Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ain Soph - 1980 - A Story Of Mysterious Forest

Ain Soph
A Story Of Mysterious Forest

01. Crossfire (2:54)
02. Interlude I (1:30)
03. Natural Selection (8:10)
04. Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith (9:44)
05. A Story of Mysterious Forest (18:47)
  a) Awakening
  b) Longing-Whith the Wind
  c) Mysterious Forest
  d) Passion
  e) Deep Sleep
  f) Darkness
  g) Dance
  h) Misfortune
  i) Mysterious Forest
  j) Awakening
06. Interlude II (0:33)

- Masey Hattori / Keyboards
- Yozox Yamamoto / acoustic & electric guitars
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass, effects
- Hiroshi Natori / drums, percussion, crystal gong

This band is nearly 100% instrumental, and their sound is very close to bands like Caravan, Camel and Soft Machine. Ride On a Camel is a live one, and while the performace is exceptional, the recording quality is only a little better than so-so. Marine Menagerie contains studio versions of most of the better material on the first, plus some new material as well.

There was a band called "Tenchi Sozo" (which means "The Creation") in the late 70s. They played Canterbury progressive Jazz-Fusion as heard on Ride on a Camel which was recorded as a demo tape in the late 70s. The members were: Yozox Yamamoto on guitars, Kikuo Fujikawa on keyboards, Masahiko Torigaki on bass, and Hiroshi Natori on drums. In 1980, they changed their name to "Ain Soph" replacing the keyboard player, and released the 1st album A Story of Mysterious Forest as the 2nd album on the King Nexus label. (The 1st album of the label was Novela). The new keyboard player Masey Hattori left the group and formed a Fusion band "99.99" and Ain Soph seemed to have broken up. Around 1986, the original keyboard player came back and a new drummer Taiqui Tomiie, who was a member of Bellaphon, joined. The quartet released their 2nd Hat and Field. The bassist Masahiko Torigaki played on the 1st album of Bellaphon titled Firefly in 1987. From 1991, they released albums constantly: Marine Menagerie as 3rd, and Five Evolved From Nine as 4th album.

Breathtaking instrumental progressive from Japan. From the really short, Mahavishnu-type fusion rifferama of "Crossfire" which opens A Story of Mysterious Forest, you know you're in for an enjoyable ride. There's a definite jazzy undercurrent to a lot of this, but the players surprise you with sudden symphonic interjections with baroque harpsichord and swirling Mellotron. Keyboards are certainly centre stage on this album, the synths are always tasty. The drummer also bangs out the complex rhythms imaginatively and effortlessly. Altogether, I think the word classic describes A Story Of Mysterious Forest accurately. I've heard a bit of Marine Menagierie, but I don't remember much about it, except that I wasn't anywhere nearly as impressed with it as A Story Of Mysterious Forest, which is definitely the one you should start with anyway. I think a lot of people will like it.

Ain Soph are a recent Japanese band with several albums to their credit. I have heard one cut from Ride on a Camel. The album is well-named as a tribute to Camel and this is reflected in the music. This album was poorly recorded before their first LP, suffers from a great deal of hiss and is not really representative of their style to come. I will say, however, that as a tribute to Camel, the song is very nicely played, with strong Camel influences but also a spark of originality. Although I have not heard it, I understand Hat and Field to be a similar tribute to Hatfield and the North and the Canterbury scene.
A Story of Mysterious Forest opens with an excellent fusion vamp in the vein of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Arti E Mestieri, with great guitar and synthesizer playing, as well as some fine drumming. This sets the stage for the next couple of songs, which are very jazz and fusion driven progressive songs, albeit with a more laid-back groove. Soon, the Mellotron enters and you are treated to some very satisfying, smooth and intelligent progressive rock/fusion. The music shifts seamlessly between fusion and classical progressive passages that are pastoral and spacey or driving and intense. In particular, the title track is well-named; the extended spacey suite tells of a fog-shrouded forest's mysterious qualities. The cut also contains a few surprises, which I leave for you to discover. In short, A Story of Mysterious Forest contains excellent musicianship, flows extremely well and is highly recommended.
Five Evolved From Nine starts a little weaker, if only because of my preferences. Their style is still very jazz-inflected but now has a "contemporary jazz" feel, at least for the eight minutes of "The Two Orders of Image." In addition the band seems to lack some of the intensity and drive they displayed on A Story of Mysterious Forest. The musicianship is still of the same high caliber, however, and the album abounds with excellent playing from all musicians. One fine example is "Ancient Museum," which starts a little stiff but, suddenly, the groove clicks and a jammin' guitar solo emerges. In fact, the quality of the music improves and remains generally excellent for the remainder of the album. Another good cut is "The Valley of Lutha," which opens up with a clear-toned jazz guitar solo, then a more distorted fusion guitar solo, which then gets into an interactive jam between guitar, piano, bass and drums. Overall, Five Evolved From Nine is a very good and very solid album, much better than many popular prog bands. I simply do not think it is up to the consistent standard set by A Story of Mysterious Forest. -- Mike Taylor

Ain Soph are a post-Canterbury Japanese quartet who have certainly paid their dues, and whose Hat and Field album marks their return to the progressive/jazz scene from a six year hiatus since their 1980 classic A Story Of Mysterious Forest. The music on Hat and Field is perhaps more subtle and subdued than their recent work, 5 Evolved From 9, but is also more consistent. While they are still guilty of occasionaly dabbling in virtually new age territory, it works better on this album because of the more mellow atmosphere. Which is not to say they don't heat it up -- on "Suite: Hat and Field" there is some blazing guitar/synth harmony lines which surprise the listener with their intricacy and accuracy. The drummer and bassist take more of a supporting role than is usually heard in this style, but they do it well. The drummer is light and quick, and the bassist moves nimbly through rapid chord changes to provide a solid rhythmical backdrop for the lead lines to work against. Fans of Chick Corea, Caravan, Pat Metheney, and National Health will all find a lot to enjoy on this album, which is overall more solid than anything Ain Soph have done since. Furthermore, for symphonic or neo-prog fans wanting to explore new realms, Hat and Field represents the Canterbury genre very well.

After some years of hard struggling in the Japanese music market, Ain Soph eventually managed to make their recoding debut in 1980... and what a debut! Their prog style is based on a delicate, ellegant balance between the jazz area (the fusionesque drive of Return to Forever and Pastorius-era Weather Report, the melodic candor of Canterbury) and the symphonic stuff (74-77 Camel, 76-78 Genesis, WYWH-era Pink Floyd), resulting in a colourful combination of well crafted compositions and top-notch musicianship. The addition of Asian lines and textures allows the band to create an idiosyncratic ambience for their prog style, despite the clear presence of the aforementioned influences. 'Crossfire' is a real crossfire of guitar and synth duelling thorugh their alternate amazing solos, on the solid foundation laid by the rythm section: something like 'Los Endos'-meets-'Romantic Warrior'. The level of proficiency doesn't decay for a second along the whole album. Despite the title's destructive implications, 'Natural Selection' reminds me of Gilgamesh's delicate exquisiteness, with a definite exotic Far East flavour that helps things seem warm and peaceful; things get more intense in the following number, 'Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith', in which Ain Soph exercise their own version of the jazz-fusion prototypical sound - including some Flamenco-like lines on acoustic guitar, just like Di Meola. The absolute gem in the album is the namesake suite, which allows the band to explore futher into their symph prog leaning: the succession of varied melodic lines on the wings of a well structured sequence of diverse rhythm patterns and ambiences makes this track a masterpiece in itself. I feel unable to make myself clear about the captivating beauty of this piece. I'll only mention some of its most brilliant fractions: the Camel-esque eerie intesity of c and i; the magical melancholy of d; the playful Latin-jazz tinged colours of g; the visions of an early morning forest depicted on a and j. All in all, this suite is something to enjoy properly as a whole, making it so easy for the listener to keep his full attention for almost 20 minutes. The two interludes are musical portions on acoustic guitar, that provide some introspective touches in the middle of a repertoire full of splendid showstoppers.

1 comment: