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(67:43, AltrOck Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Herbert Quain 3:35 2. Cavedio 8:05 3. Premessa Inessenziale 1:13 4. Einigermassen Ruhig 5:23 5. Miniature on Rovine 1:09 6. L’Eco delle Fiamme 7:34 7. L’Oscurita Naturale delle Cose 1:11 8. Fluster Kadenz 6:57 9. Strassenleuchte 0:53 10. Treffpunkt 6:27 11. Fuoco Pallido 5:00 12. Peter Was There Too 5:41 13. Lento-1 0:35 14. Enigermassen Ruhinger 5:29 15. La Folgore Nera 2:05 16. Still Water 2:25 17. White 3:54 LINEUP: Maurizio Fasoli – piano Francesco Zago – guitar; Mellotron Giuseppe Olivini – percussion; harpsichord Peter Schmid – clarinets, tuba Markus Stauss – saxophones Christian Weber – contrabass Enrica Di Bastiano – harp With: Stephan Brunner – bass (1) Marco Sorge – clarinet (1)
Prolusion. KURAI is a new project formed by three members of Italian Avant-Prog band Yugen (Francesco Zago, Maurizio Fasoli and Giuseppe Olivini), and Swiss musicians Christian Weber, Peter Schmid and Markus Stauss (who played with Yugen on their debut album, “Labirinto D’Acqua”), augmented by Italian harpist Enrica Di Bastiano. Kurai is a Japanese word meaning ‘dark’, since the band is meant as a counterpart to the ‘lighter’, more disciplined music played by Yugen.
Analysis. In spite of the record label’s name of AltrOck, the actual rock component of Kurai’s self-titled debut album is somewhat thin on the ground. In fact, the over one hour of music featured on this disc suggests avant-garde chamber music rather than anything resembling standard rock, even of the progressive persuasion. It is deeply intriguing, occasionally beautiful music, largely acoustic, and often quite cinematic in quality – some of the tracks would double up perfectly as soundtracks for a vintage, black-and-white horror movie – though definitely not an easy or comfortable listen. The darkness implicit in the band’s name, even without attaching any emotional quality to it, is mirrored by the impressively stylish album cover – an effective anticipation of the album’s musical content. Instead of following a rigorously laid-out pattern in terms of composition, the instruments (many of them quite unusual even for a prog context) are left free to express themselves, creating haunting, often positively disturbing soundscapes in which the music, rather than flowing, seems to proceed in staccato bursts, moving from pauses in which hardly any sound seems to be audible to fits of uncontrolled chaos. Like the many shades of grey of the cover art, Kurai’s music is made up of subtle nuances, of eerie, muted sounds contrasted with aggressively dissonant ones, of slowly mounting crescendos and lengthy, nearly soundless pauses. Its complexity does not lie so much in the compositional structure (as is the case with many RIO/Avant bands), but rather in the sheer intensity of the atmosphere conjured up by the music. The seventeen tracks on the album often differ sharply from each other in mood and texture, though sharing the same loose, improvisational quality. Interestingly, track titles are in three languages – Italian, German, and English – reflecting the international outlook of this multi-national outfit. The longer tracks are balanced by shorter interludes, generally featuring a solo instrument, and functioning as brief yet welcome moments of respite after the mounting tension of the preceding compositions. The jazzy Herbert Quain opens the album in a deceptively upbeat fashion, then develops into a soothing, yet at the same time vaguely disquieting piece, with eerie sounds in the background and faintly menacing Mellotron washes. The following piece, Cavedio (at 8 minutes the longest item on the album), brings the listener to a different territory, amidst dark, ominous waves of sound overlaid by the sparse tinkling of a harp and occasional, crashing piano chords – the musical equivalent of a story by Edgar Allan Poe or HP Lovecraft. The haunting, Gothic mood is intensified by the presence of sampled cello and chanting. Somewhat in the same mould, Fluster Kadenz features eerie sound effects suggesting the rustle of leaves in the wind and bird song echoing in the distance. L’Eco Delle Fiamme represents instead the dissonant side of Avant-Prog – over seven minutes of clanging, strident sounds, with percussion, piano and reeds left free rein to describe the titular roaring flames, only calming down towards the end. In spite of the absence of any kind of melody, it is a fascinating experiment, exhilarating in its own way. Almost unexpectedly, melody makes its appearance at the close of the album, especially on the beautiful White, which features sampled strings and lush, majestic Mellotron washes interspersed with the distinctive sound of the harp. The gently chiming, vibraphone- and piano-based Still Water is another piece in which the music is clearly meant to describe the title, and does so very effectively.
Conclusion. The obvious quality of the music notwithstanding, “Kurai”, in my view, somewhat suffers from its excessive length. A bit shorter running time would have made the album more accessible, and less likely to overstay its welcome. In any case, this is undoubtedly a fine example of experimental chamber prog and a rewarding listen for those who have the patience to sit down and try to catch its every detail. Fans of the genre will undoubtedly find the recording very much to their taste.
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