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The Claudia Quintet with Gary Versace: Royal Toast

The Claudia Quintet occupy a musical space that defies categorisation and genre boundaries. Their basic DNA is undeniably jazz, but they veer with wild abandon through untold other musical incarnations. At times ambient, at others progressive, sometimes they recall the gentle impressionism of Debussy, other times they are closer to the insistent experimentation of Frank Zappa (in his guise as a composer, rather than a comic). This musical versatility may infuriate archivists, record shop owners and music writers, but it is a boon to listeners.

The album begins with the beguiling, elegiac, "Crane Merit"; a seductive and atmospheric piece that is very much a case of less is more. From that however, this listener is flung into the more strident "Keramag", a jazz workout that struts with an insistent purpose. "Panterna Terra" is angular and spiky enough to please even Robert Fripp, and the bass driven Sphinx fades from a throbbing declaration into a thoughtful whisper, before rising again into a stately finale.

The jaunty rhythmic machinations of some of these pieces start get a little tired in the middle of the album, with tracks like "Zurn" and "Royal Toast" feeling like a little too much of a good thing. But the album is superbly refreshed by the brilliantly dusky "Ideal Standard" a mysterious and atmospheric tour de force that feels like a musical distillation of a classic film noir. "American Standard" has similar power, but is driven instead by a peculiarly paranoid descending melody that gives is a fidgety nervous energy. "For Fredrick Franck" closes the album brilliantly with a misty ambience from which both beauty and unease freely flow.

All told, Royal Toast is a very strong album from an excellent group of musicians. With a wonderful sense of variation, playing that is effortlessly powerful and sensitive, and beautifully considered compositions. Although it may be a little long for those with wandering attention spans, and it does get a little self involved in the middle; its musical charms far outweigh its foibles.

Track Listing
1. Crane Merit
2. Keramag Preview
3. Keramag
4. Paterna Terra
5. Ted Versus Ted
6. Armitage Shanks
7. Drew With Drew
8. Sphinx
9. Matt on Matt
10. Zurn
11. Chris on Chris
12. Royal Toast
13. "Ideal" Intro
14. "Ideal Standard"
15. American Standard
16. For Fredrick Franck

Added: August 25th 2010
Reviewer: Richard Wheelhouse
Related Link: Cuneiform Records
Hits: 1589
Language: english

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