Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bi Kyo Ran - 1987 - Live I - Fairy Tales

Bi Kyo Ran 
Live I - Fairy Tales

01. Chaos (12:00)
02. Fairy tale (10:43)
03. Flight of Kokuzo (8:17)
04. Unfinished quartet (2:31)
05. Prediction (11:00)

- Masumi Kuno / keyboards, Mellotron
- Masaharu Sato / drums, percussion
- Takako Sugita / violin
- Kunio Suma / guitar, vocals
- Shinji Yoshinaga / bass

No more than a year after recording an album of King Crimson covers as Madoromi, it was 1978, and the band changed its name back to Bi Kyo Ran; they won first prize in a Yamaha-sponsored contest, and ended up on a compilation LP called Wind & Wave. With the addition of violin, keyboards, and new drummer Masaharu Sato (from Crosswind, a famous fusion band at that time) they set about writing and performing original music. Their live work from this period is captured on Fairy Tale - Early Live, Vol. 1 (released in 1987 on LP). Though it is not professionally recorded, it features a nice variety of material, their most enjoyable, in my opinion. First is the lengthy Crimsoid workout, "Uneri," recalling perhaps the album In the Wake of Poseidon; but the structure reminds me of something like "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part 1." Then there is the title track with some great plaintive singing by Kunio Suma; arrangements that feature keys and recorders, and some ballad-like moments as well. I feel this is a direction very much inspired by Japanese culture, and other Japanese prog of its time. The only piece that would reappear later, "Prediction," is a nice showcase for Sato's Bruford-esque drumming. Lastly, the cover art is breathtaking.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1984 - Parallax

Bi Kyo Ran 

01. Silent Running (7:57)
02. Prediction (9:28)
03. Suite Ran (21:10)

- Masaaki Nagasawa / drums
- Masahide Shiratori / bass
- Kunio Suma / guitar, vocals

- Toshio Egawa / keyboards, Mellotron
- Hazime Mizoguchi / cello
- Toshihiro Nakanishi / violin
- Hitoshi Okano / trumpet

Bi Kyo Ran's second album finds the band persisting on resurrecting the momentum of "Red"-era King Crimson with an added refurbishing hard rock-centered freshness. Kunio Suma, doubling on lead guitar and mellotron, leads the band through the valleys of his Crimsonian musical vision. The opener 'Silent Running' is a real treat of exciting vibe, due to the combination of rawness and melodic catchiness, displaying a convincing sense of energy and not using an exaggerated dose of complication concerning the arrangements. Suma's effective riffs and aggressive Spartan solos on guitar are firmly sustained by the rhythm scaffold. In my opinion, the stellar moment of this number is the violin solo provided by guest Toshihiro Nakanishi, whose musical sensibility somewhat reminds me of Eddie Jobson's. As catchy as this track is, it can't compete with the other two, which get to reveal the real dimension of Bi Kyo Ran's powerful prog trend to the listener's ears. 'Prediction' kicks off with a deceitfully languid motif that soon gives way to a diverse exposure of instrumental density, at times showing off in a very frontal manner, at times partially hiding behind a mask of complex simplicity with slight bluesy flavours. This time Suma really goes enthusiastic - indeed, almost mad - with his Fripp-inspired neurotic guitar textures, leading the way for the development of the composed ideas. The track's climax starts with a weird sonic sequence, including horns, until the initial motif is briefly reprised - a great ending. But the album's great ending is incarnated in 'Suite Ran', the sidelong track that occupied the entire B-side of the vinyl edition. This 21-minute long, 5-part monster delivers the most bizarre melodies and counterpoints in the album, while the track's overall spirit alternates between the sinister and the ethereal, like a nightmare that has a mystic vibe in it. The mellotron is heavily featured on this one, rivaling with the lead guitar in the "stealing the spotlight" game like a dreadful contender in a battlefield of madmen: the minimalistic horn arrangements serve as allies for the mellotron side, in this way, enhancing the aura of emotional oppression that almost fills the suite's entirety. Picture a triple marriage of 'Red' straightforward harshness, 'Lark's Tongues in Aspic' inscrutable magic and 'Fracture' storming power, held in the exuberant cathedral of "Lizard". This album displays a solid confluence of the power of complex rock and the overall artistic neurosis of King Crimson, with a predominance of the latter factor: in many ways it would be fair to say that Bi Kyo Ran's most notable virtue is their ability to recapture the musical magic of the average prog fan's favorite KC period, but that's not the whole picture. Bi Kyo Ran knows how to handle the art of noise in the forest of their obvious influences, and the excellent "Parallax" is a proof of that.

Bi Kyo Ran - 1982 - Bi Kyo Ran

Bi Kyo Ran 
Bi Kyo Ran

01. Double (14:24)
02. Cynthia (4:19)
03. Psycho (part II) (1:39)
04. Monologue (7:02)
05. Warning (14:19)

Line-up / Musicians
- Masaaki Nagasawa / drums
- Masahide Shiratori / bass
- Kunio Suma / guitar, vocals

+ Michiya Koide / recorder
- Yuki Nakajima / keyboards, Mellotron (from Eastern Orbit)
- Toshihiro Nakanishi / electric Black Widow, acoustic violin

 Bi Kyo Ran is undoubtedly the most enthusiastically Crimsonian band from Japan. The band's origins date back in the mid-70s as a psychedelic rock band, but eventually it shifted toward a heavily Crimson- influenced sort of heavy prog, with special emphasis on the 73-75 era, but also hints to "Lizard"-era. This approach is abundantly clear but not totally exclusive, since guitarist/leader Suma's compositions also give room to traces of jazz-rock, space-rock and electric blues. Suma's tenor timber can lead him to become a "Japanese Geddy Lee" at times, and that may be shocking to a number of listeners, but at the end of the day, the performative qualities of Bi Kyo Ran as a whole ensemble should prevail in the listener's perception. In fact, when this debut album was released in 1982, the band had already developed a controlled style and a focused strategy in its instrumental travels, and that's the main point of its contribution ot the prog genre. The album kicks off with 'Double', whose 14 ½ minutes are full of polished roughness, with convenient, not-too-drastic mood shifts revolving around a well defined recurrent motif. The violin and guitar leads that go emerging along the way bring a certain air of mystery to the track's development. 'Cynthia' makes a radical transition to the bucolic realms of pastoral serenity, pretty much inspired by Renaissance music: the sweetly driven classical guitar arpeggios are beautifully ornamented by the violin and the recorder. 'Pycho (Part II)' is a lovely yet too short instrumental whose framework mixes "Red"-era KC and jazz-fusion in a very dynamic way. 'Monologue' emphasizes the most aggressive side of Bi Kyo Ran, although it also preserves the jazz element in the rhythm duo's delivery. The Frippian tricks on guitar emerge with power but not overwhelmingly - the spoken lyrics seem to be mostly humorous. The last track lasts 14 172 minutes, just like the opener - it is called 'Warning'. Its first half is languid and melancholic, becoming the only lyrical sung passage in the album. The guitar and violin flourishes state an amazing eerie ambience. The second half turns into yet another display of Crimsonian heavy prog, reiterating the prominence of the "Red" influence. This section includes a captivating percussive section in full ethnic splendor, as well as a soaring coda on synth. I happen to enjoy this album more than "Parallax" (my first Bi Kyo Ran buy), since it comprises a more diverse trend. In perspective, both albums bring the prog researcher an important view of the heavy prog sound delivered in Japan's avant-garde rock scene in the 80s, years ahead of currently celebrated bands from the same country. In short, both Bi Kyo Ran and the "Bi Kyo Ran" albums are excellent beyond doubt.

Ain Soph - 2007 - Studio Live Tracks '80s and '05

Ain Soph 
Studio Live Tracks '80s and '05

01. Flight (2:13)
02. Oddessa (10:32)
03. Pipe Dream (7:37)
04. Swanlake (5:25)
05. Magic Carpet (7:26)
06. Hat And Field (10:02)
07. Natural Selection (7:13)
08. Triple Sequence (7:45)

Total Time: 58:17

Track 1 to 5: recorded January 1985 - September 1986 at studio K, Osaka.
Track 6, 7: recorded June 27, 1988 at Muse Hall, Osaka.
Track 8: recorded May 19, 2005 at studio Fulie, Osaka.

Original studio recordings of track 3 to 6 in CD "Hat and Field".
Original studio recordings of track 7 in CD "A Story of Mysterious Forest".
No original studio recordings of track 1, 2, 8.
Track 8 is the first version of new Ain Soph's brand new tune.

This first release by Japanese band Ain Soph since the mid 90's is an interesting affair; at least for fans of this group.
7 tracks recorded in the 80's and one recorded in 2005, all of them live in the studio, will always add new dimensions to tunes familiar to the band's followers. And that the new recording is a new song will of course be of high interest for any fan.

The old numbers performed here comes as fusion in style, heavily spiced with symphonic keyboard layers very much like Camel in style. Some folk influences are to be found too, but the fusion style and symphonic additions are the dominating elements here.

The new tune takes on a more distinct fusion style; the keyboards on this tune underscoring the tune rather than dominating; the symphonic keyboard layers for the most part replaced with saxophone in the soundscape.

The tunes as such doesn't come across as very interesting though. Too repetitive for my personal taste, and lacking in nerve and tension. Still, fans of early Camel may find this release interesting, as well as fans of symphonic rock from the 70's in general. In particular those of them also listening to fusion, as well as appreciating skilled musicianship.

Ain Soph - 1994 - Quicksand - Special Live, Vol.3

Ain Soph 
Quicksand - Special Live, Vol.3

01. A Cloudy Sky - Part 1
02. The Swan Lake
03. A Cloudy Sky - Part 2
04. Magic Carpet
05. Moon Watch
06. Quicksand
07. Little Pieces - Part 5
08. Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith
09. Little Pieces - Part 6
10. Ancient Museum

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fijikawa / keyboards
- Mitsutaka Kaki / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Taiqui Tomiie / drums

1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 Recorded at Muse Hall 20, Nov. 1989 Osaka
2,4 Recorded at Candy Hall 30 Sep. 1986 Osaka
7 Recorded at Muse Hall 20, Jun. 1988 Osaka

 Quicksand, draws mostly from performances dating from the late 80s, and primarily one show from November 1989 at Osaka's Muse Hall. These performances reflect the band's development after a decade and a half, and also capture their brief existence as a five-piece lineup with dual keyboards. Of special note here are versions of "Ancient Museum" from Five Evolved from Nine, and the otherwise unavailable "Quicksand" and "Moon Watch," all showcasing the band in top form. This album would serve well as an introduction to the band – it features excellent sound quality and captures them in an energized live setting.

Ain Soph - 1993 - Mysterious Triangle - Special Live, Vol.2

Ain Soph 
Mysterious Triangle - Special Live, Vol.2

01. Beyond the Place (9:32)
02. Time Machine (10:16)
03. Mysterious Triangle (7:33)
04. Junglegym (6:21)
05. Sleeping Sun (6:48)
06. The Lost Era (13:20)
07. The Valley of Lutha (9:13)
08. Marine Menagerie (12:52)

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fujikawa / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Hiroshi Natori / drums

- Hisashi Nagao / electric sax (6)
- Hideki Mori / sax (6)

A not totally essential album from one of asia's finest prog acts. The sound quality is quite poor, so there is a general lack of dynamics on the record, but the band makes up for that flaw with a collection of brilliantly performed and well composed pieces of music. The wise choice of going instrumental saves the band from falling into the pits of contemporaries like Happy the Man, Yezda Urfa, and Tempano. Highly recommended!

Ain Soph - 1993 - 5 Or 9 - Five Evolved From Nine

Ain Soph 
5 Or 9 - Five Evolved From Nine

01. Villa Adriana
02. The Two Orders of Image
03. Fragments from the Pass
04. Ancient Museum
05. Seascape (Little Pieces Part 4)
06. The Valley of Lutha
07. Shadow Picture
08. Little Wind
09. Stonehenge

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fujikawa / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Taiqui Tomiie / drums

5 or 9 opens promisingly with Villa Adriana, a building theme backed by pounding drums. Unfortunately, The Two Orders Of Image reveals that the Ain Soph sound had by this stage taken on a more high-tech 80’s sheen, with bright and vulgar brass textures, modern keyboard voices and ultra-polished slick fusion stylings. Gone are most of the prog leanings, opting for the jazzier end of the Canterbury school, but lacking the quirky whimsy of the acknowledged masters.

As ever, the musicianship is consummate and impressive, and these nine instrumental workouts are a pleasurable experience if relaxing, light jazz fusion is your bag. There’s nothing offensive or horrendous here, but the creative spark seems somewhat diminished, making this more of a by-numbers affair than a truly compelling CD.

There is some nice music here: Fragments From The Pass is a gentle acoustic piece; Ancient Museum has a swaggering lilt and some terrific jazz piano/synth soloing; and Shadow Picture is the best of the bunch, adding a wistful atmosphere, and gentle acoustic texturing to the brew for a thoroughly satisfying piece, marred only slightly by brassy keyboard interjections –there’s a terrific guitar theme at around the 7 minute mark- this track is one to immerse yourself in.

But tracks like The Valley of Lutha and the gentle piano showcase Seascape are probably too polite and safe to capture the imagination of prog rock fans. If you’re looking for a mellow respite from your usual listening, you may find something to enjoy, but it’s not going to be top of the list for many of you.

Ain Soph - 1991 - Ride on a Camel - Special Live

Ain Soph 
Ride on a Camel - Special Live

01. Ride on a Camel (11:30)
02. Intro-Metronome 7/8-Peacock's Feather Metronome 7/8 (Reprise)(12:40)
03. Oddessa (12:40)
04. Aria (11:20)
05. Turkey's March (4:15)
06. A Story of Mysterious Forest (Original Version)(24:25)

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fujikawa / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Hiroshi Natori / drums

Apparently this album was a demo of early album tracks that became a sort of melting pot mixing different 70's sessions. Definitely inspired on the softer symphonic Canterbury such as Camel, these sessions predates their debut album, recorded while called Techni-Sozo and while not completely devoid of interest, this only draws yawns from the listener past the first track. Yes, although this album could be interesting if correctly recorded, it is difficult to listen to this compilation filled up to the brim, with some really boring moments (the suite that stands as track number 2), while others are actually fairly nice: the opening title track and the Oddessa track are quite interesting even if they appear unnecessarily elongated. Other parts (like Aria) appear to have been lifted from Camel
One of the main flaws of this "album" is its length, but also apart of the short Turkey, all of the tracks are well above the 10-min mark, culminating in the Mysterious Forest first version, which is the epic of their first real album, but this version is somniferous. Obviously if you are an Ain Soph fan, this album might just be essential.

Though the CD actually dates from 1991, recordings actually date from the late 70’s, back when the band were still known under the Japanese name Tenchi-sozo. Sound quality is pure mud, but there is some interesting music here; early versions of “Peacock’s Feather” and “A Story of Mysterious Forest” (24 minutes long, and featuring both members of Dada on synthesizers as guest musicians) alongside other early works like “Oddessa” [sic], “Turkey’s March” and the title track. If you’re an established Ain Soph fan, I’d recommend this, but by all means don’t start here!

Ain Soph - 1991 - Marine Menagerie

Ain Soph
Marine Menagerie

01. Wind and Water (0:33)
02. Flooded by Sun Light (7:18)
03. Marine Menagerie (10:38)
04. Little Pieces part 3 (1:27)
05. Variations On a Theme by Brian Smith(Original Version) (8:49)
06. Ride on a Camel(13:53)
07. Metronome 7/8 (13:43)
   a) Peacock's Feather
   b) Metronome 7/8

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fujikawa / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Taiqui Tomiie / drums

 Ain Soph's third album consists mostly of re-recorded versions of tunes from the band's early days - written and developed during the late 70s -, plus an original version of 'Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith', whose first official version had appeared in the "Story of Mysterious Forest" album. This original version is somewhat rougher, with its varied musical motifs less developed, and a harder edge on the guitar parts. Speaking of the general tendency of "Marine Menagerie" as a whole, the band's approach is focused on giving more room to the melodic progressive stuff (a-la Camel), which means that the jazz stuff is a bit decreased, although still maintaining a strong presence in the band's sound and style. The album kicks off with a brief, ethereal display of guitar picks on the higher notes, appropriately titled 'Wind & Water', which then gives way to the beautiful, melancholic 'Flooded by the Sun', which sounds to me very much inspired by "Moon Madness"-era Camel. Things remain the same with the following namesake track, if only developed a bit further thanks to its longer extension. With the excellent piano solo 'Little Pieces Part 3' (keyboardist Fujikawa seems to be offering a tribute to the memory of Alan Gowen) and the aforementioned 'Variations' the Canterbury thing that Ain Soph so unabashedly loves returns to the fore. The same Canterbury thing persists on the last two suites, combining itself fluidly with the Camel- inspired symphonic majesty. 'Ride on a Camel' and 'Metronome 7/8' (the latter, including a quotation from a Caravan's theme from their '74 live album) contain your usual prog pomp and circumstance, full of clever musical ideas, mood and tempo shifts, impeccable performances in both the alternate guitar/synth solos and the solid rhythm section: all of these elements are fully integrated with good taste and exquisite class, which allows the band not to lose sight of the musical motifs, always keeping the soloing in its right place. Though this album doesn't impress me as much as their previous two, it is definitely an excellent opus.

Ain Soph - 1986 - Hat and Field

Ain Soph 
Hat and Field

01. The Swan Lake (5:45)
02. Little pieces part 1 (1:34)
03. Suite: Hat and field: (10:02)
  a) Triple echo
  b) Hat & field
  c) Deep feelin'
  d) Triple end
  e) Spanish channel
04. Mizzle (3:41)
05. Canterbury tale (for Pye Hastings & Richard Sinclair) (2:57)
06. Magic carpet (6:57)
07. Little pieces part 2 (2:31)
08. Pipe dream (7:53)

- Yozox / guitars
- Kikuo Fujikawa / keyboards
- Masahiro Torigaki / bass
- Taiqui Tomiie / drums

It took 6 years for Ain Soph to finally record this amazing follow-up to their equally amazing debut album. The original lineup 90 (the band was formed in '77) was fully incorporated, since drummer Tomiie and keyboardist Fujikawa rejoined their former fellows (they had left before Ain Soph's debut was recorded). Some of the material already existed during the old days, so basically 'Hat & Field' is like a groups of four musician friends catching up. The title shows one of their major influences, Hatfield and the North: since these guys are really Canterbury freaks, it's no wonder that we can also find the inheritance of other similar acts such as National Health and Gilgamesh, as well as 'Rain Dances'-era Camel. The most explosive moments show the clear influence of Return to Forever and Holdsworth's solo albums. The playing is superb: not only each individual is a top-notch master on their instrument, but also they can interpleay with immaculate fluency through all these complex time signatures and complicated compositions, keeping an aura of delicate sophistication, as if it were actually an easy task to do. The moments in which Yozox and Fujikawa lay their challenging interplays are executed with infinite finesse. As in their previous album, the appearance of some exotic lines reminds the listener of their Japanese essence: their jazzy prog is not a clone, but the result of an inventively idiosyncratic recreation of an established pattern. There is a subtle difference, though: 'Hat & Field' puts a major emphasis on the jazz factor, subduing the symphonic thing for that matter. The beautiful opening track 'Swan Lake' is really captivating: through its tasteful delicateness, it has a subtle energy in it that makes it catchy. 'Hat & Field', the namesake suite, starts the same way, until an explosion of pyrotechnics takes place during its last section: this explosion is effectively continued in the glued following track 'Mizzle'. 'Magic Carpet' and 'Pipe Dream' follow in the same vein as the opening number, while tracks 2, 5 and 7 work as relaxing interludes, which create an introspective, slightly melancholy mood. Lovers of Canterbury and the best 70s jazz-fusion will most likely love this one too, and eventually, discover the particular beauty of Ain Soph's own jazz-prog voice.

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.