Somewhere between classical and contemporary music there is an aural bridge composed of highly refined notes and if we follow it, it leads to a place of rich rewards. Oftentimes the bridge is never crossed, but this time on the album La Papillonne by Ars Phantasia is it crossed, revisited, and fortified as the two worlds become one happy place. I had heard only one song from the album before I got interested, but my interest never wavered. The music had elements of romantic and jazz genres as well as modern intonations and the combination was more than pleasing. Ars Phantasia is a performance piece for stage that blends conceptual music and colorful optics. The music is performed by Hitomi Nishioka, a pianist popular in France and Japan. The visuals are by graphic artist Lisk Feng. The album contains a booklet of stunning artwork to accompany the blissful music within. My album has fourteen tracks whereas the listing has only twelve. Don’t tell anybody. Join me as we enter the mystical, wonderful world that is ancient Japan.
Strangely, Fountain of Dreams is a serious piece. It opens the album with a series of single notes that ring like bell. The music seems to envelop me like a mist, vague and wispy at first, then with more definition. As the emotionally rich music flows, the listener in me is bathed in its warmth and beauty.
Aux Ailes d’un Papillon (Over the Wings of a Butterfly) is one of my favorites and the first song I had heard from this performance. I could imagine the flutter of butterfly wings. The flying jewel is inquisitive, going everywhere at once. The voice of Hitomi’s energetic piano is exuberant as the main character. Don’t be Afraid is only 26 seconds long. No sense dwelling on fear when the rest of the world contains so much beauty and peace. Belle Paix (Beautiful Peace) is one of the longest pieces at over seven minutes, but it is complex as it changes its points of view throughout the presentation. It contains Italian influences mixed daintily with warm contemporary themes from the world of nature. There is a tiny touch of triumph in the music.
I’m an Angel is a contemporary composition with a great deal of animation. This angel is on the move, flying high above, looking down, and watching for a despaired heart in need. The music has a hidden strength, a fortitude of spirit. It reminded me (in a positive way) of Howard Bake’s theme for The Snowman. It has an insubstantial fascination that pique’s the imagination. Feng’s illustration for the song Colors is the beautiful face of a young girl and, ironically, the drawing actually contains very few different colors. It is the face of innocence, of curiosity, and of wonder. It is the face of hidden beauty. The tune is graceful, soft, and melodic. Composer Aleix’s simple arrangement resounds with a repetitive, yet melancholic cadence.
There are some unexpected jazz components in the tune Escape. They are deftly blended with some adagio movements that define emotional changes as the music unfolds. It is a somber tune with contrasts colored in shades of gray, rather than other colors and tones.
La Papillonne is the collaborative work of more than twenty talented people and would stand on its own as a brilliant recording even without the wondrous storyline and artwork, but this is a concert of talents and a clear cut case of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I stared at the illustrations as each song was performed and the story composed itself. I liked every track on the album. It is reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack, but with a great deal of classical enhancements. Put it on, press PLAY, and the adventure begin. - R J Lannan, Artisan Music Reviews
Fountain of Dreams welcomes us with a delicate intro that slowly leads to an epic melody, one of those you end up humming in your mind hours after hearing it. A creative hit. My favorite piece of the album, with continuous chills from the beginning, is Aux ailes d'un Papillon. The butterfly flap keeps drawing beautiful melodic brushstrokes that are completed with subtle harmonic dyes. The 2:30 minute is pure gold; it is one of the best (subtle) steer hits of the album. The same at 3:51, when playing an octave above. At 4:08 comes a twist (no longer that subtle) which becomes as unusual as shocking. The final part, when the butterfly finishes posing (4:54) is something so impressive that I have no words. By saying that, in the silence between 4:49 and 4:54 I feel a remaining chill for what has just happened and for what I know will happen next. The chords used in this ending are dreamlike, including that unexpected ending that leaves the piece unfinished.
With Phantom I feel I was in a theater, watching a mute movie backed up with a piano, and a new character suddenly appears with his leitmotiv. After a few ingenious seconds with Don't be Afraid, we have One Day in Maizuru seems to come with some air from the great Burt Bacharach. This piece is another creative and catchy hit from the album that delicately wraps you. Belle Paix follows, a piece that oozes French impressionism at every single note. Very delicate beginning that ends in a memorable waltz that increases its intensity until, in the end and without leaving the waltz cadence, becomes again very intimate. I love it. Break, or that Dave Grusin touch is inevitably seducing, with two chords that try to make way in a hectic notes sound net. Wonderful.
Finally, Escape, a repetitive exquisiteness that gives us a subtle color change at every turn. It is a very dramatic theme that shows very inspired melodic moments. The final passage with that piano riff is memorable, with those harmonic changes so emotional.
Here come the 2 bonus track: Promesse, a song and the first album track with other instruments next to the piano, like a string quartet and starring the impressive feminine voice of Julie Lecrenais. The piece is intense, dramatic and melancholic. It could have been perfectly a song for a 4AD label. The second multi-instrumental track, Lueurs furtives dans un ciel d'été, the piano continues to have fortunately the leading role. The synthesizers of Francis Rimbert underline some moments, but subtly, without wanting to stand out too much. What a shocking track, it goes beyond a few chills, it gives that feeling of being about to cry as the piece evolves.
An exceptional album. A result of enormous quality, full of emotion, inspiration, great twists and subtlety everywhere. - N. Sanchez (everkindness)
Delicacy and masterful feelings. When we listen to it, we feel that it had to exist. Perhaps this music is with which one thinks to have dreamed. Now it is not a question of dreaming it, we can also live it. That's music with soul, with no doubt. - E. Aisa