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(48:31, Som Do Darma Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. It’s All About Fashion 3:40 2. Crystal Tower 8:21 3. Siberia 4:28 4. Sahara 4:47 5. Thar 7:19 6. Lonely 5:27 7. Karakum 2:46 8. Atacama 4:04 9. Genesis 12:39 LINEUP: Sizao Machado – bass Fabio Fernandes – drums Johnny Murata – guitars, synthesizers
Prolusion. LUMINA is a group formed by three veteran Brazilian musicians who have been active for over three decades. Bassist Sizao Machado is widely known for his work with the likes of Chet Baker, Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque and Airto Moreira; guitarist Johnny Murata is quite renowned in world music circles (he is also a skilful sitar player), while drummer Fabio Fernandes has performed with some important Brazilian musicians such as Hermeto Pascoal. The project was initially born as a guitar-and-drums duo; Machado joined after having heard some of their recordings.
Analysis. According to the liner notes, Lumina has chosen fractals as their symbol in order to represent the free-style sound of the band that shows an unexpected ‘organic’ structure on repeated listens. While listening to “Lumina Project”, the reason for this choice soon becomes clear. As a whole, the album comes across as more free-form than organically structured. However, repeated, careful listens will show a different state of affairs – an album that, far from being just a collection of studio jams from a trio of extremely talented, seasoned musicians, does indeed have an internal logic of its own. “Lumina Project” is one of those rare efforts where the astoundingly high quality of the musicianship does not work against its accessibility. There is a warmth to the music that may well be related to the Brazilian background of the band members, and lends an endearingly open quality to an album that could have otherwise been little more than a monument to pristine, yet soulless technical proficiency. Though the album sits squarely in jazz-rock/fusion territory, it is not hard to detect touches of world music in some of the compositions. The sound revolves around Murata’s stunning guitar work: his style has shades of Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin about it, but is also very much his own, subtly shifting from the construction of mesmerizingly melodic textures to fast and furious cavalcades that would almost be deserving of the dreaded term of ‘shredding’, if they were not so supremely sophisticated. Machado’s bass work and Fernandes’ drumming alike, though tastefully understated, are always very much in evidence, occasionally surfacing in brief but magnificent solo spots. Like many great albums, “Lumina Project” is strategically bookended by its strongest tracks. True, Crystal Tower and Genesis are two rather different pieces of music – the former a beautifully flowing, exciting slice of Latin-tinged jazz-fusion with a main theme built around a clear-sounding, elegant guitar riff, and held together by the splendid rhythm section; the latter (the longest track on the album at over 12 minutes) very much bass-focused in its first half, then turning into a moody, atmospheric improvisation over spacey synth washes. The tracks in between range from the loose, experimental feel of Siberia (whose sparse atmosphere, subtly enhanced by barely perceptible waves of synth, suggests the desolate landscapes of the titular land) to the pleasingly fluid mid-tempo of Lonely. Sahara showcases the grittier, more aggressive side of Murata’s playing, underpinned by some very creative drumming patterns; while in Atacama the drums are the main focus of the composition, and the other instruments seem to take a back seat. Like the fractals that symbolize the band’s music, “Lumina Project” is an utterly fascinating album whose beauty unfolds gradually with each listen. It offers complex, masterfully played music that is not so unnecessarily complicated as to become almost unlistenable. This is vintage jazz-rock in the mould of the best The Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report releases, spiced with the fascinating sounds of the Latin musical tradition, and offering high-energy moments alongside more laid-back ones. Though the band may well be nothing more than a one-off, it is to be hoped that Machado, Murata and Fernandes will set aside some time off from their ‘day jobs’ in order to produce at least another album at the same level of quality.
Conclusion. Though the main audience for “Lumina Project” will obviously be jazz-rock/fusion devotees, such an accomplished album, performed with skill and passion, does have the potential to appeal to all lovers of music. While an album to be savoured, and certainly not to be pushed into the background, it is accessible enough to be heard with pleasure by those who are not technically savvy, or into breaking music down to the smallest unit. Easily one of the best releases of the year so far.
RB=Raffaella Berry: September 5, 2009
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