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(75 min, Great Winds)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Mission 5:09 2. Undercover 3:45 3. Rollercoaster 6:32 4. Dominique 7:03 5. Substitute 5:28 6. MIC 4:58 7. Lines 8:14 8. A Nice Day 4:26 9. Tornado 4:30 10. Time to Understand 5:57 11. Your Touch 5:40 12. The Right Path 2:48 13. Are You Nuts 4:10 14. The Jewel 5:31 LINEUP: Stephane Deriau-Reine - keyboards Mel Gaynor - drums Jan-Olaf Strandberg - bass With: Jean Lassalette - guitars Jean Fontanille - guitars &: Laurent Moor - harmonica (4, 7) Jason Howell - vocals (5, 10) Yves Carbonne - bass (7, 10)
Prolusion. A press kit sheds a little light on the history of THE FUSION PROJECT, just saying this is a French outfit and that "Code Name: Fusion Project" is their debut album. There also is a description of the group's style, as well as some points of comparison, but I am not accustomed to resort to such promptings in my reviews (may this confession not appear to be snobbish to you, dear readers). I have contacted up the project's website, but there is nothing apart from the photograph depicting two adult black men, namely Stephane Deriau-Reine and Mel Gaynor (see lineup above and please take a note that it is listed there accordingly to the CD booklet).
Analysis. Running a few steps forward, I'd like to note that "Code Name: Fusion Project" is in all senses a mature creation, so I would've been very surprised if the guys had turned out to be youngsters. So, this 75-minute disc contains fifteen tracks, fourteen of which are instrumental pieces. On most of them the outfit appears as a quartet of keyboardist, bassist, guitarist and drummer. Prior to describing the 'goodies' (and there are a lot of such here), I decided to point you out their antipodes. No, none of such tracks is really bad - they're just much more accessible than the others and, unlike those, don't shine with distinct originality, thus slightly violating the identity of the outfit's sound which is in many ways one-of-a-kind. To my great surprise, the longest two cuts, Dominique and Lines, turn out to be the most predictable, both reminding me of a cross between Ambient and Smooth Jazz. This is mellow music with the harmonica, piano and bass rather lazily improvising to the invariably slow drums, and to be frank, I feel happy that the harmonica is absent on the other tunes. Most of the basic themes that form A Nice Day lie within the bounds of orthodox swingy Jazz Rock, so it is no surprise that this tune is somewhat overloaded with such tricks as repetitive syncopations and joint unison movements. Nevertheless, the group twice breaks away from a primordially set framework, each time moving in a completely different direction. The acoustic guitar- and piano-laden piece, Time to Understand, is even better, and would've been among this disc's highlights had its makers not decided to 'enrich' its distinctively European nature with African ethnic vocalizations. There are no weak points on any of the other eleven tracks (their total duration exceeding 50 minutes), all being either excellent compositions or masterworks - without making any allowances to their bearer's debut status. Compared to the rest of the album, the opening number, The Mission, is a very unusual beast. The only piece performed by keyboardist Stephane Deriau-Reine alone, this is an impressive little concerto of Classical Academic music for piano and virtual chamber orchestra which sounds very naturalistically, by the way. The Mission's track list counterpart, The Jewel, is aurally similar - perhaps because neither features the rhythm section. This is an ever changing and, at the same time, pleasingly contrasting interplay between piano passagework and acoustic guitar solos, the former being done in a symphonic vein, the latter meanwhile being improvised. If briefly, The Right Path can hardly be defined otherwise than structured Jazz-Metal. The fast-and-driving Rollercoaster is a bit reminiscent of Countdown from "Nightingales & Bombers" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band and is a place where the musicians demonstrate their solid technical potential not only as one tight ensemble, but also individually. Due to a really wide use of organ, electric piano and mini-Moog on each, Undercover, Tornado, Your Touch and Are You Nuts are the domains of a distinctively vintage sound. Musically, these are quirky, yet totally intelligent compositions made up of complex structures, with constantly shifting themes and many original chord progressions depicting Jazz-Rock/Fusion in all its progressive glory. Finally MIC, Your Touch and Substitute (the only song on the disc) are each blends together Jazz-Fusion, symphonic Art-Rock and progressive Hard Rock in approximately equal proportions, the former two being the most diverse compositions in the set, meaning not only stylistically, but also compositionally. The names of ELP, Chick Corea, Brand X, still the same Earth Band and even Gustav Holst may come to mind when listening to these, but exclusively on an associative level. As mentioned above, most of the music on this album is exceptionally original and is full of innovations.
Conclusion. "Code Name: Fusion Project" is one of the most impressive Jazz-Fusion albums I've heard in the last year and I would've rated it as a masterwork had at least the two Ambient-like pieces not been included. Recommended. Even that little cluster of the Prog audience who mistakenly consider Jazz-Fusion to be a non-progressive genre might feel comfortable when listening to most of this recording.
VM: January 1, 2007
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