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Tracklist: 1. Les Grands Saules (an audio movie in 25 parts) Written, performed, engineered, & produced by Julien Ash. Featuring: Julien Ash: - Piano (on most tracks) & synthesizers (on many tracks) - Bass guitar (on several tracks) - Drums & percussion: real (on 1, 7, & 15) & unreal (on 19) - Cello (on 1, 5, & 23) - Electric (on 13 & 24) & acoustic guitar (on 14) Symphonic Orchestra (on many tracks): directed by J. Ash. 'Narrative' guests: Liesbeth Houdjik Sophie Truong Agathe & Margaux Raefa Thomas Sebastien Philippe Joncquel
Prologue. NLS is the abbreviation of (Les) Nouvelles Lectures Cosmopolites, which, most likely, means New Cosmopolitan Lectures. I was not acquainted with the music of Julien Ash until know. Though, as far as I know, "Les Grands Saules" is the second album by him, which was released under the vehicle of NLC. The first one, titled "The Link Cutters", was released through the same Gazul label (a division of Musea Records) in 2001. What's interesting is that this album consists of 25 parts not only according to a note in the CD booklet, but also factually. The CD player's display indicates precisely 25 tracks, most of which are separated from each other and are different among themselves by many of the significant aspects. However, none of the parts that are present on this CD were named, so while describing the album, I will call them Part 1, Part 2, etc. By the way, the details that you can see below the name of Julien Ash aren't featured in the CD booklet as well (though in itself, the booklet looks excellently).
The Album. According to the CD press kit, "Les Grands Saules" is kind of the soundtrack of a non-existing film where there are many characters. In that way, everyone can easily imagine the pictures and heroes that would fit this musical story. However, there are not that many of the so-called characters on this "audio movie", and dialogues are present only on a couple of tracks. As for a dozen of the varied, male, female, and childish (by a girl) monologues that I've heard while listening to the album, all of them are rather short and were either spoken or whispered. In any case, it is impossible for my brain to model any pictures from these monologues, etc, as, above all, I don't understand French. Also, I have to say that with a few exceptions, I don't like soundtracks and the other musical works of a cinematic character. However, I think that I have not a bad imagination, which, nevertheless, works only when I listen to a progressive music. Well, now it is the turn of the word "fortunately" to be written in this review. So, fortunately, music sounds much more often than talks on this album. Furthermore, on the whole, the "Les Grands Saules" album does not have a cinematic feel to it, including even most of the episodes where 'narrative' guests talk either without any musical accompaniment at all or on the background that entirely consists of only one unchangeable chord. Thankfully, there are only three of such empty episodes on the album (parts: 3, 11, & 22). The other two 'narrative' parts (12 & 21) contain also the piano passages, which, however, sound not throughout each of them. There are three more parts on the album that are very short, as well as all five of the said pieces. These are tracks 13, 18, & 24. The first of them contains only a few of the solos and riffs of guitar, as well as the last of them, which, though, features also the talk of some of one man. The 35-seconds Part 18 consists of a few of the slow passages of synthesizer, and that's all. Taken together, all eight of the parts that I've just described last no more than 12 minutes, while a total playing time of this CD is 54 minutes. So now I can say that without these eight parts, all of which are hardly marked with signs of inspiration, "Les Grands Saules" would have remained not only a full-length and full-fledged, but also by all means excellent album, to say the least. Parts 6 & 19 present several slow and rather accessible, yet, very original interplay between passages of piano and synthesizer. And all fifteen of the remaining parts are about a thoughtful and in many ways unique Classical Music of either a dramatic (on 1, 2, 4, 6, 17, 20, 23, & 25) or light character (on 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, & 16). Only seven out of the seventeen tracks that I was just talking about, feature the so-called characters, though any talks to the accompaniment of wonderful music remains almost unnoticed here. Rich orchestral arrangements, consisting mainly of the parts of string instruments and passages of acoustic piano, are typical for most of the best fifteen parts of "Les Grands Saules". Only a few of them contain the lush keyboard passages instead of orchestral strings. The parts of cello, guitars, bass, drums, and orchestral cymbals appear on the album from time to time.
Summary. Overall, "Les Grands Saules" by NLC (i.e. by Julien Ash) is a very original and in many ways remarkable album. The main drawback of it is the presence of very short pieces that, moreover, are scattered about it. Nevertheless, two thirds of this album, at least, feature a very interesting material, which is much in the vein of Classical Music. Despite a few of the mentioned shortcomings, "Les Grands Saules" is really worthy to be heard - especially by those who're into a contemporary Classical Academic Music.
VM. September 3, 2002
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