Planeta Imaginario – Optical Delusions

Ah, Catalonia. I have fond memories of my time in Barcelona. I loved the pa amb tomaquet (toast with a tomato/garlic/olive oil spread) and paella, though I understand the latter to have originated in Valencia. Catalonia is a wonderful place, to be sure, but there are many facets of it that are not well-known. The wondrous beauty of Catalonian jazz fusion is what I will focus on in this review – but specifically the recent album of a band called Planeta Imaginario called Optical Delusions. But I guess you could figure that out from the title.

I’m not going to profess to be an authority on Catalonian jazz, and I am only aware of a few bands, but these certainly are wonderful. Two of my favorites from the 70’s are Iceberg and Companyia Electrica Dharma. The former’s first album was more traditional prog and the latter became sort of an annoying folk-rock band later on in its run (in my opinion), but at their height they were both wonderful jazz fusion bands with possible influence from Chick Corea heard in their amazing use of Fender Rhodes. The bands have their differences, but the human in me has the tendency to see connections where none may exist, so I feel like these two bands, as well as Planeta Imaginario, are tied together by some sort of Catalan musical tradition.

Planeta Imaginario has been around for about ten years, released their first album in 2004, their second in 2008, and their third just a month ago in 2011. They are a wonderful band and my favorite new find of the decade (I guess that’s not saying much yet). They seem to have six permanent members – keyboards, bass, trumpet, trombone, saxes, and drums, along with a few guests on different instruments (yay, flutes!). The lineup clearly shows the importance of the horn section, and it is used to great effect, but the keyboards dominate. This, for me, is a huge bonus.

The music of Optical Delusions is generally smooth and subtle (don’t think Kenny G, I’m not finished) like Hatfield and the North in their more pensive moments, and less like the funkiness of Billy Cobham or the energy of Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s more on the fluid, astral spectrum of jazz fusion, like Return to Forever. That said, they don’t sound anything like RtF – the horn section and lack of guitars make a pretty clear distinction. The keyboardist (Marc Capel) does not usually display heavy influence from Corea, either, though it is bound to show up considering the genre.

I have seen the term “Canterbury” thrown around a lot in reference to this band. I am going to say right now that I don’t see Planeta Imaginario as being a Canterbury band. They don’t have the Stewart-esque Hammond organ usage or the heavily accented whimsical British vocals that so characterize Canterbury to me, but they do have a lot of similarities in rhythm. Parts of tracks just HAVE to be influenced by Canterbury bands, such as the beginning sections of the second track “El Jardin de las Vacas Alageres (Spanish readers will note that this is written in Catalan). Fans of Hatfield and the North and National Health (such as myself) will definitely have a lot to like here, but it’s not the same thing.

I guess that’s pretty great though, right? I hear aspects of Canterbury, but they don’t overpower or turn it derivative. I hear aspects of other Catalonian jazz fusion bands (if I’m right) but they don’t turn the band toward regressive Catalan introspection (I just invented a sociological term!). I even hear some Chick Corea, (but not much, I promised Nick I would shut up about Return to Forever if he shut up about Allan Holdsworth).

P.S. Buy this album along with their other two, ¿Qué Me Dices? and Biomasa.

P.P.S. They’re on Cuneiform records, so I guess that kind of derails my “not Canterbury” argument, huh?

The lineup for Optical Delusions is:

Marc Capel – Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, Challen Piano, Yamaha and Jen Synthesizers Dimitiris Bikos – Fretless Bass
Natsuko Sugao – Trumpet
The-Hien Trinh – Trombone
Alfonso Muñoz – Saxes, Percussion
Vasco Trilla Gomes dos Santos – drums, percussion

Guests:
Sisu Corominas – Saxes
Pablo Selnik – Flute
Guillem Serra Llorenc – French Horn
Liba Villavecchia – Tenor Sax

Tracklist:

1. Acciò Col-lectiva (10:16)
2. El jardì de las Vaques Alegres (9:40)
3. Xarramandusca (11:36)
4. Bona Sort, Amic Meu (1:45)
5. Angioma (3:50)
6. Bisturí (0:45)
7. Hemangioma (3:09)
8. Introducció de Llepavoreres (2:37)
9. Llevaporeres (8:00)
10. Element de la Puresa Imperfecte (4:15)
11. Element del Art pur i Imperfect (6:21)
12. Element de la Persuasió Imperfecte (2:40)
13. El Mar, i Llavors Sortí el Sol. i el Reflexe (13:18)

You may find them here:

http://www.myspace.com/planetaimaginario

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com/bandshtml/planeta.html

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