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Tracklist: 1. Porcelain Pavilion 2. Chinese Girl 3. The Nature 4. The Poet 5. Moon On a Sea 6. Creation 7. Laos 8. In the Heavens 9. The Way 10. Fairy-tale Song All compositions by G. Ilyin, except 8: by G. Ilyin & I. Mikhel. All lyrics by Nikolay Gumilyov. Recorded by Eugene Shchukin at "Art Technology" studio. Produced by I. Mikhel. Line-up: Gennady Ilyin - keyboards, vocals, synth-bass, drum programming Igor Mikhel - electric & acoustic guitars
Prologue. "Porcelain Pavilion" is the debut album of Little Tragedies - a contemporary Russian ProGject led by composer and keyboardist Gennady Ilyin. Actually, Gennady composed a trilogy (of albums) based on the poetry of the remarkable Russian poet Nikolay Gumilyov (and, this way, dedicated to the memory of his). Two of these 'trilogic' albums - this and the second "Sun of the Spirit" - are already recorded and released on CDs. While the first two Little Tragedies albums, unfortunately, feature only two musicians, the third one, now in the works, presents a full-blooded line-up. At last, Little Tragedies became a real Rock band (with a trombonist, in addition).
The Album. Despite the only instrumental (In the Heavens) on the album all the vocal parts of the nine songs are almost always located somewhere in the middle of them. So, first of all, there's enough space for Ilyin to demonstrate his mastership as a keyboard player, as well as his composing talents in constructing engaging and intricate instrumental arrangements. The vocal parts of the nine songs (in Russian) have Ilyin singing various verses of Gumilyov that actually are nothing but the poet's reflections on life in this world, including mini-poems of everyday little tragedies (though, most of Gumilyov's verses in general is exactly that: short real tragedies). While the majority of vocal parts here, on the whole, are rather of a meditative character (apart from, maybe, a couple episodes that brood over humanity's plight), the album's instrumental palette, that takes up about two third of the playing time, is astonishingly diverse in moods, colours, and arrangements. It's only analog and acoustic keyboards you'll hear on "Porcelain Pavilion". Using only analog keyboards helps to support the singer's varied emotions (just according to Gumilyov's moods in each exact verse), as these keyboards sound more vivid (and maybe more sincere) than their younger brothers - modern digital computer-like synthesizers (machines!). Rarely playing chords, Ilyin and his ten fingers are constantly busy and the melodies he plays are as beautiful as his speedy solos and interplays between different keyboards are inspiring. Although Ilyin's skill is on par with the best today's (and most of the "old" as well) keyboardists in the field, his style to play this instrument is devoid of any side influences. This is a unique in some ways style, and the sound of the album as a whole becomes already typical for a new, Slavonic branch of Progressive. Mikhel's electric and semi-acoustic guitar chords and roulades are very good, though they're particularly notable just in about a half of album's 10 pieces. As for his (wonderful and virtuosic) solos, I've heard them only on two compositions, though I'd wish there were more on the album. But I'd especially appreciate if there were enjoyable interplays between keyboard solos and electric guitar a-la classical passages and the other way round, of course. But if the lack of guitar moves on the album I consider a serious drawback (just because there is a live guitarist in the album's line-up), using the 'synthetic' bass and the programmed drums looks more or less justified (at least in that exact year of 1999 when Little Tragedies were just a duo). So while compositionally I consider "Porcelain Pavilion" a unique album in many ways that at least approaches the status of a masterpiece, a lack of diversity in the overall sound doesn't have too positive an effect on the performance as a whole. Like I said, first of all it applies to the absence of the guitar in a lot of places. It wouldn't matter that much had there been a real bassist and a drummer in the line-up, but this is another story. So I am really glad Little Tragedies became recently a full-blooded band (at long last).
Summary. Despite the fact that stylistically "Porcelain Pavilion" is, on the whole, your typical keyboard-based album (keyboard-driven, more precisely), you'll be amazed at its refreshing originality because Little Tragedies sound different from anything you've heard in this style. At least relatively, this music has also the same Slavonic roots, as it is the case with all the Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, etc bands whose albums are reviewed on ProgressoR (Vermicelli Orchestra, Er J Orchestra, Pesniary, et. al). In other words, International Progressive Rock's Slavonic branch grows year after year and, in all, a solid movement like this just helps to enlarge Progressive with new 'schools', forms and manifestations within itself, which, in turn, makes our favourite genre way more diverse and interesting.
VM. July 10, 2001
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