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XII Alfonso - Claude Monet - Volume 1, 1883-1889 CD (album) cover

CLAUDE MONET - VOLUME 1, 1883-1889

XII Alfonso

Symphonic Prog

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4 stars This is the third studio offering from French proggers XII Alfonso. It's the first CD that I heard by the band, having previously been exposed to them via a snippet of a track downloaded from Ian Bairnson's (ex Alan Parsons guitarist and session man extraordinaire) website. The disc purported to be the first of a trilogy based around the life of French painter Claude Monet. Unfortunately, the subsequent parts have yet to emerge from the studio, and the lack of news relating to the band of late leads me to believe that they might never be forthcoming. That's a shame because this is really a terrific album.

So, what to expect if you give this a spin? Well, a wide range influences are apparent throughout the album. Start with a mixture of Mike Oldfield and Pat Metheny. Blend in some French traditional folk themes (similar to the way in which bands like Mostly Autumn and Karnataka use Celtic folk influences in their music), and just for good measure add a dash of George Gershwin. For the most part, the tracks are instrumental, with only 4 of the 16 tracks featuring predominant vocals. The overall story is held together by a narrator. I can't really comment on the quality of the lyric writing as both the narration and the songs are sung in French, and heathen that I am I can't speak a word. All I can say is that it all sounds right.

Highlights for me are Des Saisons Sur Les Toiles - a lovely little acoustic guitar instrumental following the rhythm of an old grandfather clock, and Les Arcanes De L'air Bleu - a 6 minute+ jazz-prog number featuring the aforementioned Bairnson.

All in all, this is a terrifically well produced, well written, and atmospheric piece which makes you wish that the band would get back into the studio and complete the job! On the strength of Monet Vol 1, I've gone on to acquire the remainder of XII Alfonso's back catalogue, discovering a further 2 fantastic studio albums (Odyssees and The Lost Frontier), and a live offering (This Is.). All well worth a listen.

As I'm writing this review in July, I'll just finish by saying that this CD is also the perfect piece of music to enjoy with a glass of wine and the daily Tour de France highlights.

Report this review (#38649)
Posted Wednesday, July 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Claude Monet volume 1" is an album of beautiful music which seeks to tell the story of Monet's life and work, volume 1 covering the years 1883-1889. It features an absolutely amazing 50 page booklet which painstaking details each piece of music on the album; providing lyrics, reprints of his paintings from these years, detailed texts describing the paintings, notes about his personal life, notes from his diary, and passages from letters to friends and family. I think it's my first CD booklet that actually has a bibliography in the back! If you are a fan of Monet you will need to get these CDs before they go out of print. It's a history lesson to be sure.

The music itself is a sweeping and ambitious symphonic work. Lush sounds are courtesy of an army of instruments: many electric and acoustic guitars, E.Bow, Syrian Oud, Vietnamese Lute, Harmonicas, many Keyboards, Pianos, Glocks, Gongs, various Percussion, Harp, Bamboo Flutes, Whistles, and several vocalists. About 14 musicians take part in the recording, give or take. It is a pastoral album but one that can veer from the peaceful to the playful, from the (almost) rocking to the near-techno. It has many enjoyable moments throughout, the quieter piano and acoustic guitar sections being my favorites. However compositionally this album is all over the map and you need to be willing to love meandering. I feel it could use significant tightening especially in the ridiculously out of place techno keyboard sections that really seem out of place given the storyline. You have a very professional, often beautiful album of moments but without much in the way of musical coherence, amazing given the amount of work dedicated to the lyrical storyline and booklet. A very mixed bag.

If you like mellow, pastoral, relaxing prog and you have an interest in Claude Monet, this release is your dream come true. If you don't care about Monet but like mellow prog you should still enjoy this quite a bit. If you are neither of the above then proceed with caution here. 5/10

Report this review (#128003)
Posted Monday, July 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars So far, this French band was unable to catch my attention with their first two albums. Let's see if this "Claude Monnet Volume I" is going to be different.

In a way, it is. Different I mean. The music is intimate, peaceful and almost all instrumental (even if there are attempts to vocals, or better to spoken words). Some Hackett, as usual, ("L'oeil Cannibale") or even Oldfield feeling can be distinguished ("Giverny").

At (many) times some accordion is featured, and I can't say that I am overwhelmed by the sound of this instrument. It conveys an old fashioned sound that is not my cup of tea ("Un Jardin Qui Nous Ressemble ", "L'Échappée Belle" and a couple more). The use of this instrument is probably meant to project us in the period of Monet (the French painter who is the artist that has inspired this work).

The track "Conflits" is dark and hesitates between classical and eclectic music. It is quite special indeed. The "chanson française style" combined with classical piano of "Les Beaux Jours De Giverny" also offers little prog feel. The pastoral and moving "La Fantôme De L'île Aux Orties" is breaking the overall mood nicely. It is my favourite track on this album. The last couple of songs are truly in the symphonic jazz vein.

If you like the combination of folk ("Les Cathédrales Immergées"), classical and eclectic music, with a jazzy touch this album might deserve your listening. But my rating is two stars for this work. I am not convinced with their musical style which is hard to categorize.

Report this review (#307258)
Posted Friday, October 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars For many years Francois Claerhout had shown interest in the life and the works of impressionist painter Claude Monet.With a main goal to complete a whole book for his career he started writing down a few new songs, while his brother Philippe accompanied him on guitar.Soon they were found with so much material it could fill a triple-disc edition.The period between 1883 and 1889 was covered by XII Alfonso in the 2002 album ''Claude Monet vol. 1: 1883-1889'', released in 2002 on Musea.The quartet of Claerhout brothers, keyboardist Michael Geyre and Thierry Moreno was helped again by a long list of musicians, Laure Oltra on lyrics, Ian Bairnson (Kate Bush, The Alan Parsons Project) on guitar, French-Portuguese singer Bevido and even actress/actor Catherine Alcover and Claude Aufaure.

A trully impressive concept and a rich artistic package (52-page booklet illustrated by two young artists from Bordeaux, Guiral Claire and Philippe Poirier) is unfortunately supported by a no more than mediocre album, which undoubtfully serves the needs of covering Monet's life, but ending up to be only good for background music.Any symphonic moves are completely sidelined and the album sounds like a mix of Spoken Word, New Age and Prog Folk, styles with which XII Alfonso were already familiar with, but this time the final result is far from impressive.Too many lyrical passages and a very mellow atmosphere with folky and light Classical underlines, mainly performed on piano, is not the best content for a work with such an impressive background.The music is heavily relying on acoustic guitars, accordion and piano with occasional dashes of flutes and keyboards, there are even some Chamber Music arrangements and MIKE OLDFIELD-like soundscapes in here, but the flow just isn't there and the dynamics are much needed than ever, despite some good cinematic atmospheres.16 tracks as a result and only a few of them are above average, some intense symphonic electronics and a sporadic grandieur between acoustic and Film Score-like orchestrations are signs that the band was capable of producing something more intense and atmospheric.Because the rest of the album is too soft, often resembling to French Chanson or Acoustic Folk, lacking the nerve to become trully competetive, albeit some careful arrangements.

Dissapointing album.Great concept behind, but musically too smooth and calm, propably working better as a Soundtrack than a Prog Rock album.So I would recommend this mostly to anyone in love with Film Score Music.Prog Rock fans will be merely left unsatisfied.

Report this review (#1274405)
Posted Wednesday, September 10, 2014 | Review Permalink

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