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(20.47, Musea Records)
French guitarist and composer Michel Leonardi first made his name with Ergo Sum, a progressive rock band that released its only album, “Mexico”, in 1971. On that album, the strong jazz influences in Leonardi’s style were already evident, so it is not surprising to hear them come fully into play on this EP, recorded by Leonardi with his new band, Leo Project. This outfit comprises a number of skilled musicians from a younger generation, such as trumpet player Christophe Leloil and pianist Robert Benzrihem. Barely over 20 minutes long, “Leo Project” contains five tracks, all featuring a sophisticated, vaguely Latin-tinged jazz sound. The disc is indeed closer to classic jazz than fusion, shunning those contaminations with other genres (such as symphonic prog or metal) that seem to be so popular nowadays. In spite of the very high technical level of the musicians involved (something that can be expected from a such a production), the band’s approach is quite understated, devoid of that brash, overblown quality that so often occurs in progressive rock. In fact, the average prog fan (unless they also have a trained ear for jazz) may find the album a bit too low-key, as well as somewhat on the monotonous side. Those who, like myself, are not jazz experts will not always be able to fully appreciate the subtleties of the music showcased on “Leo Project”, though the album is undeniably an enjoyable proposition. Most of the tracks combine a nicely upbeat feel with the stateliness that is a distinguishing feature of the whole album. The various instruments involved blend together seamlessly, with Leonardi’s fluid, delicate guitar and Christophe Leloil’s flugelhorn at the forefront. The Latin/Brazilian flavour of Do You Really Know What Time It Is is elegant and uplifting and the same time. This is the only track to feature vocals, which come in the shape of tasteful, harmonious vocalising by Elsa Leonardi (possibly Michel’s daughter). The sprightly-paced Theme 65/67 (in my opinion the highlight of the disc) offers sleek interaction between guitar and gently tinkling piano; while Spaces Beyond, based on a slow, lazy trumpet solo backed by faint piano, is the only item displaying a looser structure and more atmospheric mood. As a whole, “Leo Project” is a bit too short to allow a reviewer to fully assess the potential of the band. What can be heard so far is certainly interesting, and very well-executed, but somewhat lacking in variety – at least from the point of view of a rock fan. It is, however, a classy project, with a lot of scope for interesting future developments. It remains to be seen what Michel Leonardi and his cohorts will be able to achieve with a full-length CD at their disposal.
RB: Feb 13, 2010
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