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(69:13 / Poseidon & Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Rainbow Chase 7:18 2. Moon Over the Road 4:59 3. Meiji Street 6:31 4. Another Encounter 9:16 5. Jazz It 9:35 6. Yellow Moon 8:17 7. The End of Tears 11:34 8. Blowout 11:41 LINEUP: Atsunobu Tamura - guitar Hiroaki Itoh - keyboards Koichi Iwai - bass Ichiro Fukawa - drums
Prolusion. Two years after their last studio offering "Verge of Reality", the four Japanese workaholics styling themselves as SIDE STEPS are back with another bag of new songs, "Alive II". With seven studio recordings and four live albums to their credit, they are currently one of the most prolific bands on the international jazz-fusion scene.
Analysis. Recorded live in the studio, the eight instrumental tracks here all stand out for their high-quality sound, not unlike the group's 'ordinary' studio albums. What is especially surprising however is that all of them are either new compositions or renderings of outtakes from Side Steps' previous releases. Having ascertained that this CD is not a compilation, I first thought I should give it a scrupulous track-by-track investigation, but soon abandoned my original intention. You know, followers of the Jazz church:-) very rarely betray their chosen creed, and Side Steps are no exception to that rule. Maintaining their old tradition, the band present us with yet another recording whose contents seem to be almost indivisible, most of the tracks being so much alike in style that it would be difficult to differentiate between them otherwise than by their general performance characteristics. Rainbow Chase, Another Encounter, Yellow Moon and Over the Road are all dynamically evolving compositions, notable for their speedy, highly intense (just breathtaking) arrangements, the latter rocking throughout. Contrary to those four, The End of Tears is for the most part moderately slow music, but is no less diverse or compelling either, now sounding like a quotation of some classical stuff, now transforming into Jazz Metal with guitar and piano to the fore, whose respective snarling and fragility are perceptible almost on a physical level. Blowout is the most varied in terms of structure or, if you will, is the richest in instantly striking transitions, especially as regards pace and sonic saturation. For all that the band at times resort to standard jazz tricks on each of the said five tracks, the music is overall close to what is widely interpreted as symphonic / progressive Fusion, where composed improvisations are assigned primary importance, as opposed to those done on the spur of the moment. If you're an advanced listener, you don't have to be a jazz lover to find out that the pieces develop firmly in the progressive fashion, always logically growing and changing. If so, it will not come as a surprise to you either if I say that the remaining two tracks, Meiji Street and (very aptly titled) Jazz It, both excel more in characteristic jazz improvisations, but even though an impromptu is indeed at the core of each, the music is never swingy - think Brand X at their jazziest ("Unorthodox Behaviour") rather than Return To Forever, let alone Weather Report.
Conclusion. The band seems even tighter on this set of live recordings, revealing plenty of original musical ideas as well as all the hallmarks of their trademark sound, top-flight technical filigree included for sure. Very highly recommended, especially to fans of European school quasi-symphonic Jazz Rock / Fusion, such as National Health and Kenso.
VM: November 4, 2007
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