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(73:04, Musea & Poseidon Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Circle of Sound 1:19 2. On the Hill 2.45 3. Clouds 8.05 4. Panorama-2 4.17 5. Sierra Lee Jones 7.56 6. Improvisation 3.38 7. Remembrance 7.07 8. Matsukura Snow Visual 1.18 9. Matsukura Snow Story 12.19 10. Kagerou 10.49 11. The Breeze 2.54 12. The Waves Live 10.58 LINEUP: Takao Kawasaki – piano, keyboards Satoshi Hirata – guitar Kiyotaka Tanabe – drums With: Emi Sasaki – accordion (5, 6, 10) Miho Amano – voice (5, 6, 10) Akane Kobinata – voice (8, 9)
Prolusion. FLAT 122 are a Japanese trio who has been in existence since the early 2000’s. “Kagerou” is their second album, following their debut, “The Waves”, released in 2005 by Poseidon & Musea. A live version of the latter album’s title-track is included as a bonus track.
Analysis. Not a lot of information is available about Flat 122 – unless you happen to know Japanese, since both their website and their MySpace page are mostly written in their native language. In any case, they offer yet further proof of the vitality and variety of the Japanese progressive rock scene. “Kagerou” provides a fine showcase for a band that combines impressive technical skills with enough emotion and melody to prevent their music from feeling cold and contrived. As a whole, “Kagerou” is quite an interesting album, presenting the listener with music that possesses enough individual traits to help it stand out from the crowd. Anyone keen on exploring new instrumental music will not fail to be intrigued by this disc, even though it is not perfect by any means. As usual when dealing with Japanese acts, the technical quotient of the three musicians is extremely high, even though in this particular case it does not automatically result in mere surface polish devoid of any emotional depth. The album’s flaws, however, lie mainly in two aspects: its excessive running time, which means there is some filler material to be accounted for, and the absence of a bassist in the band’s line-up. Though some features of Flat 122’s musical output would point to a jazz/fusion direction, the lack of the distinctive contribution of the bass guitar cannot but feel somewhat odd – especially as jazz/fusion is known for its great bassists. Leaving the drums to provide the main rhythmic accompaniment (even if the keyboards supply some of the dynamics generally expected from the bass) deprives the band’s music of that sense of depth and fullness that is usually associated with a good ‘bottom end’. Therefore, “Kagerou” comes across as very much based upon the interplay between keyboards and guitar, with the drums often pushed at the forefront. Takao Kawasaki’s piano playing is particularly noteworthy, possessing an understated elegance that may often bring classical piano compositions to mind, while the guitar injects a welcome dose of purely rock energy into the proceedings. Many of the tracks on “Kagerou” have an improvisational, ambient-like feel, with the drums creating atmospheric textures to reinforce the role of the other instruments. If the truth be told, unless you have a very trained ear, there is not a lot of difference between the various tracks – though, obviously, there are some undisputable highlights. One of them is the intriguing, free-form title track – one of two pieces featuring the melancholy, haunting sound of the accordion, as well as some beautiful female vocalizing – as well as the slow-burning Remembrance, alternating guitar and piano passages of sterling quality. Panorama 2 and Clouds are the two compositions that come closest to a classic, guitar-based jazz-fusion sound, with plenty of time signature changes and an overall energetic pace; while in Sierra Lee Jones the ambient nuances are brought to the fore, with the accordion and the ethereal female vocals conjuring a wistful Old World feel. The bonus track tagged on at the end, a live version of The Waves (the title-track of their debut album) offers a number of interesting moments, though it also feels somewhat patchy on account of the frequent changes in mood and tempo. As stated earlier in my review, “Kagerou” has a lot to offer, in spite of its shortcomings. It is, however, an album that needs to be listened to quite intensively, because it does not really lend itself too well to being used as background music. Like all elegant, refined music, it should be, so to speak, handled with care.
Conclusion. “Kagerou” is indeed a worthwhile effort, with enough originality to appeal to those listeners who are tired of the hackneyed nature of much of the music released these days, and at the same time never jarring or excessively demanding. On the other hand, the absence of such an essential instrument as the bass guitar occasionally deprives the music of the necessary depth to hold the listener’s attention. It is, anyway, a solid release that will appeal to lovers of jazz-tinged progressive rock, especially of the instrumental persuasion.
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