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T-Phan - 2010 - "Last Warrior"

(59:39, Musea Records)


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Last Warrior 5:33 
2.  The Bridge 2:52 
3.  Living God I 5:47 
4.  Living God II  3:59 
5.  After Storm Piano 2:03 
6.  No Ambition 3:39 
7.  Walking Alone 3:27 
8.  Play Like That 7:04 
9.  New York Lights on 2:24 
10. Intro to Nothing 1:51 
11. Nothing Grows 4:26 
12. Not Mine-1 2:57
13. Not Mine-2 3:12
14. A Little War 3:43
15. Lost in the Koursk 5:11

SOLO PILOT:
Stephan Caussarieu – drums, percussion; keyboards; guitars; vocals 
With:
Pierre Fayolle – bass (1, 3, 8, 11)
Pierre Catala – electric guitar (7)
Veronique Marino – backing vocals (3, 6, 8, 11, 14)

Prolusion. T-PHAN is the name of a new project by Stephan Caussarieu, former drummer of French Seventies band Tai Phong. The project's handle references both the latter band's name and Caussarieu's first name. After Tai Phong’s demise in 1980 (though they got briefly back together in 1999 for the album "Sun"), Caussarieu remained active in the music world, both as a musician and as a teacher. T-Phan started its live activity in 2004, participating in a number of French music festivals. Its debut album, "Last Warrior", was recorded between 2007 and 2008, and released by Musea Records in 2009. Caussarieu plays most of the instruments on the album, though there are contributions by some of the musicians who perform live with him.

Analysis. In the history of rock there have been countless examples of drummers stepping out from behind the kit (both literally and figuratively speaking), and showing the world at large that they can do something more than just keep the time. Now, Stephan Caussarieu may not be a household name like Phil Collins or Bill Bruford, but his debut release, “Lost Warrior”, has certainly got what it takes to attract the attention of a considerable slice of the progressive rock fandom. If I had only one word to describe this album, I would call it ‘classy’. Right from the beautiful, Chinese-themed cover – one of the most stylish pieces of album artwork I have seen in a while, stunning in its ivory-hued simplicity – down to the music within, it is one of those recordings that manages to combine accessibility with impressive musicianship without sounding too overtly commercial. True, there are episodes on “Lost Warrior” that possess more of a mainstream appeal than a genuinely progressive one (which might be seen as a drawback by the more demanding listeners), but everything is done with a remarkable lightness of touch that imparts an engaging quality to the album. And then, the more progressive offerings are in themselves quite worthwhile - unless one expects avant-garde fireworks. Clearly enough, Caussarieu’s main aim is not that of breaking new ground, but rather offering an hour of well-composed, skilfully executed music, mostly performed by himself with the help of a few collaborators. Camel is one of the names I have chanced upon when reading other reviews of this album – a comparison which, while fitting under some aspects, does not so much apply to T-Phan’s actual music as to its general approach. In fact, there is one element of T-Phan’s sound which is strongly reminiscent of the British band: Stephan Caussarieu’s voice is at times almost a dead ringer for Andy Latimer’s – whose voice, while far from being the best on the progressive rock scene, was always quite effective in the context of Camel’s sound. On the other hand, though “Lost Warrior” is mainly targeted to those who consider melody as the most important ingredient in music-making, it is also a very eclectic album, in which Beatles-inspired songs rub elbows with swingy, funky numbers and jazz-fusion-tinged instrumentals. While fortunately not overlong, the album features a whopping 15 tracks, most of them between 2 and 5 minutes, and most of them featuring vocals, though I would say that the most successful numbers here are the instrumental ones. The title track is a perfect example of Caussarieu’s versatility as a composer, and showcases the Far Eastern theme running through at least part of the album. Enhanced by graceful bells, the track is driven along by Caussarieu’s solemn drumming and a hypnotic piano line, while the beautiful guitar solo is (not surprisingly) reminiscent of David Gilmour’s trademark style. A beautiful instrumental, built on atmosphere rather than complexity, and a fitting opening for the album. The following track, The Bridge, although shorter, reprises the Oriental mood in an ambient context; the same flavour surface in both parts of Not Mine, though in a more mainstream-oriented way. The album’s longest track at 7 minutes, Play Like That sees a sharp change of direction, with a neat, funky bass line and backing vocals in vintage Rhythm-and-Blues style; more of the same influences surface in the catchy Nothing Grows, which at times can bring to mind Steely Dan. On the other hand, Walking Alone and A Little War are pure orchestral Beatles, two little pop gems suffused by melancholy piano and strings. Album closer Lost in the Koursk, dedicated to the Russian sailors who died in the explosion of the titular submarine in 2000, is a somewhat nondescript, Pink Floyd-influenced number, with moving though na?ve lyrics. On this subject, I believe it would be a good idea for Caussarieu to revert to his native French as a singing language for his next production, as it would fit the music much better than the accented English he has instead adopted. Though not claiming to be an innovative proposition, “Lost Warrior” will provide an hour of listening pleasure to those whose musical preferences lean towards the more melodic end of the progressive rock spectrum. Some of the compositions may not sound particularly ‘prog’, but that does not diminish the appeal of the album, which hopefully will not be the last we hear from Stephan Caussarieu.

Conclusion. While it may be considered as somewhat lightweight by some of the more demanding prog fans, “Lost Warrior” is a well-crafted album containing stylish, intriguing music. Highly recommended to anyone who does not believe prog and pop to be mutually exclusive, or who prizes melody above everything else, it is anyway a very pleasing listen, and a welcome respite from more cutting-edge stuff.

RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 13, 2010
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Musea Records
T-Phan


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