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(55:43 / Poseidon & Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Inner Flames 10:23 2. Weigh Anchor 4:25 3. Stratosphere 9:06 4. Intermezzo 4:49 5. Rice Planting Song 5:39 6. Lagoon Nebula 7:29 7. 40 Degrees 4:14 8. Order From Chaos 9:20 LINEUP: Akihisa Tsuboy - el. & ac. violins Toshimitsu Takahashi - keyboards Shirou Sugano - drums Dani - bass
Prolusion. KBB is a Japanese quartet led by charismatic violinist Akihisa Tsuboy. "Proof of Concept" is their third studio outing, following "Four Corner Sky" (2003) and "Lost & Found" (2000), though there is also one live album in the band's discography, entitled simply as it is, "Live" (2005).
Analysis. Although pertaining to a greater degree to Symphonic Progressive, the music of KBB is usually defined as orthodox Jazz Rock / Fusion. It has been compared to quite a few of that genre's trendsetters, most often to The Mahavishnu Orchestra (and, just logically, Jean-Luc Ponty's solo work too), but never to Kansas. The influence that the American band exerted on Progressive Rock's evolution is generally undervalued, whilst it's in fact as significant as most of those renowned English groups, and yes, Kansas is IMHO one of the central references here, Tsuboy's violin work being more often reminiscent of Robbie Steinhardt than Ponty in approach, though this is not the only factor attesting to the point of comparison. The opening number, Inner Flames, has apparently received its title so to drop hints to the listener about its kinship with early Mahavishnu. There are some moments evoking John McLaughlin's brainchild indeed, but even there the similarity only exists on the track's surface, whereas its deep-laid structures all belong to symphonic music. What is more, the opener often sounds as if Akihisa absorbed some of Kansas's heaviest riffs, by playing his violin through the distortion pedals. One way or another, this is an excellent piece of music, with plenty of multi-tracked guitar-like leads besides the band's conventional arsenal of sounds, keeping the listener's attention throughout the ten and a half minutes of its length. As you can see above, half of the eight tracks present can be regarded as semi-epics, two of the remaining three from that category, Lagoon Nebula and Order From Chaos, both making a perfect match with Inner Flames as regards intensity, diversity and style all alike, and although the concluding composition contains no obvious metalloids, hard arrangements with the electric violin imitating the guitar are still present. Besides, there are fewer repetitions on each of these, and therefore their thematic evolution is even more striking. The group's talent in tying together art-rock and quasi-jazz features is best of all exemplified here too. There are also splendid organ, piano and synthesizer leads from the keyboard player Toshimitsu Takahashi, though bassist Dani and the battery's commander Shirou Sugano both also get the chance to shine in the soloing field, the drummer's fervor being highly impressive everywhere he plays, but is especially effective on the shorter tracks. Where the comparison to The Mahavishnu Orchestra seems to be fully appropriate is in the second half of the remaining long track, Stratosphere, a two-part mini-suite that begins and develops within the space-fusion template, but later on the music transforms into a genuine jazz-rock jam with still quite a few guitar-like solos in the mix. As another apt point of reference here (i.e. during the piece's first half) I see Gong, something halfway between their "You" and "Downwind" albums, the last of which comes to mind due to the strong presence of violin as such. The shorter tracks, 40 Degrees, Weigh Anchor, Intermezzo and Rice Planting Song, are all much less frenetic. With the exception of the latter (variations on the invariable violin riff, the pun is intended), this is overall a flowing melodic music with the acoustic violin and grand piano sharing the lead in most cases. 40 Degrees moves back and forth between Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, while the other three are all as jazzy as anything by Kansas. If you're well acquainted with the American legend, you will be more than once reminded of them when hearing these.
Conclusion. I have no desire to play on words, but the first thought that came into my mind after I listened to "Proof of Concept", automatically coincided with its title. Let it remain in its initial shape. This CD borders on being a masterpiece and proves KBB are currently one of the most interesting Japanese bands going.
VM: November 4, 2007
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