XII Alfonso - Charles Darwin

(3CD 2012, 60:14 / 60:05 / 60:15, Musea Records)

Track lists: see below

XII Alfonso Website        myspace        Musea Records

It took the members of the French progressive rock band XII Alfonso two and a half years to produce their latest album called Charles Darwin. However, I think it was all worthwhile, because what they achieved on this triple album is really something special that needs to be heard by all prog rock devotees. This triple-CD dedicated to the life and works of Charles Darwin, can be considered to be the ultimate highlight of their career.

These three CDs refer to the major events of Darwin's existence in a chronological order. With twenty-two songs and thirty instrumental pieces, they tried to represent his life with notes, timbres, rhythms, atmospheres and words. Thirty months of hard labour resulted in fifty-two tracks on which seventy instruments were used. Fifty musicians were involved in the project including, amongst others, singers Maggie Reilly, Elliott Murphy, Gérard Lenorman, Huong Thanh, Pierre Emberger, also known as Freegh, Amy Keys, Ronnie Caryl, Alistair Gordon and Jayney Klimek, saxophonists John A. Helliwell and Raphael Ravenscroft, flautists Terry Oldfield and John Hackett, guitarists Tim Renwick, Francis Dunnery, Robin Boult and Ian Bairnson, bassists David Paton and Michael Manring and keyboardists Mickey Simmonds and Ton Scherpenzeel.
However, the core of the band, that was responsible for the process of writing, arranging, playing and the production, are Philippe Claerhout (guitars, bass), Francois Claerhout (keyboards), Stéphane Ducassé (flutes) and Thierry Moreno (drums). Unfortunately Moreno passed away much too soon in September 2011. He could never witness how these three hours of music were packed in a beautiful digibook containing a 76-coloured pages booklet holding many pictures of the contributing musicians. It also contains pictures of the many instruments they used of which many of them are rarely seen. Obviously all ins and outs of Darwin's life are explained as well.

Of course, it's not possible to mention all tracks of this triple album. Therefore I'll stick to a short summary. It's not easy to allocate the music to a certain genre since the album contains a mixture of different styles like world music, jazz-rock, fusion, folk-rock, ambient, electronic and classical music. However, all of these styles have been submerged in a progressive rock sauce. The most influential musician on this album is Mike Oldfield, whose influence is present throughout. Well, it's quite logical since many of the musicians involved, like Maggie Reilly, Raphael Ravenscroft, Tim Renwick and Mickey Simmonds, once shared the stage or the studio with Oldfield. Moreover, they admit that 'Mike Oldfield is a huge influence' in their music.

Every now and then, the use of obscure instruments provide the album with an eclectic sound strongly related to the music the British band IOEarth recorded on their albums IO Earth (2009, see review) and Moments (2012, see review). Also influences of Pink Floyd can often be heard, although the music on Charles Darwin contains more song-orientated material. I guess you have to listen to this album yourself to find out the beauty of its content. It's difficult to mention highlights because all songs are of the same high calibre which makes it almost impossible to make choices.

I would highly recommend Charles Darwin to all devotees of progressive rock. Especially for those who possess a number of albums made by Mr. Oldfield this release is an obligatory purchase! If you want to learn more about this release and about XII Alfonso, I would like to advise you to read the interview (see interview) that Background Magazine had with Philippe and Francois Claerhout, the two key members of the band.

**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)

Where to buy?

The tracks:
CD 1:
  1- Collection One
  2- Earliest Recollections
  3- Stolen Fruit
  4- Physics And Hunting
  5- Silent Battle
  6- Collection Two And Three
  7- The Bump Of Reverence
  8- Leaving England (part 1)
  9- Leaving England (part 2)
10- The Letter From Henslow
11- HMS Beagle
12- Collection Four
13- Captain Fitz-Roy
14- Straits Of Magellan
15- Tierra Del Fuego
16- Darwin's Finches
17- Homeward Bound
CD 2:
  1- Collection Five
  2- So Many Years
  3- Strange Fossil
  4- Emma And Charles
  5- The Coral Of Life
  6- Collection Six
  7- Down House
  8- The Island Of Devil's Riding School
  9- Annie (part 1)
10- Annie (part 2)
11- Collection Seven
12- Beloved Cirripedia
13- An Ordinary Day
14- Salting The Seeds
15- Lenny
16- It's Time To Write
17- Collection Eight
18- Missing Links
CD 3:
  1- Collection Nine
  2- Bound Together
  3- Descent With Modification
  4- On the Origin Of Species
  5- Controverse In Oxford
  6- Collection Ten
  7- Slave Makers
  8- Last Human Common Ancestor
  9- Sombre Thoughts
10- Collection Eleven
11- Mysterious Illness
12- The Copley Medal
13- Vision Of The Indian Mound
14- The Descent of Man
15- Collection Twelve
16- Struggle For Existence
17- Darwin's Burial

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