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(48.33, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Puyol 8:20 2. Mimique 4.48 3. Minamo Ni Tsuki 8:59 4. Dachou No Uta 5:55 5. Jirou 10.36 6. Astratto 9:55 LINEUP: Takashi Ayashi – guitar Kazuo Yoshida – flute Naoyuki Seto – bass Dan Yoshikawa – drums Takashi Itani – percussion With: Mitsuharu Ouchi – sax (4)
Prolusion. “Qui” is the second album from the new lineup of Japanese band QUI, originally formed in 1994 by guitarist Takashi Ayashi and two of his schoolmates. Their recording debut, “Prelude”, which included material from their first demo, was released in 2006 by Vital (a subdivision of Poseidon Records), after the band’s temporary demise. In 2004 Ayashi reformed Qui with drummer Dan Yoshikawa and bassist Naoyuki Seto; the other two current members, flutist Kazuo Yoshida and percussionist Takashi Itani, joined in 2006. The band is very active on the live circuit in their native Japan, especially in their home town of Tokyo. In September 2009 they played at the ProgDay festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (USA).
Analysis. Right from the first listen, it becomes immediately clear that “Qui” is what could be called a schizophrenic album. While for some listeners this may be a positive, even desirable quality – meaning variety, not getting stuck in the same compositional rut, and so on – for others it may involve a lack of consistency, and possibly raise eyebrows. Now, though I do not share the latter perspective, I have to admit I found myself somewhat baffled by the Japanese outfit’s sophomore effort. First off, perhaps calling this one Qui’s second album might not be 100% correct, as the band’s lineup changed quite dramatically since “Prelude” was recorded, and so did their musical style. However, judging by this album, it is not easy to understand what the band’s new direction may be, since “Qui” is more or less equally split between a mellow, eminently listenable first half, and a second half bordering on free-jazz and avant-garde. It seems as if the album was conceived in order to appeal to two sharply differing sets of listeners – a choice which entails the risk of not making either set happy. On the other hand, whatever floats your particular boat, it is hard not to be impressed by Qui’s musicianship, which luckily does not fall into the dreaded clich? of ‘technique for its own sake’ – the downfall of many a band. Though Japanese bands are generally known for their high level of technical proficiency, this all-important factor in progressive rock can end up being a drawback more than an advantage, causing a band or artist to sound pristine yet soulless. However I am glad to say that this is not the case with Qui, at least as far as the album’s first half is concerned. While flawlessly executed, the tracks (all wholly instrumental) convey a feeling of warmth that is not at odds with the sheer elegance of the sounds. The music flows smoothly in opener Puyol, based around an entrancing melody that plays steadily in the background, while flute and guitar, underpinned by precise yet understated drumming, take turns in weaving their magic. Minamo Ni Tsuki, on the other hand, comes across as somewhat more sparse and atmospheric, the beautiful, clear sound of the guitar and the flute tinged with a sort of sadness. There is no harshness, no angularity in those first three tracks, whose structure may not be overly complex, but whose richly melodic feel (which never becomes cloying) can remind the listener of Camel’s instrumentals (such as Lunar Sea from “Moonmadness”), as well as Caravan, or even some of Santana’s early work. The rift between the two halves of the album manifests itself right from the opening strains of Dachou No Uta. With a more definite jazz-rock bent (cue the brilliant work of the rhythm section), it lacks the strong melodic quotient of the previous tracks, and the blaring sax and vaguely atonal guitar of the ending may strike the listener as somewhat cacophonous, introducing the baffling Jirou (which is also the album’s longest item). Indeed, this somewhat harsh, free-form composition and the soothing, delicate Mimique can be taken as extreme examples of Qui’s conflicting souls. If you were to listen to them separately, you would be hard put to believe they were produced by the same band. Though Kazuo Yoshida’s flute is the obvious link between those two polar opposites, it manages to sound sharply different – pastoral and lyrical in Mimique, hoarse and bordering on menacing in Jirou. At almost 11 minutes, the latter is definitely not for the faint-hearted, sounding much like an Avant-Prog jam session mainly centred on drums and flute, with sudden flashes of aggressive guitar chords. The track’s second half seems to develop into something more cohesive, though only for a short while. Album closer Astratto, very true to its title, at times seems to bring things back on track as regards a more structured approach and melodic quotient, with the flute sounding more like it did in the first half of the album. The track’s middle section, however, is again rather sparse, occasionally dissonant, and a mini drum solo is featured towards the end. Though I would not call “Qui” a jazz-rock album in the conventional sense of the definition, it surely does have enough elements to appeal to fans of the genre. True, its peculiar structure may not be to everyone’s taste, but the band does show enough potential to keep its fans on their toes, and looking forward to their next release. Flutist Kazuo Yoshida really does make the difference here, and his work displays all the versatility of his instrument – at last, a flute-based album that does not draw comparisons to Jethro Tull.
Conclusion. Even though the album is a more than worthwhile effort, it would not be easy to find the right target audience for “Qui”. Those who prize consistency in a record above all will probably be seriously put off by the album’s schizophrenic nature, which, conversely, may very well appeal to those for whom eclecticism is of paramount importance. At any rate, this is an impressively executed album, and a must for flute fans – though it is to be hoped that Qui will find a clearer direction for their music on their future recordings.
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