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(64:07, Musea / Poseidon Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Mummy's Horn 6:47 2. The Other Side of Eight Peaks 7:19 3. Sorekani-Sorekari 4:57 4. Nayugu 4:54 5. Birthday 3:56 6. Catalunya 6:25 7. Otsunami 5:28 8. Kanta No Itoko 5:11 9. Resonance 5:11 10. Kumo-Hane 6:31 11. This Side of Eight Peaks 7:28 LINEUP: Kasushi Kawaguchi Ц bass, Chapman stick, guitars Katsunori Takahashi Ц drums, percussion, loops Kunihiko Sekido Ц keyboards, percussion Kosei Kayama Ц saxophones With: Keisuke Hashimoto Ц trumpet Fumiko Aoki Ц vocals; flute Miki Fujimoto Ц violin
Prolusion. The Japanese band MINOKE was formed back in 2000, and have been an active live and recording entity ever since. They made their full length album debut in 2007, and "PPACK" from 2011 is their second production, and was jointly released by Poseidon Records in Japan and Musea Records for worldwide distribution.
Analysis. While there are many artists, and perhaps in particular in the progressive rock realm, that opt for a style and expression that makes it hard to place them inside a musical context, there are just as many that are placed with relative ease. Not necessarily because they don't stretch stylistic borders or lack innovation, but due to utilizing some core compositional or instrumental details that are defining aspects of certain genres. Minoke is a good example of such an entity, the style in question jazz. Jazz, as so many other parts of the music universe, is a genre divided into more subdivisions than most will ever be able to memorize by certain avid fans. And while some may object to my rather superficial manner in describing subgenres, my line of reasoning being that the less is more point of view should be employed for such cases, Minoke is a band that I feel belong inside a fusion context Ц or jazz-rock, if you prefer that partially synonymous term. The jazz aspects of this disc are dominant throughout. Energetic instrumental runs with saxophone and piano as the main vehicles, a distinct bass line and elaborate and occasional quirky drum patterns, all performed in a manner that has jazz written all over it. Those with a firm knowledge on performing music and music theory could probably describe this in more detail, but I suspect most of those who listen to this disc will place it in a jazz context almost instantly. The fusion aspects of their repertoire come in a number of different guises. Cold, futuristic synth motifs and tribal inspired percussion on the brilliant opening piece Mummy's Horn, droning textures and feisty organ on the just as brilliant The Other Side Of Eight Peaks, flute and violin adding more of a folk music sheen to the proceedings on select occasions, and the aforementioned organ also employed to good effect on a few additional pieces on this disc: a majestic sequence in the second half of Kanta No Itoko for instance. But while utilizing effects and crafting themes that do expand the repertoire and scope of this band beyond purified jazz, they are firmly rooted in the jazz universe, a jazz band seeking out and venturing into the art rock universe rather than the other way around. And they do so in an excellent manner too in my opinion, a finely balanced mix between improvisational instrument runs and cyclical structured themes, the latter developing in a neat and logical manner. The arrangements are tight, energetic and often of an uplifting, positive nature. Vibrant is something of a key word, I guess, although the mournful melancholy of the saxophone is just as much a presence as the raw, wild and untamed nature that is always lurking beneath the surface when the saxophone hits a soloing run. It's only at the very end that Minoke opts to explore the slower, solemn parts of their chosen expression more thoroughly, a fitting conclusion to an otherwise invigorating experience.
Conclusion. While those who really don't like jazz probably won't be attracted to this production, open-minded jazz and art rock fans alike should find plenty to enjoy on Minoke's latest studio production. This is uplifting and energetic fusion that ventures out from a jazz context into the art rock realm in an elegant and refined manner, a high quality production through and through, with two magically enticing opening numbers as the start of an intriguing journey.
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