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(44:41, Fazzul Music)
TRACK LIST: 1. Still Dreaming 5:44 2. First Flight 9:33 3. Waling on the Ground 2:25 4. Stealing on the Picnic Table 7:43 5. Dark Clouds 13:16 6. Infinite Background 5:59 LINEUP: Henry Krutzen – tenor sax; percussion Darlan Marley – drums, percussion Kazambe – percussion With: Marcillo Onofre – piano (1, 2, 5, 6) Antonio De Padua – trumpet (2, 4, 5) Alexandre Johnson – flute (1, 2, 4) Markus Stauss – bass sax (4, 5, 6)
Prolusion. A brainchild of composer and multi-instrumentalist Henry Krutzen, FINNEGANS WAKE was formed in the beginning of the ‘90s in the man’s motherland, Belgium. In 2002, however, Henry moved to Brazil, and since then his partners in the band have been Brazilian musicians, at least predominantly. "The Bird and the Sky Above", Finnegans Wake’s sixth studio outing, was issued earlier this year by the Swiss label Fazzul Music. Indeed, only 14 months have passed since their previous effort, “Blue”, saw the light of day, and they are back already, which seems to be too quickly, considering that, on average, it takes 3-4 years for them to release an album.
Analysis. I have been a strong adherent of the band from the outset of its activity, particularly valuing them for their ability to near-endlessly (plus in most cases radically) change their style and, at the same time, remain one of the most innovative as well as creatively stable units of the progressive rock movement. This, their latest, release also finds them paving a new stylistic path, which, however, leads far beyond the realms of structured music. Although there are no pauses between the tracks here, I believe the album was either straight away/wholly created impromptu or was recorded at one sitting after a couple of preparatory sessions. Either way, what’s on offer is experimental Avant Jazz of a highly improvisational nature. If avant-garde music is a challenge for many progressive rock lovers, then its merging with free jazz would be an ordeal, if not torture, for any of those. Once ‘you’ decided to bring the two styles together, you should first of all designate the borders of a blender, so to speak. You should also know how to shape both avant-garde and improvisational elements in such a way that they would properly interact with each other. As a last resort, you should become an apprentice-in-absentia of some universally recognized avant-jazz masters, such as Soft Machine (by lending an ear to their “III” and “V” albums in particular), AKA Moon or John Zorn (whose new album “Ipsissimus” is a killer). In the final analysis, I think it’s because Finnegans Wake before only worked with composed – carefully composed, and thus completely structured – music that they have failed in this venture, sounding most of the time like they’re at sixes and sevens, bringing to mind the concept of blind-flying, blind-walking and so on. As you can see in the lineup above, only three of the seven musicians involved in the album appear on each of its six constituent pieces, and while Henry plays tenor sax besides percussion, the other two are just percussionists. For me (who placed the band in the pantheon of modern progressive rock gods five years ago and who knows its previous work inside out), the first three tracks, Still Dreaming, First Flight and Waling on the Ground, sound particularly obscure, as all of them are abundant in percussion instruments, the latter consisting exclusively of those. Even the band’s performance mastery does not impress the ear, as the music is totally focused on impromptus, i.e. spontaneous improvisations. The other tracks, Stealing on the Picnic Table, Dark Clouds and Infinite Background, are structurally denser and generally tighter than the three preceding ones, each of these revealing substantial themes here and there. Nonetheless, the arrangements never stand still for more than 30 seconds before turning into what seems like a set of random improvisations done in a quasi-avant-garde manner. All in all, I see this new direction of the band’s development as a dead-end one. The playing by intuition, when all the musicians appear as co-creators, does only work within a pure jazz format.
Conclusion. If each successive previous Finnegans Wake releases was a pleasing surprise for me, this one is indigestible, to say the least, and would probably be my biggest disappointment of the year, if not the decade. I wish the band can overcome the crisis and make their creative flame burn brightly again. Please Henry, return to structured music.
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