Toàn ~ Histós Lusis

The seasons have shifted, as noted by Eilean Records’ blue summer releases.  The first is from Toàn, who has himself shifted tone from his earlier incarnation as Qiwu Selftet.  For much of the album, he hides his affection for tonal jazz, but toward the end of the hour-plus set, his inner smoky musician emerges.

The album itself is a smokescreen of sorts, as the craftsmanship is cleverly disguised.  Synths seem to abound, especially on “Une Touche de Pluie”, but there are no synths, only “old records, live instruments and field recordings.”  Whenever vinyl static is present, it’s difficult to tell which instruments are live; the gorgeous strings of “Post Tenebras” sound like those of a benign Caretaker and may have been reclaimed from a dusty basement.  We feel safe saying that the flute is live, modestly lulling the listener into the comfort of the hills.

The field recordings are endearing, as water noises blend with wind chimes, thumb piano and bells. They serve as a bridge between the ambient passages and those that border on modern composition. Without them, one might be jarred by the movement to percussion, cello and light applause in the aforementioned “Une Touche de Pluie” ~ or is that rain?  The album is filled with moments of quiet passion, and littered with fragments of sonic debris, swept into tidy piles too pretty to be discarded. “Ghostly Ballet” dives in and out of the human arena, with rumbles of rainstick receding into drizzle and chime and back again.  One imagines a music box dancer springing to life unbidden, then slowly freezing into an elegant pose.  The ten minute “Plume” continues the haunted tone, hinting at chains one moment and an aviary the next, implying a struggle between earthly and heavenly desires.

The woodwinds start to take over midway through the album, occasionally adopting Middle Eastern timbres.  Toàn’s jazz pedigree begins to bleed through, like a layer of oil that was painted over before drying.  The discovery of jazz beneath the ambience is a light surprise, but no matter how deep one scratches, the tone remains the same: it’s blue, blue, all the way through.  (Richard Allen)


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