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(42:04, Altrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Nebulos 4:40 2. Un Peuplier Un Peu Plie 5:32 3. Sprouts-1 3:11 4. Sprouts-2 1:57 5. Sprouts-3 1:19 6. Sprouts-4 3:57 7. Troide 7:33 8. La Serrure 2:32 9. Soft Fate 1:25 10. Boletus Edulis 2:52 11. Dynamique Cassoulet 2:28 12. Fast Fate 0:35 13. Le Chifre 4:03 LINEUP: Remi Leclerc – el. & ac. piano, clavinet, Moog, Hammond Guillaume Amiel – bass marimba, vibraphone Ferdinand Doumerc – saxophones, flute Marc Maffiolo – saxophones Stephane Gratteau – drums Maxime Delporte – bass With: Nicolas Gardel – trumpet (9, 12, 13) Olivier Sabatier – trombone (9, 12, 13)
Prolusion. “Nebulos”, the second album by the French outfit STABAT AKISH, is my first encounter with its work. The CD press kit cites some artists and genres as reference points, but I won’t list items in either category. The point is that not all of them are suitable, to my mind.
Analysis. Made up of thirteen compositions, this 42-minute outing sounds both old and fresh (or familiar and novel, if you will), revealing some obvious influences along with what is seen as the band’s own discoveries – less often than the former, though. Both of its ‘boundary’ tracks, Nebulos and Le Chifre, represent an inventive amalgam of classic Zeuhl and Jazz Rock along the lines of Zao, Gong and Weather Report, albeit there are also some groovy moves, those referring exclusively to Weidorje (a Magma offshoot, this all-instrumental one-shot is famed for its straighter, yet still very effective approach to the former genre). These are the most advanced compositions here, each worth a little paragraph in its own right. The challenging compositional ideas are densely realized by a large palate of pianos, saxophones and mallet percussion, namely vibes and bass marimba. The instrumental counterpoint is difficult to take up fully at first, but the strong melodic message ‘courtesy’ of the brasses’ unison leads will help one hook in and begin to enjoy the stuff almost instantly. Both of the band’s saxophonists play an important role here, and while one of them switches from that instrument to flute in the middle of the disc’s closing item, he then quickly returns to the former, all of this typical of most of the other pieces too. Featuring a female narrator who speaks in French, English and Spanish, Troide is the album’s grooviest piece – which, however, doesn’t mean a weak one. Not at all. There are some sophisticated, Gong-evoking space-fusion arrangements, but most of it, full of cyclical yet pleasantly melodic as well as memorable patterns, comes across as something mid-‘80s The Alan Parsons Project could have done if it was an all-instrumental zeuhlish combo. Hard to imagine? Then think Weidorje at its grooviest; otherwise I can’t help. Un Peuplier Un Peu Plie and Dynamique Cassoulet are both exquisite pieces of music (almost on a par with the winners) that unfold to reveal section after section, additionally standing out for their structural diversity. In both cases the basic style is a synthesis of Jazz-Fusion and symphonic Art-Rock, though there is also a nod in the direction of a more avant-garde approach on the last of them, its final movement the only episode on the disc that contains vocals – male ones, with lyrics in English. The former piece at one point finds the band generating an urgent syncopated beat that shifts into a straight swing-based move, but everything is flawlessly executed. The musical nucleus of Sprouts-4 is also a blend of jazz-rock and sympho-prog devices, but this tune develops slowly, almost in a balladic manner. The other three tracks bearing the same title, Sprouts-1, 2 & 3, appear as one monolithic composition, finishing with some powerful unison soloing that any brass rock band would be proud of. However, only the first two of them are pieces of the same style, Space Fusion, evoking something halfway between Gong and Hawkwind, whereas the third one sounds as a cross between traditional Jazz Rock and French chanson, although the narratives that it’s accompanied with are reminiscent of those in the latter band. Least of all I’m impressed with the three pieces that (for some uncertain reason) follow one another in the beginning of the album’s second half, namely La Serrure, Soft Fate and Boletus Edulis. Each of them is a set of jovial melodies, quite a few of which only evoke circus music – one that’s commonly used as an accompaniment to comics’ performances. Oh, almost forgot: there is also a very short (0:35) yet still effectual jazz-rock romp titled Fast Fate – the disc’s most intense moment, by the way.
Conclusion. While the band’s sound is free of any conventions of mainstream rock, it reveals some standard jazz tricks, and also some simplistic approaches to composition – most notably on the tracks that contain circus music. On the other hand, the musicians are often true to the classic forms of Jazz-Fusion, being not afraid of experimenting with other styles too. Anyhow, while the album is varied in style, it comes recommended mainly to jazz rock lovers, since there are plenty of brasses, but no guitars, for instance.
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