(All Album Reviews by Ursula)
Yugen's music is difficult to describe. As a matter of fact it is not meant to be described at all. As Paolo “ske” Botta (keyboarder) kindly informed me it's rather a state of mind which is reflected in the Japanese philosophic concept of Yugen. This aesthetic concept describes profound and mysterious things that are expressed in subtle ways as opposed to direct and unambiguous statements. It embraces the beauty and the imperfect. This rough description may give an idea of how Labirinto d'acqua can be approached and enjoyed.
Although claimed by the avant-garde scene, Francesco Zago's compositions are not curtains of noise so often associated with avant. Plenty of pleasing yet intricate melodies take turns with slightly more challenging parts that delight the ear by its little twists and turns, unexpectedly and cleverly done. Thus it keeps an uplifting lightness with enchanting side effects.
Sometimes the titles of music pieces can give an insight as to what to expect. Labirinto d'acqua is no exception. Apart from the Satie covers there are titles like “Catacresi5” which means catachresis, a term that describes a figure of speech that carries impossibility as a concept whereas the reference to number 5 indicates that this was based on this number and is reflected in the rhythm, melody and harmony. Mind boggling.
Then there are titles like “3-Omelette norvegese” (Norwegian omelette), “Corale metallurgico” (metallurgic choral) or “ La mosca stregata” (the hunted fly) and “Quando la morte mi colse nel sonno” (when Death took me asleep) which makes it plain that confusion is part of the concept. This music has been written to be taken in with heart and soul and its profundity manifests in the feelings which this music evokes and transcends into the complex aesthetic of Yugen.
Or simply put to experience this music is thoroughly enjoyable!
Some little titbits to finish of:
“Skelletron 003” is written as a tribute to the Japanese gentlemen who gave access to a vast Mellotron collection that included, amongst other instruments, his very own version - the skellotron http://www.geocities.jp/mellotronics/skellotron.html.
Elias Granillo has written a more detailed review of Labirinto d'acqua available on Sea of Tranquility
I also would like to point out that the samples of Yugen's music on youtube and myspace can't do justice to what one is to hear on this CD. The sound quality of these pages is simply too insufficient to bring out the nuances.
And finally I would like to thank Paolo “ske” Botta who patiently replied to my questions thus providing me with a wealth of information.
(All Album Reviews by avestin)
This band/project originating from Italy features a very promising and international lineup in its debut CD. It was conceived in autumn 2004 by Francesco Zago (formerly of The Night Watch) and Marcello Marinone who wanted to create a band which will play combine RIO and chamber music. As influences they state the following: "Satie, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage, Reich, Zappa, Henry Cow, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Univers Zero". The name chosen for this group is Yugen which is a Japanese word "which expresses the aesthetic canon of Japanese art, as haiku in poetry or Noh in theatre".
Between December 2004 and January 2005 they record their first demo. Diego Donadio (former drummer of The Night Watch) is drummer in this recording. In February 2005 the lineup is reinforced in the shape of keyboard player Paolo Botta (French TV) and Swiss saxophone player Markus Stauss (Spaltklang, Ulterior Lux) when they have a jam session in Tradate. Another expansion is the joining in of bassist Stephan Brunner (Spaltklang), and reed player Peter Schmid (Evan Parker, Vinny Golia).
As Zago composes more music the band wants to fully express their potential by adding more musicians who will help create a final outcome befitting the aim. It is then that these people join in: percussionist Massimo Mazza, harpsichord player Giuseppe Olivini (OZ, Contrapplugged), the classical players Maurizio Fasoli (piano), Elia Mariani (violin) and Marco Sorge (clarinets). Finally arrive drummer Mattia Signע, Tommaso Leddi (Stormy Six) and U.S. drummer Dave Kerman (Thinking Plague, 5uu's, Present, Ahvak Blast).
In June 2005 they start recording their first album entitled Labirinto d'Acqua and the album is released in 2006. The album was mixed and mastered by Udi Koomran (Avhak, Present, Thinking Plague). The record is instrumental, and while you can trace the chamber rock sound similar to Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, it has a fresh modern and rockier sound. Since there are several different backgrounds here in the lineup (Zago is symphonic oriented, Kerman and Leddi are RIO people and other players are classically trained) we get a mix of everything, and the result is compelling. You can hear some 5UU's, Thinking Plague and Ahvak similarities, dynamic chamber rock, chamber music, mellow and ponderous parts, some "symphonic prog" parts (there is a mellotron and minimoog), quickly changing rhythms and unusual time signatures, layers of instruments playing different tunes, some quirky tracks which are free-form and more abstract (played mostly by only the classical instruments) and you have the complete freak-out parts where the band goes insane. There is a myriad of styles here and you need many listens to be able to absorb all of it and identify the numerous influences and musical ideas. The sound is rich due to the expanded lineup and the production.
And now to the music itself:
Much like the cover art of this album the music here is a mixture of various genres, making this possibly more accessible to those who are not usual fans of the RIO/avant camp. Several tracks have them being what Univers Zero had sounded, had they taken a much lighter approach towards life/music. And in other tracks there is clear (to me at least) symphonic prog references (tracks 1 and 8 for instance) which is may be understandable when you consider Francesco Zago background and previous band (The Night Watch). This reminds me of Le Silo in the broad influences of past RIO/avant sounds that they have and also some non-R/a influences (but not at all the Le Silo sound).
As with some other reviews I've made, I won't go into song-by-song interpretation, but tell about the overall feeling and impressions I get from this record with some specific examples to illustrate better to what I refer and give a slightly clearer point of reference as to what this album is like.
There are several layers of music going on at the same time. Your job as the listener is harder here and you need to distinguish between them and make out what is going on and what does each part play (that is you don't need to, but then most of the pleasure of listening is unfulfilled). You have to decipher the code while listening and repeated listening are required for this one to sink in properly and be "decoded".
To continue this, for one to hear those various layers so well as to be able to discern each instrument, means that the production must of high quality and standard. And here the praises must go to Udi Koomran, who has worked before for example with Ahvak and Present among others.
The sound is very rich, as you would expect from such a vast lineup filled with rock and classic instruments playing together. The lineup is quite impressive. Among others are: Dave Kerman (track 4), Paolo Botta (various keyboards), Markus Stauss (saxes and bass), Tommaso Leddi (mandolin), Peter Schmid (various wind instruments) and there are the other classical instruments players (you can read in the bio I wrote who they all are).
The music heads in so many directions at once and with each passing second that it's easy to lose track of it. But should you keep close attention to it, the main theme and directionality of the composition become clear and admirable. There are moments that sound as if the musicians have been freed from a prison where they were not allowed to play and they now unleash their skills and express their joy of their new found freedom and set free all their wild musical notes that have been going on in their head. What's also fascinating to hear is the incorporation of several influences in a short period of time within one track. You can hear traces of Univers Zero, Thinking Plague, U Totem and then some non-RIO movements alongside or in a row, like in the second track, “Catacresi”.
Each odd-numbered track is a short track (around 1 minute long) some of which are without any rhythm (no drums and percussions) in which the musicians seem to play freely, without form and structure a sort of chamber music gone insane. 2 others are interpretations/excerpts of compositions by Erik Satie (“Sévére Réprimande” & “Danse Cuirassée”). Others are experimentations and a blend of noises and instruments "yelling". Those provide linking between tracks or a pause or "rest" for the mind of the listener.
Track 4 starts out with full thrust, filled with energy and sounding like a happier Univers Zero on steroids… it calms down a bit into an eccentric chamber music part in which several instruments sound like animals trying to break loose from their cage….
Track 8 “Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno” is perhaps the best example here of the merge of symphonic prog and avant-prog. It starts as if Yugen were an Italian symphonic prog band. And this develops nicely inside the realm of avant-prog and free- form style. Yet they come back to the style of the beginning towards the ending of the track. At several points throughout the track, you might be fooled to think you are listening to some new symphonic prog from Italy and not a RIO/avant band, which I find great and refreshing.
Track 10 “Le Rovine Circolari” has a nervous and wacky vibe to it. There is a part at the beginning with great guitar riffs and the required demented sounding wind instruments. They then mingle into a unified "entity" and play smoothly together and fade out. This track will test your patience and probably be too much for non-RIO fans who stumbled on this. I love it! Here is a good example of the various layers of instruments playing one atop of the other.
Aside from the variation within each track there is also a distinct sound for each individual track. And all in all, this is pretty relentless music with some occasional places to "rest" from the mania. What more, is the nice combination of acoustic instruments with the electric ones (guitars and organ/electric piano/moog/mellotron). The music lets all players here express themselves appropriately. Each has its moments to "convey" their contribution to the composition.
I read some not so positive reviews about this record, and while I understand their criticism, I perceive this album differently from these other reviewers. I agree there can be flaws here and also that this is not for everyone, but all in all, I find this to be an impressive release with a great blend of styles and superb musicianship. It might be too much to absorb for some, but for those willing to go into the adventurous side of prog, then this is a good choice. For ZAR fans, this will be a great experience and I highly recommend it.
BUT, I urge all prog fans to get this one. I urge to not stick to one or two genres you like and remain safely there. I listen to all genres represented here in PA and have favourites from all (and not only prog obviously). Try something else, new, exciting for a change (doesn't necessarily have to be RIO/avant, it can be anything new you haven't tried before). At first it might seem weird, incoherent, noisy and unlistenable (so I've been told about what I listen to), but as you go deeper and get into the spirit of things, you will have a more in-depth insight, and will "see the light" and the hidden "meaning" in this music. There are better genre-initiation albums than this one for sure, but make sure you get this one after you've done so.
A fantastic release, which makes me hungry for more… With each listen you discover something new, you hadn't noticed before. Highly deserving of praises and should be a great addition to any progressive music collection.