L' Esprit de l'Exil

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L'Esprit de l'Exil is said to be this duo's second effort, its first for Musea. Keyboardist Luna Umegaki and guitarist Tsutomu Kurihara share compositional credits. Their brand of jazz-rock instrumental music is not particularly original but very well done, and is mostly notable for avoiding flashy chops in favor of dreamier, more melodic moods. Kurihara's guitar sound occasionally brings Allan Holdsworth to mind, but his phrasing, melodic lines, and overall pace are actually much to closer to the Flower Kings' Roine Stolt. In fact, several tracks on L'Esprit de l'Exil share similarities with the latter's Hydrophonia. The main difference between the two resides in a handful of jazzier tunes ("Mariana's Garden," for instance) and the use of drum programming in some pieces -- the title track would have been wonderful with real drums, but sounds too tacky with their synthetic counterpart. The album features several guests providing a large palette of instruments, starting with Mark Irvine Hamilton and his Great Highland Bagpipe kicking off the album with two unexpected world fusion-type pieces, somewhere between Engel, Fonya, and Lászlo Hortobágyi. Drummers, percussionists, and bassists contribute to most pieces. Anri Sekine adds violin melodies to "Secret Recipe" and "Ripple (Mizu No Wa)." The presence of this revolving cast doesn't prevent Lu7 from achieving a consistent group sound, especially on highlights such as "Canary Creeper," "Golem," and "Secret Recipe." The only track that falls out of line is a poor rendition of Manuel de Falla's classical piece "Danse Rituelle du Feu," saturated with programmed drums and thumping dance beat effects. Compared to the smooth arrangements and soaring melodies found in the other pieces, this crude dancefloor number is uncalled for. But that's nothing some simple CD player programming can't fix, and surely not reason enough to ignore this spirited instrumental progressive jazz-rock album.