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(53 min, Great Winds)
TRACK LIST: 1. Ibarra 4:27 2. Noisette 6:40 3. Dans la Canopee 5:20 4. Spirit Rapper 4:28 5. Baie D' Along 6:37 6. Callisto 6:14 7. Oland 8:35 8. Sur le Route de Quito 6:17 9. Cap Sud 4:14 LINEUP: Xavier Besnard - drums Francois Canard - saxophone Serge Dahan - piano Bruno Paggi - guitars Valery Boulanger - bass
Prolusion. The French band HIMALIA counts only three years of its existence, but they've already had time to release two CDs, namely "Depart Immediat" (2004) and "Himalia II". According to the ancient Greek mythology, Himalia is a nymph from the island of Rhodes who gave birth to three sons of Zeus.
Analysis. Originally a duo of Xavier Besnard (drums, keyboards) and saxophonist Francois Canard, on their second CD Himalia appears as a quintet, which is probably a perfect format to play the music the group had chosen from the very outset of their activity - Jazz-Fusion, generally speaking. The album never allows the listener to feel any doubt about the musician's 100-percent competence in all the minutest details of traditional Jazz, but at the same time - gradually, yet hauntingly - captivates him with a genuine jazz-rock energy. This remark remains pertinent even as regards the first two tunes, Ibarra and Noisette, although these don't seem to be quite gems of the genre, at least if they are viewed from a broad progressive perspective. Each contains numerous spectacular, at times youthfully bold solos from saxophonist Francois Canard and pianist Serge Dahan, delivered over excitingly complicated metrical figures on the part of drummer Xavier Besnard and bassist Valery Boulanger. But inasmuch as the main accent is on melody, and also due to the presence of a few recurrent themes, the music appears to be almost instantly accessible. Of course, the accessibility as such shouldn't be regarded as a flaw, but anyway, both tunes would have sounded more diverse and intriguing if there were more joint soloing maneuvers, whereas guitarist Bruno Paggi remains mostly in the shadow. The guys seem to feel comfortable within the style everywhere on the album, but here, on the first two tracks, they seem as if fearful to take any decisive step, say, to the right or the left of the set framework. All in all, I would define both as somewhat distilled Jazz-Fusion "in an elevated mood". Baie D' Along is the same story overall, but while the emotional background here is usually still affirmative, it manifests a lot of different shades within itself. Jazz for a mood - mood for a day, meaning it might be useful to be connected up to such accumulators of positive emotions as the said three cuts some time at the dawn of such a day. No irony! On most of the other pieces Himalia perform a more complex and, at the same time, hotter music with a certain vintage feeling, which exists due to the distinctively sounding electric piano (not sure whether it's Wurlitzer or Rhodes), as well as Bruno Paggi's passion for old models of guitar pedals. The alternation of softer, melodically pronounced, completely structured arrangements with those more intricate and dynamic is equally typical of Dans la Canopee, Spirit Rapper and Callisto, each representing an almost fully-fledged Jazz-Fusion, meaning from the standpoint of an experienced Prog lover. However, the former tune is the only track on the disc featuring a really intense and eclectic jam with turbulent improvisations (which are like honey to my soul). Whilst the latter stands out for its recurring guitar riff running all through each of the sections with dynamically developing events - think Soft Machine's "Bundles" and you will not miss. Spirit Rapper, with its passionate sax solos, is in places reminiscent of '80s Weather Report. All five of the musicians contribute equally to the sound of each of the said three, more often weaving their patterns independently from each other than engaging in unison and related movements. The dramatic Oland follows Callisto, sounding surprisingly contrasting and yet logically alike. This is the fourth and the last track in the list of the album's highlights. It's woven mostly of spaciously atmospheric, yet still very saturated textures, with the piano and guitar sharing the lead in most cases. The life-asserting Sur le Route de Quito, on which Bruno Paggi finally takes an acoustic guitar into his hands (to execute a long and very impressive Flamenco-stylized solo), has a strong Latin American flavor. The sax is back to the fore only on the last cut, Cap Sud, which is also an up-tempo jolly piece, but is closer to the band's original style.
Conclusion. Considering the content of "Himalia II" according to its statistically-average value, the result would be that this album is equidistant from classic vintage Jazz Rock and the style's current / modern standard, which is not to say the individuality of Himalia's music breaks any genre barriers. The outfit's second release could have easily hit the focus of a commercial success had it been released before the '90s, whilst nowadays this is music for quite a limited contingent of listeners. A very decent creation overall, although intellectuals might find it to be not sufficiently eventful to fully satisfy their rightfully heightened demands.
VM: December 4, 2006
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