Philippe Saisse

Halfway Till Dawn

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Listening to Philippe Saisse is like taking a tour through a keyboard paradise with a master tour guide; sometimes he blows off course and sacrifices strong melodies for wild experimentation, but for the most part the ride is as varied and entertaining as the many thingamajigs in his arsenal. The album title implies a sense of easy romance, but that vibe is rare among the fun-filled happenings. Saisse is a great tease, opening "The Girl with Botticelli Eyes" with a majestic piano and synth string duet before diving into a heavy funk groove and hypnotic melody which combines a Fender Rhodes harmony with a sharp electric piano melody. Sometimes, he'll let his guests take it easy while he hams it up; the seven-minute title track finds flugelhornist Jeff Beal lazing dreamily over a thick, industrial percussion trip-hop groove complete with mysterious voices, orchestral lines and improvisational piano solos. Jeff Golub provides the wah-wah guitar click on the schizophrenic opener "Fusionesque," whose retro-soul vibe is so perfect it sounds like an intro to an old Barry White tune; then Saisse provides the perfect balance of acoustic piano warmth amid the machinery before going too far with a space age synth solo. Some may not like the constant experimentation, even though great melodies shine through. But in a genre where artists often have to think before they take wacky risks, Saisse scores high on the chutzpah meter.

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