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Daniel Diaz: Swan Song

Mark Sullivan By

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French composer Daniel Diaz makes his living composing soundtrack music, but Swan Song is more of a personal travelogue/soundscape. It's based around memorable melodies, supported by sophisticated harmonies and gentle, sometimes elusive rhythms. The overall effect is not unlike some of Brian Eno's ambient music: a series of brief atmospheric tunes that make more of an impact collectively than they do individually. But Diaz is working with more explicit World music and jazz influences.

Opener "Otoño y Martes (love theme number 1)" finally settles into a tango groove, with strings and piano in a passionate embrace. Tango (and what is probably Olivier Manoury's bandoneon) reappear on "Antefinal" in slow form, which opens with disembodied radio voices. Identifying individual players can be tricky, because although Diaz lists them all and praises their contributions, the tracks aren't broken down. Which may be part of the point, as this is much more ensemble music than a vehicle for soloists—they're meant to sing, not demonstrate technique. "Erik Satie's Farewell" has the air of a French chanson (Diaz playing accordina? It's one of several reedy instruments listed that sound like an accordion). "Same Old Song" is a saxophone ballad, while "Harold's Lake" has a long fade with an overdubbed duet by cellist Damian Jarry. "Resumé (Swan Song)," the final track on the main album, features flugelhornist David Lewis.

The five bonus tracks add an additional half hour of music. They're a bit longer on average, but the real difference is the live in studio feel of the music. I suspect the place names in the titles may be geographic recording locations rather than poetic evocations of place. "Palermo" is a jazz tune with saxophone, Patrick Bebey's Fender Rhodes, Diaz's bass, and one of the several drummers listed. It definitely sounds like everyone was in the same room at the same time, with group interaction and more explicitly improvised solos. "New York Polonaise" (another dance rhythm) had to involve overdubbing—Diaz plays piano and bass (plus guitar?)—but featured soloist violinist Line Kruse plays very freely. "Gandolfini Etc." adds a new color in the form of Luis Rigu's quena (the Andean flute heard on Simon & Garfunkle's "El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)"). Closer "L.A. Vignette" sounds like a noir vision of Los Angeles, with soloists Leandro Guffanti (soprano saxophone) and Kruse's violin commenting over Diaz's piano and bass.

Diaz says Swan Song is the last chapter in a trilogy of albums begun in 1993. I haven't heard the other two, but this album is certainly a fine calling card for his skills as composer, arranger and performer. It's an easy, enjoyable listen, while also containing riches below the surface.

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