Coming to us from France is AQ&F (Arnaud Quevedo & Friends) and their latest disc Roan, an album that tells the story of a person's journey through his unconscious imagination, following the inability to face the world around him. The album draws heavily from influences such as King Crimson (circa 1974), Bruford (particularly the jazz fusion era with Dave Stewart & Alan Holdsworth) and even some Frank Zappa, but never gets bogged down into trying to copy the influences. Like contemporaries such as District 97, the quality of the musicianship takes this band beyond being a pale imitation and lifts it into a category of its own.
The performances from the core group (Arnaud Quevedo / Guitar, Vocals and Synthesizer; Anthony Raynal / Drums; Noé Russeil / Bass; Marin Michelat / Keyboard; and Emeline Merlande / Vocals) are stellar, what really moves this album into the stratosphere are the contributions of supporting musicians, especially Manuella Perissutti on flute, Olivia Gray on Oboe, Louis Théveniau on Clarinet, and Julien Gomila on Saxophones - this woodwind section creates textures and soundscapes that range from beautiful and serene to wild and dissonant. Additionally, Eva Tribolles on double bass, Tifenn Trévinal on cello, Axelle Blondel on violin and Florent Hervier on Trombone round out this world-class stable of musicians. Start to finish the artistry of these performances are incredible.
While the disc is broken down into individual tracks, I would highly recommend listening to this a “one piece” as the musical and lyrical flow really draws all of the pieces together. The composition and arrangement is just brilliant in its ability to move through a range of pieces from Jazz-Fusion to musical theatre to high-octane progressive rock flawlessly. If I had to speak to the individual tracks (as opposed to the complete package), the best tracks, in my opinion are Découverte, the very theatrical Féerie and the epic Ryoko.
Roan is not for everyone, but everyone should give it a listen! Fans of mid-70's King Crimson, Return to Forever or Canadian artist Jorane will find lots to enjoy here. Excellent album!
**** David Carswell
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