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(50.29, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Part-1 23:14 2. Part-2 27:15 LINEUP: Yoh Ohyama – guitars, bass, mandolin; keyboards; harp, cello Aya Nasuno – percussion Kanako Itoh – vocals Hassy – vocals With Shigeo Sasaki – drums Yoshihiko Kawagoe – piano Akira Hanamoto – Mellotron Kaori Tsutsui – clarinet, recorders Kyoko Itoh – violin Misa Kitatsuji – violin Tsutomu Kurihara – guitars Haruhiko Tsuda – guitars Satoshi Hirata – guitars
Prolusion. ASTURIAS started in the late Eighties as the solo project of Japanese multi-instrumentalist Yoh Ohyama. “In Search of the Soul Trees” is the third album released by the band (under the name of Acoustic Asturias) since 2003, after an 11-year hiatus during which Ohyama worked as an independent composer and producer. Among the musicians featuring on this album, besides members of Acoustic Asturias, there are members of other notable Japanese outfits, such as Shingetsu, LU7 and Flat122.
Analysis. Though the name Asturias may make one think of a Spanish band, or at least one influenced by traditional Spanish music, this particular outfit delivers a rather different brand of progressive rock. As a matter of fact, Asturias mastermind Yoh Ohyama is known as the Japanese Mike Oldfield, and the similarities between his music and that of the English multi-instrumentalist are undeniable. However, it would be very unfair to tag Asturias as a clone band, Ohyama being too much of a seasoned professional to merely reproduce another musician’s sound. Here we are talking about similarities in the structuring of albums, and in the emphasis on instrumental compositions rather than conventional songs. “In Search of the Soul Trees” is indeed wholly instrumental, basically a suite divided in two parts, each of which comprises five sections. In the best prog tradition, the album is based on a concept that, in this case, has a definite ‘new-age’ flavour – a spiritual journey deeply rooted in nature, as suggested by the titles of the various sections. Even though all this might sound trite and deja vu, the good news is that the music actually succeeds in reflecting the content intended by the composer, and makes for a worthwhile listening experience. For the recording of this album Ohyama has gathered an impressive roster of extremely talented musicians, who complement his own considerable skills – besides the keyboards, he plays such distinctive instruments as the glockenspiel, the harp and the mandolin. The result is a rich, well-rounded orchestral feel, with lots of variation within the same section in order to keep the listeners on their toes. The beautiful, natural flow of the music and the clarity of the overall sound make the listening experience a real pleasure, even for those who are not too keen on instrumental albums. Given the nature of the album, describing any individual tracks in detail is not as easy as for discs that feature actual ‘songs’. On the other hand, each of the ten sections that make up the suite reflects its title quite aptly, and so possesses a sort of personality of its own that allows it to stand alone. Part 1: The lush, seamless interaction between the various instruments in opener Spirits immediately sets the scene, with a recurring main theme that seems to weave in and out of the composition. The lilting sound of the glockenspiel provides an evocative, magical note, while some of the keyboard passages are somewhat reminiscent of the trademark Canterbury sound. The Canterbury references also crop up in Reincarnation, which also features some tasteful, Spanish-flavoured, acoustic guitar licks, and in Fountain, with its brisk, march-like drum pattern. The first part of the suite closes with the stunningly beautiful Woods, a stately yet emotional piece richly woven with strands of violin, guitar and keyboards, while the glockenspiel chimes sweetly in the background, and some faint chanting adds a touch of mystery. The charming, keyboard-led Pilgrimage opens Part 2, followed by the aptly-named Paradise, featuring some ethereal chanting, as well as the deep, mournful sound of the cello and the more cheerful ones of the recorder and the harpsichord. Storm sees Asturias approach prog-metal territory with a driving, keyboard-and-guitar laden introduction, then alternating gentler passages with more energetic ones that evoke the titular storm. The real culmination of the album, however, is the intense, majestic Soul Trees – an authentically symphonic piece that gives equal space to every instrument, and contains everything a dedicated prog fan could expect: lyrical, baroque strings, emotional lead guitar, lush keyboards, even the tinkling sound of bells. The album closes with the gentle strains of Dawn, a long duet between piano and a beautifully clean-sounding guitar – the perfect ending to 50 minutes of great music
Conclusion. “In Search of the Soul Trees” will definitely appeal to fans of well-crafted, well-executed instrumental music with plenty of melody and atmosphere. It is an album that, while accessible and pleasing to the ear, will reveal many different layers on repeated listens – another excellent offering from the contemporary Japanese prog scene and one that is highly recommended.
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