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(41:55, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Banzai 6:26 2. Galgal-I 6:10 3. Galgal-II 7:01 4. Intergalactic Tango 5:46 5. Prelude et Fantasie Espagnols 2:37 6. Talitha Coumi 14:50 Jean-Paul Prat – piano; guitar Jean Prat – drums Julien Sarazin – bass Richard Hentier – saxophones
Prolusion. Led by pianist, guitarist and songwriter Jean-Paul Prat, MASAL is a French band that (according to the CD press kit) has shared in many outstanding live performances, and played with quite a few prog rock giants, such as Gong, Soft Machine and Magma in particular. “Galgal” is the first outing by the group, though it can also be regarded as a follow-up to Jean-Paul’s solo album “Masal”, which was released in the distant 1982. All six of the compositions available are purely instrumental.
Analysis. Being the site’s editor, webmaster and reviewer (one of its two reviewers, to be more precise) at once, I sometimes jokingly call myself “The man who wears three hats”. After a couple of listens to this disc I arrived at the conclusion that its creator does so as well, only as regards the styles that he – both as a composer and player – sticks to here, namely RIO/Zeuhl, symphonic Art-Rock and quasi Jazz-Fusion. There are also some heavy and distinctly jazzy constructions to be found on “Galgal”, but these features don’t appear otherwise than as subsidiary style-formative factors, saxophonist Richard Hentier being the sole provider of genuine improvisations. The music itself isn’t difficult, yet most of the tracks are quite densely packed with changes – in style, theme, pace, etc. It also needs to be mentioned that, while some strong influences pervade the proceedings here, the band has its own unique voice, which is more often evident than anyone else’s. Disc opener Banzai begins with a piano solo, which reminds me of the one Tony Banks did in the intro to Genesis’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. (That being said, Jean-Paul fairly frequently follows this particular manner when he is in a symphonic mood, while otherwise he sounds highly original, particularly when walking through the avant-garde paths of his playing.) Most of the rest of the piece, however, refers to the heavier side of the RIO genre – think guitar-along-with-sax-driven compositions from King Crimson’s “Red” to get a clearer idea. The next two tracks, Galgal-I and Galgal-II, are closer to a classic RIO/Zeuhl mode, both often bringing to mind a cross between Univers Zero and Zao. However, Part-1 is structurally almost as dense and hard as Banzai, deploying a baritone sax (ooh!) as a provider of heaviness instead of a guitar – which makes it sound particularly innovative. Largely dominated by the piano leads, Intergalactic Tango is probably the most original piece in the set. The band appears this time as a protagonist of the lighter kind of RIO, displaying overall the same level of complexity as U Totem did back in the ‘90s. The 15-minute epic Talitha Coumi can be defined as a jazz-fusion creation, but only with a rather major reservation, since it also reveals – quite a few – moves with distinct, say, classic as well as quasi symphonic tendencies, and also avant-garde ones. The reference points would be Genesis, ELP, National Health, Soft Machine and U Totem, of which, though, only the first two are obvious – at times. Finally, the short Prelude et Fantasie Espagnols is almost a purely symphonic thing, and is quite compelling, albeit it only features Jean-Paul Prat on piano.
Conclusion. Whenever I’d walk the musical roads, I always feel happy when I meet clever, profound progressive rock entities – sure, such as Masal is in particular. Pleasing the ear throughout, “Galgal” is simply a brilliant release, and while the tracks strongly vary in style, the consistency of quality is outstandingly high. If the band had placed the tracks in a reverse mode (only starting with the shortest one), the album could – I’d even say should – have been used as a beginner’s guide to the RIO genre. Top-20-2009
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