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(52.19, AltrOck Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Honfleur La Jolie 6:47 2. Die Geste Von Kreuzlingen 4:30 3. Mida 6:06 4. Luftspiel 4:07 5. Blue 5:48 6. Ents & Things 5:40 7. Magical Cave 4:50 8. The Battle of Novgorod 3:52 9. Vulnavia 4:07 10. Agakuk 7:12 (b/t) LINEUP: Henry Krutzen – piano, keyboards; tenor sax; percussion Marcilio Onofre – piano, keyboards Alexandre Johnson – flutes Alain Lemaitre – bass Xochil Schutz – poetry With: Rogerio Pitomba – drums Eduardo Pinheiro – guitar Jubileu Filho – guitar Faisal Hussein – cello Alexandre Casado – violin Joao Johnson – oboe John Krutzen – whistle Antonio de Padua – trumpet Amarilis de Rebua – vocals &: Reginald Trigaux – guitar (10) Guy Segers – el. bass (10) Morgan Agren – drums (10)
Prolusion. Originally hailing from Belgium (one of the most fertile breeding grounds for RIO/Avant-Prog bands), FINNEGANS WAKE (named after James Joyce’s experimental novel) have been active since 1993. The band is currently based in the Brazilian state of Natal, where mainman Henry Krutzen moved in 2001. “Blue” is their fifth album, the first released on the Italian label AltrOck Records.
Analysis. The whole concept of Finnegans Wake seems to revolve around a strong cosmopolitan outlook. A Brazil-based outfit led by a Belgian multi-instrumentalist and signed to an Italian label, with German lyrics, song titles with a strong pan-European slant, and a name that is inextricably connected with Ireland through author James Joyce – a name that is a byword for experimentation bordering on impenetrability – they are also among the foremost standard-bearers of the current Avant-Prog scene, purveyors of complex, intriguing music that often seems to have more in common with academic music than with the ‘rock’ component of progressive rock. As is often the case with RIO outfits, Finnegans Wake takes the shape of an ensemble with a core of five members (German poetess Xochil Schutz is effectively considered part of the band), plus a number of additional musicians that create a sort of mini-orchestra. “Blue” also sees the contribution of three prestigious guests, Reginald Trigaux and Guy Segers of Belgian band Present, and former Zappa collaborator Morgan Agren (of Mats/Morgan Band fame). The presence of so many experienced artists and extensive array of instruments used results in a rich, almost symphonic feeling in spite of the frequently sparse, subtle nature of the music. The beautiful shades of blue of the abstract painting on the cover (by Brazilian artist Flavio Freitas) provide a foretaste of the music contained within. Unlike other recent AltrOck releases, the album’s running time remains well below an hour, which is obviously a plus when considering the complex nature of the music on offer. None of the ‘official’ tracks exceed seven minutes in length, and the bonus track Agakuk (featuring all three special guests) compensates for its slightly higher running time with its intense, exhilarating pace that sounds like Univers Zero on steroids – organ bursts, dramatic drumming and a lush tapestry of instruments competing with each other. Not indulging in the current fashion for exceedingly long albums lends “Blue” a compact, listener-friendly quality that makes it definitely more approachable. The ten compositions on “Blue” all display a very advanced structure, with stately, melodic parts vying with dissonant, shrill or somber episodes. This is showcased right from the opening track, Honfleur la Jolie, in which guitar, piano and violin alternate in creating moods and textures that shift from the almost cheerful romanticism of the first half to the metal-like aggression of the second, ending with a riveting duel between guitar and violin (shades of High Tide?). As can be expected, Luftspiel and the loose, atmospheric Die Geste Von Kreuzlingen, sung by Brazilian soprano Amarilis De Rebua, have the openly classical, academic feel of modern-day Lieder; while Magical Cave sees the singer using her voice as an instrument among others, with reeds, violin and guitar entering the fray in short, staccato bursts before reaching a more fluid consistency. On the other hand, the electronic component of Finnegans Wake’s music comes especially to the fore in the title-track (doubtlessly one of the highlights of the album), where the keyboards seem to hold the fabric of the composition together for the other instruments to weave their magic; or in the distinct Tangerine Dream flavour and solemn, march-like ending of the strongly percussive Ents & Things. In the past few years, AltrOck Records has been responsible for some of the most exciting releases of the genre (such as Yugen’s “Labirinto D’Acqua”). Having added Finnegans Wake to their small, yet highly qualified roster stands as further confirmation of the label’s influential status in the world of authentically progressive music. “Blue” is an album that, while not exactly accessible in mainstream terms, offers many moments of exquisitely beautiful music, and a range of influences wide enough to satisfy any discerning listener.
Conclusion. Like most albums that fall under the RIO/Avant-Prog umbrella, “Blue” is quite a demanding (though very rewarding) listen. The alternation of rarefied chamber pieces and tracks with a more dynamic pace, as well as the flawless musicianship on display, makes this album not only an essential purchase for dedicated RIO/Avant fans, but also a more easily approachable effort (at least in relative terms) for newcomers to the genre than other releases in a similar vein. Top-20-2008
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