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(60:19, Seacrest Oy Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Behind the Curtains 5:17 2. A Small Wish 7:10 3. Trapeze 4:34 4. A Springtime Meadow 3:30 5. A Vertical Rope 10:02 6. A Leap into the Unknown 7:01 7. A Rose in the Sun 4:09 8. Paidarion 6:27 9. The Magician's Departure 3:17 10. The Final Show 8:48 LINEUP: Jaan Jaanson – guitars Kimmo Persti – drums Risto Salmi – saxophones Kimmo Tapananinen – keyboards Jan-Olof Strandberg – basses Elina Hautakoski – vocals With: Bob Price – vocals Michael Manring – bass Steve Unruh – violin Olli Jaakkola – flute
Prolusion. “Behind the Curtains”, the second full-length release by Finland’s PAIDARION, marks my first acquaintance with its work. It was recorded in November 2011, when the band was on tour with Michael Manring (Attention Deficit, solo), hence his appearance here as one of the guest musicians.
Analysis. Using the traditional jazz-rock instrumentation of guitars, keyboards, saxophones, bass and drums, on six of the ten tracks presented the band adds vocals to create a more diverse sound. (Indeed, singing isn’t something that typifies the genre, is it?) I’ll begin with the instrumental pieces, however, one of which, the 7-minute A Leap into the Unknown is a hallmark of the album and is in all senses a stand-out. It starts as a fairly massive church organ prelude (which is prodigious in itself, sounding like a piece of classical music) and then suddenly launches into an intense heavy riffs-driven move with vivid synthesizer solos at its fore that, just for instance, sounds closer, say, to Savatage circa “The Wake of Magellan” than to Soft Machine’s “Bundles” – none of the qualities to be found on either of the other compositions. At least overall, it can be stated that, save its intro, the piece rocks all over its first two thirds, after which it assumes the shape of quasi Jazz-Fusion, featuring some effectual, sort of acrobatic, guitar and bass leads or rather pirouettes. My second favorite item on the disc, The Final Show (8:48), is in structure closer to the two pieces that are being described next, but still stands out for some uncommon elements, such as violin passages courtesy of Steve Unruh and, at one point, an atypically dark landscape. On Trapeze and A Small Wish the band works together effectively to create an interlocking ensemble sound that frequently shifts in style (think jazz rock, quasi jazz-fusion, funk and even art-rock-ish moves in one bag), but does so without any real twists to speak of, let alone sudden changes in pace or direction. While on each of the above instrumentals there is a distinct tendency toward polyphonic lines rather than simple harmonies, both of these alternate sections featuring two-to-three differently vectored solos with those where all the musicians play in unison. By saying so, I don’t mean the compositions aren’t good – they definitely are, but are somewhat more conventional than the winners. Anyhow, the arrangements are very balanced, with some truly remarkable interplay. Risto Salmi plays guitar in a very natural style, avoiding the annoying cliches less skilled players fall into. The same words are relevant to keyboardist Kimmo Tapananinen, and it’s just him who occasionally makes the music leave jazz-rock territory and enter sympho-prog one. Jaan Jaanson’s energetic sax playing often takes center stage too, some of his leads particularly impressive, bringing to mind the term avant-garde. The remaining instrumental, the album’s title piece, is the only track here that finds the band venturing into openly straight-ahead Jazz Rock. Besides the above A Small Wish, there are five more songs here. Two of them, Paidarion and A Vertical Rope, each start with a nice melodic framework, created by acoustic guitar and piano respectively, to generate an expanding sound that gets fuller as the pieces unfold, but doesn’t reveal any changes in pace, albeit most of the players still have room to shine, so to speak. The vocal sections are in both cases based upon repeating patterns with guitar, keyboard and sax leads stating simple upbeat melodies, but while those on the former piece are done in its overall style, the ones on the latter evoke some old-time orchestral jazz. Either way, Elina Hautakoski is a fine vocalist with quite a distinctive delivery style, and suits the music very well, in all cases, and it’s only when she sings that her bandmates appear as her accompanists, concentrating on ensemble playing without a lot of solos. Finally, the largely acoustic A Springtime Meadow, A Rose in the Sun and The Magician's Departure are all basically smooth jazz ballads, performed without drums, the first of these featuring a male singer besides Elina (as also does one of the above songs – don’t already remember which one).
Conclusion. Musically, Paidarion is overall as sprightly as most jazz rock and related bands, but less progressive than most of those that form the jazz-fusion bandlist on this site, though on the other hand, its music seems to be highly original compositionally. Overall “Behind the Curtains” is a fairly enjoyable melodic jazz rock album, performed by real professional musicians. It’s absolutely deserving of the rating I gave it, albeit my personal preference is for the more complex and energetic brand of the style, namely Jazz-Fusion, which fuses it with what is internationally recognized as progressive music genres.
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