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Ain Soph - Hat And Field CD (album) cover

HAT AND FIELD

Ain Soph

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.01 | 33 ratings

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Pafnutij
3 stars Released 6 years after Ain Soph's 1980 debut "A Story of Mysterious Forest", which had little to offer besides outstanding technical performance, "Hat and Field" was definitely a step in the right direction, with the instrumental band focused on creating effective, memorable compositions far more so than previously. This results in the album being even more reminiscent of Camel and Canterbury (the album title is apparently a reference to Hatfield and the North) artists, but the fushion side of the band is still represented equally well via jazz harmonies and the plentiful solo excursions. The latter tendency also shows the band hasn't mellowed out on the performance front: guitarist Yozox shows no signs of tendonitis as he frequently blazes away his Al di Meola-esque shred lines, and new (well, old apparently) keyboardist Kikuo Fujikawa, though seemingly a bit less interested in acoustic piano than his predecessor, is a welcome addition as another fleet- fingered keyboard guru; the rhythm section once again provides very capable performances. Most importantly, however, the quality of the compositions is higher than on the debut album, making this record a generally enjoyable effort.

The album begins with "The Swan Lake", a solid opener featuring pleasant melodies with effective use of jazz-influenced harmonic tendencies (the fact that it's a namesake of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet is apparently a coincidence). Following it is "Little Pieces Part 1" , a short interlude based around a two-chord vamp; such things work fine when used as a build-up to something grand, but ,unfortunately, the title track (uh, suite) that follows is a disappointment . After a frantic and annoying synth-driven intro, it quickly slips into an unremarkable Camel-like melody over a Spanish-style chord progression; halfway through it gets jazzed-up into a softer soloing session, before concluding with another frenetic synth-ruled section, accept that this time it provides the highlight of the track through intense, dissonant keyboard work , redeeming it somewhat. However, the annoying intro from the "suite" returns at the beginning of "Mizzle", which is more in the vein of "Crossfire" from "A Story.", with plenty of technical, but uninteresting (from a listener's point of view) instrumental wizardry. Canterbury influences manifest themselves in the aptly titled "Canterbury Tale", a beautiful melancholy journey which is followed by "Magic Carpet": it's haunting intro reminds me a bit of a Camel song (I believe it's "Nimrodel"), but follows is quite standard jazz-rock/fushion , thankfully of considerable quality and with plenty of strong moments during the guitar/keyboard duels. "Little Pieces part 2" is a variation of ".part 1" on the piano, and quite an improvement over it with some very fine motifs added by Fujikawa. Finally, the closing track "Pipe Dream" marks another highlight of the album with interesting melodic moves during the mostly major-key section, as well as some melancholy parts (parts of which remind me a bit of something I heard on Dream Theater's "Scenes from a Memory"), thus ending the album on a high note.

Overall, this album isn't essential prog and far from a masterpiece: it doesn't really break any new ground and about half of it is flawed. However, it's a considerable improvement over the bands debut, with stronger compositions and impressive musicianship. Probably well-worth seeking if you are a Camel/Caravan/Canterbury fan.

3.5

Pafnutij | 3/5 |

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