6. La Valse des Astres 4:20 7. Little Rootie Tootie 2:49 8. Un Africain à Pekin 3:39 9. Brume 4:21 10. Barbes Market 3:07 11. Les Moutons 3:32 12. Ouaga 4:22 13. Kesketadi 3:55 LINEUP: Faton Cahen – keyboards Francois Causse – drums Petteri Parviainen – bass Nicolas Aurialt – trumpet, flute Leonard Le Cloarec – sax, flute With: Teddy Lasry – clarinet
Prolusion. French keyboardist and composer Francois Faton CAHEN (1944-2011) was a legendary character in French jazz and rock, with his past tenures in Zao and Magma as the ones he'll arguably be best remembered for. But he issued a handful or so of solo productions over the years as well. "Amalgama" is the most recent of these, and was released a few months after Cahen's death in 2011.
Analysis. "Amalgama" is apparently a word from Arabic, originally meaning the fusion of metals. A time consuming process if the end result is to be good, and the participants on this CD felt that this was an apt name for this recording. Originally a concert performance held in 2009, subsequently taken to the studio the following year, where the participating musicians came, played and improvised. Later the most enticing results were assembled into this CD. And while it is stated that the contents of this disc belong to the fusion category, my main impression is that this is a take on this approach with an emphasis on jazz. Fusion as in distinct jazz rock isn't a dominating feature at all, although a few items adhering to such a description pop up here and there. But it is an intriguing production nonetheless, and occasionally brilliantly enticing at that. Cahen gets to show his skills as a piano soloist on a few occasions, but more often than not his role is a somewhat subservient one, often harmonizing with lighter toned percussion (glockenspiel or perhaps xylophone) or providing gentle, resonating tones that add subtle contrasting details to the dominant elements. And for the latter we have tribal or Caribbean tinged drums, dampened but refined in expression, distinct circulating bass motifs as a firm melody base, and various instrument soloing on top, most frequently by the saxophone, with an elegant flute chiming in rather frequently. The clarinet makes a few guest appearances and effective ones at that, while the credited trumpet as far as I can tell has more of a reserved role on these pieces. Smooth synth backdrops appear now and then, presumably provided by Cahen, same for organ and synths that briefly appear. This amalgam of instruments is assembled quite nicely, and especially the first half of this CD is a treat. From the gentle opening of Les Celtes to the almost raunchy, energetic Monk piece Little Rootie Tootie (rearranged by Cahen) we're in for a smooth, elegant ride in accessible yet sophisticated and elegant jazz territories, high quality in planning, performance and execution alike. The second half of this production ebbs ever so slightly in interest however. The style tends to become closer to what I'd describe as traditional jazz, less refined in the harmony as well as contrast department, for the latter in particular the approach appears to move away from the subtle towards a more distinct nature. The difference isn't a dramatic one, but one residing in the department of nuances and details. The end result is still a very pleasant one though, and while I normally don't find jazz to be that intriguing this album is one of the exceptions.
Conclusion. "Amalgama" turned out to be one of the final productions of keyboardist Francios Faton Cahen, and should be of interest to jazz and Magma fans both due to this alone. That it is a finely crafted disc of elegant, smooth jazz, with the rhythms department in particular making a splendid contribution, courtesy of Cahen's long time companion Francois Causse, is another reason to check this one out. I don't know how much this one will appeal to dedicated jazz fans, but I suspect art rock fans with a keen interest in mood and melody might just happen to enjoy it.
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