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(48 min, Poseidon PRF-031 / Musea FGBG 4628)
TRACK LIST: 1. Roppongi Night 7:09 2. Edge Trigger 6:44 3. Beyond the Verge 6:09 4. Because of Silence 8:50 5. Parallel Reality 5:09 6. Evergreen 7:18 7. Courage of the Mind 6:49 LINEUP: Atsinobu Tamura - guitar Hiroaki Itoh - keyboards Koichi Iwai - bass Ichiro Fukawa - drums
Prolusion. Formed by Atsinobu Tamura in 1990, Tokyo's SIDE STEP is internationally regarded as one of the most creatively stable and fruitful bands on the contemporary Japanese Prog Rock scene. They have seven studio and three live albums to their credit. Here is the list of their studio recordings: "Side Steps" (1990), "Side Steps 2" (1991), "Against the Wave" (1992), "Steps on Edge" (1994), "Out & Out" (1998), "Points of View" (2002) and "Verge of Reality" (2005). The lineup never changed.
Analysis. Just like "Steps on Edge", the only Side Steps album that I've heard before, "Verge of Reality" is made up of seven moderately long instrumental compositions. Their sound is still exceptionally original and fresh, as the band tirelessly explores new areas of improvisational harmony. Only the opening track, Roppongi Night, brings to mind vivid associative images of classic Jazz-Fusion and such of the genre's brightest representatives as Brand X or Kraan. As almost everywhere on the album, the duels-interactions between always contrasting solos of bass, guitar and keyboards rush to the accompaniment of highly intricate drumming, weaving a complex mosaic at the background of nearly constantly shifting theme and tempo. In other words, each of the credited instruments is the showcase instrument for this band. Amazing! Only the mood on Roppongi Night remains permanently positive, typical for the genre's traditional manifestations. The title track and Because of Silence similarly make their way through a fascinating variety of themes, but this time out incorporating also elements of quasi-symphonic Jazz-Fusion, as Camel often did in the '70s, for instance. All the three are excellent compositions, while the remaining four tracks are complete masterworks in my understanding, revealing plenty of different colors in the emotional spectrum. Edge Trigger, Parallel Reality and Courage of the Mind each is highly diverse, on all levels, combining jazz, symphonic and heavy textures, the strong (in all senses), thematically pronounced guitar riffs forming a solid part of the basic arrangements. Evergreen was performed without the rhythm section and can in many ways be viewed as a light Classical Music concerto for piano and guitar with only occasional quasi improvisations.
Conclusion. The new Side Steps album is a masterpiece, at least within its genre category. Those ready for such music will certainly find it one of the most fascinating Jazz-Fusion releases of 2005.
VM: January 26, 2006
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