Strange is a 2006 release by Julian Julien, a French artist recently added to the site database. Julian contacted a little while ago asking me to review this album, something which came as a bit of a surprise to me (a pleasant surprise, but a surprise, nonetheless), given that out of the 200-odd reviews I have done for this site, not one has fallen into the Rio/Avant Prog category. I am known for a few things, but my knowledge of this particular sub-genre is not amongst them.
So, given this, how would I take to it? Well, I am pleased to say that my reaction to this album is one of distinct pleasure. It is very good, with a wide range of sounds, excellent musicianship, and a delightful eccentricity that delights the more you listen.
The album also manages that rather difficult feat for a work almost devoid of any lyrics by transporting the listener to the place where the song intends. As no finer example, I cite the marvellous Cirque. Julian's keyboard work is exemplary on this, and you see before you the animals rushing around the ring, and the trapeze artists swirling. He saves his best keyboard work until last, though, on the superb untitled/bonus track on the CD, where, at the denouement, his organ playing is a joy.
There are some very talented musicians appearing here as well. I love the violins of Andre Jarca & Koo Young-Euu (they shine on Charlotte, a joyous track which I interpret as a homage to a loved one), Garik Heorhi-Anishchanka plays some lovely cello, the sitar of Michel Guay adds a very welcome World Music feel to proceedings, Djamel Laroussi is a good guitarist & bassist, the tabla of Apurbo Mukherjee adds a vibrancy to What's Democratie? in particular, and in Karim Toure we have a world class percussionist.
The voices and the whole mid Asian feel to What's Democratie? more than adequately convey the question the author is seeking to answer, although I suspect that it is as much beyond him as the rest of us.
My personal favourite on the album is the five and a quarter minute long Cosmos, a journey which has at its heart a vibrant piano, together with upbeat drums and effects, and mournful strings combining to create its own space to allow the mind to picture its trek. I'm sure that Julian would not mind me stating that this is the one track that comes closest to the type of eclectic symphonia that bands such as King Crimson made so well in the heyday of the early 1970's.
The longest track on the album is the seven minute title track, Strange. Laroussi's guitar work is a joy here, and the whole track has the feel of a band effort, rather than a mere solo artist with backing. It is a smorgasbord of avant experimentation and ethnic interpretation, so strange indeed, but all rather enjoyable. The bassline and piano lead holding it all together are fantastic.
Other highlights include the beautiful sound of Tinananana, full of Eastern promise, some wonderful sampling effects and keyboard work on the warm Sophie, and the soulful and melancholic Nocturne Indien, which I understand to be based upon a French film of the same 49 name. The strings and sampling on this are an absolute delight, and it never once loses the attention of the listener.
So, my first foray into the world of Rio/Avant, and what I will say is that for fans of this particular type of music, this album comes very highly recommended. However, perhaps more to the point, for those of you who very rarely dare to move out of the symphonic, neo, or crossover world of prog, this one might well tempt you to explore a little bit more daringly. It certainly will with me. I also think that those of you who enjoy releases by labels such as Real World will find much to enjoy here.
It is not a masterpiece, by any means, but what it is, is a very intelligent piece of work, and one that, to my great surprise, only caught my attention wondering with noodling on a couple of occasions.
3.5 stars, if we had such a rating, but uplifted to four stars for awakening me to a new world of music, and one that I will explore more in the future. An excellent addition to any prog rock collection
Review by Lazland
Julian Julien's 2006 album is a powerful and easily comprehensible exploration into ethnic jazz fusion.
As far as jazz goes, Strange is less strange than the title may imply and is actually very catchy and understandable with clearly stated middle Eastern instrumentation (sitar, tabla) in addition to keyboards, cello, violin, and various percussion.
The songs are all very expressive, active, engaging, and often initiate infectious grooves. The grooves are particularly special on "Sophie", "Planète", and "Tinananan" which all employ a hard electronic beat akin to nu-jazz pioneer Nils Petter Molvaer but still including the vibrant middle Eastern activity that makes this album so special. "Cosmos" is an outstandingly beautiful and highly expressive tune with dramatic melodies on keyboard and violin that sound suspenseful like heated interaction between two intimate lovers. Some of the compositions are dance worthy, like "La Caquou", which is high powered and upbeat and flows on a demanding ethnic groove defined by the bowed instruments while sitar and tabla punctuate the atmosphere.
Whereas a huge chunk of world jazz or world music frequently (or usually) comes off as insincere or downright cheesy, Julian Julien has a rare ability to incorporate this ethnic instrumentation and melodies so smoothly to the point where it never crosses my mind that he doesn't know what he's doing. It's astounding that the ethnic instrumentation combined with electronic trance elements doesn't come off as sounding like a dilettante hippie's attempt at creating new-age yoga jams, and proves to me that Julien is a true professional at his craft.
Ethnic jazz is an acquired taste for some, and many of the artists in the genre tend to create the same kind of bland spiritual cleansing absurdity or modernist fashion show soundtrack music, but Julien Julian has his own sound very much in the same way that Nguyen Le and Anoushka Shankar each have their own sounds. Julien Julian may currently be lesser known, but I'd say he's within the aforementioned artists' tier. Therefore, even for people who are not fans of ethnic jazz, I wholeheartedly recommend Strange for its high level of accessibility and compositional individuality. I can already imagine that this will be a great soundtrack for the upcoming summer.
Review by colorofmoney91
"Strange" indeed, but undoubtedly great. Over the course of the three albums Julien Julian has asked me to review for him, he has certainly managed to make a fan out of me. His unique, eclectic style of composition combines many different sounds and genres to create something totally unlike most other music I've heard. "Strange" is no different, though it takes a slightly different road than the other albums of his I've reviewed. All but gone are the Magma and general zeuhl influence that appeared heavily on "Fractale" and to a lesser extent on "Terre." Don't worry that that means "Strange" is taking the safe road, however, as this music is pushes boundaries and bends genres to create electric, eclectic world-folk/jazz the likes of which my ears have never heard. If that bizarre blend of genres sounds contrived or artificial to you than don't worry about the label: this is great music, pure and simple, experimental and progressive and beautiful all in one.
"Leh" begins with a brief hodgepodge of sound that quickly resolves into a tribal, eastern sounding piece of music that features strings heavily. Typical to Mr. Julien's work, however, there are all kinds of instruments featured, and the arrangement is such that you can really only hear the music as a whole: it's very difficult to pick out specific parts independent from the whole piece. However, the violin still plays a prominent part, often leading the mix with a melody that recalls a gypsy camp settling down for the night. "Leh" is boundary-pushing and experimental, but also very cinematic and melodic, and has significantly less zehul influence than the other two albums I've heard from Julien.
"Cirque" quickly lives up to its name, with a carnival-themed keyboard part providing the backbone of the track. The violin makes a return appearance, but its part is less melodic than on "Leh" and much more avant, with plenty of pitch-sliding and squeaking. A variety of other keyboard parts appear as well, and "Cirque" ends up being a great track: definitely experimental and outside the norm, but also extremely playful and not hard to appreciate.
"Charlotte" comes next, beginning with some keyboard textures that recall 8-bit music before launching into another melodic section that has a lot of influence from eastern-European folk. "Charlotte" however, is much more keyboard driven than "Leh" was, and while strings certainly do appear in a prominent position, especially towards the end of the track, the keyboards are really what makes the track what it is, with a variety of synth textures providing an idiosyncratic backing part for the strings to play over. Another great track with great melodies, arranged in a way that perfectly highlights them.
"Wath's Démocratie" trades in the folk for a more tribal sound that also has some funk elements. Some tribal sounding percussion gives a rhythmic base for the track and an interesting combinations of keyboards, guitars, strings, and wordless vocals give the track a psychedelic world-music feel that also has some touches of jazz and funk. I don't think it's quite as strong melodically as the three tracks before it, but the difference in flavor of its sound definitely makes up for it.
"Tinananan" is equally eclectic, mixing an almost glitch or electronica percussion part with psychedelic, middle eastern sounding guitar and synth. Vocals return as well here, and to be honest I'm not sure if they're wordless or simply in a language I don't understand, but either way they enhance the music very well, adding another element to the sound without ever intruding on the instruments.
"Le Caquou" begins with a field recording of crickets which is overlaid with some very faint keyboards or winds (can't uite tell which) before launching into the track proper. The melody is begun by, of all things, the unlikely combination of what sounds like a sitar and a person whistling. Strange though it may sound, the combination works incredibly well, with the same kind of eastern folk kind of sound that has so permeated this release very prominent in this track as well. Strings, guitar, and organ all eventually make appearances as well without ever 51 sounding out of place, and the track concludes with a brief synth postlude that caps off the track nicely.
"Sophie" makes use of electronics to create a backtrack that's almost reminiscent of disco. Over this plays what sounds like a flute, and the juxtaposition is extremely striking. Old sounds meet new in a way that should absolutely sound gimmicky or jarring, but somehow feels completely correct. Mr. Julien's compositional and arrangement skills are to be commended; the man can put any combination of sounds you can think of together and make it sound like the most natural thing in the world.
"Cosmos" begins with an epic horn swell over which strings spiral upwards towards the skies for which the track is named. After this piano takes over, laying down a repeating progression around which swirl a great variety of instruments, from the synths to percussion to the nighomnipresent strings. Eventually the piano drops back, leaving these instruments more or less alone, before returning in the last minute of the track for a sedate, dreamy closing for the track.
"Planète" begins with what sounds like a gong before what sounds like electronic percussion comes in. Over this repeating back-beat a dreamy blend of instruments plays, contributing an almost trip-hoppy sound. "Planète" is definitely one of the more experimental tracks on the album (and that's saying something) with almost ambient synth textures layered over increasingly frenetic electronic back-beat. Certainly not the most melodic track on the album but definitely one of the most interesting.
The seven minute title track follows, clocking in at almost two minutes longer than anything else on the album. Stylistically similar to the tracks before it, "Strange" combines great instrumental technicality in all kinds of styles to create an incredibly eclectic blend of progressive music. Piano again takes center stage for much of the track, but there are tons of instruments on display here, entering and exiting the track suddenly but always in a way that makes perfect sense. Musically the track is even harder to describe: there are touches of folk, touches of jazz, touches of electronica- the list goes on and on, but the only adjective that truly captures the essence of this music is "indescribable." "Strange" lives up very well to its status as title track; this is an absolute musical tour de force.
"Nocturne Indien" takes a turn for the mournful, with organ, strings, and eclectic percussion creating somber folk music that's almost dirge-like. It's still quite pretty, of course, practically dripping raw emotion. The ending in particular really tugs the heartstrings, with the violin practically wailing as its playing grows ever wilder. "No Name" closes out the album. Percussion and organ take the initial lead, but horns quickly make an appearance as well, as do a variety of winds and keyboards. The percussion as well is especially excellent on this track, understated but perfectly fitting. Towards the end of the track saxophone takes the lead for the first time on the album, and the track fades out on a final, sorrowful organ chord.
"No Name" definitely has an air of finality to it that makes it a great closing track to this incredibly diverse, eclectic album.
Of the three albums Mr. Julian has asked me to review, "Strange" has been my favorite by far. Every track is both a perfect, self-sustaining piece of music and a necessary part of the album as a whole-though tracks don't flow together this album still feels like one big piece of music. There isn't one note out of place on this entire album, and every track seems like the perfect one to follow the one that came before it. This is the album to start with if you want to find out what Julian Julien is all about, and this is the album you point to if anyone ever tells you that progressive music is stagnant or dead.
Review by Van Van Van
"Strange" is Julian Julien second solo album, and even if different from his debut it is not really "strange". If "Terre" was elegant mix of RIO and French urban folk with some Latin flavor, "Strange" is more exotic brew of oriental tunes,tasty melodies,string arrangements and multilayered electronics.
Collaborators team are totally different on this album comparing with its predecessor ( even if here are lot of strings as well). Music's texture is rich combining Indian strings,Oriental percussion with pure electronic rhythms - far not always such combination could be successful, but here it is a rare case when nothing sounds plasticky or flat.
Often big dose of electronics kills soul of composition, here music sounds surprisingly alive.Some moments reminded me early Nordic nu jazz (NP Molvaer,etc), but more often music sounded as soundtrack to dynamic movie where main heroes change geographical place of action every few minutes.
Review by Snobb, SPECIAL COLLABORATOR ZART & JR/F Team
French composer and instrumentalist Julian JULIEN made his solo artist debut back in 1999, and has since produced and released two more outings. "Strange" is the most recent of these efforts, issued by Cristal Records back in 2007.
A touch of jazz and a touch of folk music liberally flavored with exotic sounds and rhythms is what Julian Julien has to offer on his 2007 production "Strange". And with plenty of sequences sporting a distinct raga motif, those fond of progressive folk music in general and the psychedelic variety of it in particular appear to be something of a key audience for this CD. More varied in stylistic span than what one might surmise, not quite as varied in performance as one might ideally hope, but a fine production, by and large, and relatively unique at that.
Review by Windhawk, SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
Second offer who came almost six years after his first offer named very well Strange from 2006 is almost in same manner as previous work, I can't trace any improvement, musicaly speaking. Some RIo avant prog with ethnick folk is what I find here, at some point was hard to digest this release, as first one to tell the truth, but in the end is not bad, only is not my cup of tea this kind of music, really.
Julian Julien is a good musician who really know what is doing , but falls to imprese me big time. As the title imply is really strange for my taste. All pieces are ok, no highlights.
Review by b_olariu
Julian Julien is not only an intelligent and gifted artist but a pretty smart marketer as well, spreading news of his craft with strategic placement of his material into the laps of the reviewers and critics who populate the prog realm. This is a sensible move mostly due to the immutable fact that his music isn't exactly commercial or even easy listening, a tiny interval between jazz, avant-garde, world and with a "saupoudree" of zeuhl to seal the deal. This makes for some ardent listening that requires multiple listens before the magic sinks in. With a title like "Strange' what do you think is on the menu? Indeed, odd sounds abound, very much attuned to the urban cacophony that osculates the maddening crowds, the hustle and bustle of daily civic machines are expressed via sound and fury.
"Leh" is a perfect window onto the street, as orchestral strings play a sad lament. The electric sitar and the hand percussion revive the current realities of Paris, a city that is French in architecture and African in its aromas, a cosmopolitan miasma of bubbling contradictions and contrasts. This trend continues all the way through the album, showcasing the modern social realities of urban living, the merry go round lilt and innocent nature of the strident "Cirque" seeking to evoke the escapism that cities provide only in small occasional droplets. "Charlotte" is a whimsical keyboard ditty that again displays a certain child-like simplicity within a complex dissonance, screeching strings, gurgling synths and playful elegance. On the fascinating "What's Democratie?", Julien displays the distinctions between the "arrondissement" and the "casbah", a heady mixture of North African sounds and European structures democratically united in some temporal harmony, with assorted voices doing most of the weaving. Things get even more exotic on the brief "Tinananana", a ultra-modern electronica beat, spiced with tablas, derboukas, djembes and Michel Guay's slithering sitar, creating a fascinating snapshot of sound. "Le Caquou" is more of a string driven thing, again heavily loaded with aromatic percussives, swerving electric sitar. We were introduced earlier to the seductive Charlotte , now Julien has us meet "Sophie", a sultry little demoiselle , who seemingly exudes a ephemeral attitude, surely quite confident of her sensual looks, as she strolls down the avenue. This is a breezy affair, with electric guitar ruling the roost. Off to deep space for a while, first with orchestral "Cosmos", perhaps the most structured composition up to now, somehow reminiscent of mid-period Can, where the piano takes a predominant role and does so convincingly, still fueled by an array of percussion. This is certainly my favorite track here, as the sonic scope can be breathtaking. Got to land somewhere and "Planete" is chosen as an LZ, an echoing gong sets the craft in motion, spiced by cool polyphonic beats, distant e-piano and assorted effects. Another gong bash introduces the epic piece here, the 7 minute+ title track, "Strange" is in fact a perfect highlight reel for Julien's artform, as it encompasses all of the ingredients mentioned above, except this has a stronger zeuhl feel perhaps due to the groaning bass notes in the low ground that are fascinating to behold. Again, German legends Can come to mind, where massive amounts of colliding sounds coalesce smartly together. Modern, eclectic, jazz, world, zeuhl, electronica and piano etude all conspire to take this somewhere exotic, original and special. "Nocturne Indien" is a gently somber farewell that has a setting sun feel, still highly innovative and an untitled bonus track that defies description, led by a classic organ (that very French accordion sound) and a most welcome finale to this rather strange disc. Unique and sophisticated without falling into redundancies, make Strange a sobering inclusion into an already eclectic progressive universe.
Merci, mon pote et bonjour a Sophie et Charlotte.
4 etranges etoiles Review by tszirmay, SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Symphonic Prog Specialist
"Leh" is how Ladakh is spelled in Tibetan, and the oriental inspiration is more than evident in this track that's a fusion between a string quartet and raga music. Tablas and violin create a special situation: the first by playing a melting and sad melody while the other strings give the rhythm, while the indian instruments work as accompaniment, even the rhythmic ones, adding the oriental touch to the track. Probably it's only my impression, but I hear a sort of regret for the current situation on Tibet, even if Ladakh is currently part of India.
The second track "Cirque" is even more contaminated. It starts with a harp sound, likely a keyboard then after a short pause it suddenly becomes grotesque. This vision of the Circus is very close to that of the movie director Fellini. If anybody has seen "8 and a half" or some of his paintings will surely understand what I mean. The track has a sad melody that the circus distorted sounds enrich of weirdness.
"Charlotte" has an unusual Reggae rhythm but the sounds used don't have any Calypso influence. There are strings. Bells and percussions add a touch of far east. This is a melodic track, with a very simple sequence of chords and an intriguing arrangement plus a short mention of "Pagliacci", the opera written by Leoncavallo that I don't think is casual also thinking to the track's title. I also think to "Charlot", as Charlie Chaplin was nicknamed in France and in Italy.
"What's Democracie?" starts funky with tribal percussions and vocals whose world mood goes from America to India. The title is possibly referring to the 3rd world countries whose peoples have probably never heard of democracy. The question is repeated by a male voice several times. The track has a strong "world music" flavor. Very interesting. A gong closes it.
"Tinananan" is apparently a patchwork. Started by techno percussion on which an indian female voice sings, soon acquires a rub-a-dub tempo on which the sitar makes his appearance. A very original track contaminated by world and techno.
"Le Caquou" is one of the most ethnic tracks which seems to cross the whole Asian Southeast since India to Indonesia passing through China. A very imaginative track to be enjoyed on headphones.
"Sophie" has a chill-out mood. The tempo marked by an electronic drum kit and the synthetic flute playing on major chords make it very relaxing. I'm quite sure to have heard an electric guitar. Also this track ends with a gong.
"Cosmos" is a bit darker than the previous one. This track is lead by the piano and it's the one with more evident jazz influences but with more than a touch of Canterbury with the violin taking an important role. The second half of the track fades out in a psychedelic environment.
Now the gong opens a track instead of closing it. "Planète" is another electronic-chill-out track made of different parts tied together, but all very relaxing and sometimes hypnotic. A good track to relax with closed eyes.
The gong opens also the title track, but this is so ethnic and so Indian that if it wasn't for the clean piano, could be confused with some of the ethnic Senmuth's tracks, also because it is one of the darkest of the album and features Indian female vocals. I have to say that it has something vaguely Floydian, too. The jazzy piano and the fretless bass in the last two minutes are supported by tablas and by an ethnic string instrument (I'm not expert in this matter).
"Nocturne Indien" proceeds with the contamination of a string chamber rock ensemble with the indian ethnic, but this time the symphonic element is more relevant than the ethnic one. The track ends with some electronic noises incredibly close to the ambient side of Senmuth. I say incredibly because they are two very different artists coming from opposite genres. The indian element is the link.
The closer "No Name" is closer to Zeuhl. The indian element disappears to leave room to a church organ which closes the album.
This is a good starting point to explore Julien, not too challenging but never trivial.
Review by octopus-4, COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
I was really curious about his release. Julian's debut had sparked my imagination with its playful nature, and coming into this second one I think it's safe to say that I was expecting quite a bit.
Firstly, Julian is a brilliant composer, and here I am not talking about your everyday rock n' roll writer, nor fusion artist for that matter - no he is really a genuine musical persona. He seems to have hit a niche of his own, where eastern acoustic instruments co-exist with French accordions, violons and cellos. Now we've all heard music that takes its inspiration from that whole east meets west thing - in fact going way back to 66 you had The Paul Butterfield Blues Band issuing an album with the apt title of East-West, so we are certainly not reinventing the wheel here. Mind you, there is some wonderful experimentation going on here, that I have serious trouble describing without coming off as some kind of wine connoisseur. Maybe we're talking Indo-Raga chamber fusion here? I'm not that sure, but the way all of these stunning instruments from all over the globe melt together to form whatever playful dough - is quite simply a stroke of genius.
We've got djembes, violin, electric guitars, from time to time middle eastern lingering vocals, piano, accordion, electronic wizardry - such as the strange buzzing watery effects that creep up on some of the tracks. Lastly we get Sitar and tablas thrown into the mix, and swoosh we're off to Pakistan on some rather bizarre flying French wind sweeps.
My one gripe with Julian's debut was the lack of bottom in the sonic spectrum. In other words: I needed some bass! Well I'd like to say that this one boasts a lot more of this bottom dwelling musical beast, but that is not the case really. Yet I find this album to be much more round and wholesome. I think it's the samples and electronics that give off some kind of natural booming carpet underneath all of the other instruments. I'm not that sure actually, but the fact of the matter is still that Strange strikes me as a much more mature record. It flows very gracefully throughout its span time of 48 minutes.
Just as its predecessor this one also conjures up some wild and colourful motifs inside this Dane's increasingly confused head, and I find myself carried on soothing rhythmic notes to a land of smoke filled bazaars with Algerian French musicians and Indian DJs all jamming along to whatever comes natural to them at the time. The streets are sand coloured and narrow, so everybody are in the middle of everything - standing shoulder to shoulder beside yellow rocky bungalows that overflow with red, purple and bluish pieces of cloth bobbing wildly along to the airwaves and the beat. Everything is so close and intimate that you feel like the mad furious musicians playing music that reeks of spices and herbal tobacco, are sitting comfortably on your lap whilst greeting the morning rays of sun after a beautiful night of music and people.
Review by Guldbamsen
"Strange" is the second album of French composer Julian Julien, a truly talented musician who also chooses the correct people to work with. For this 200 release, besides Julien, there are at least five guest musicians who make this album possible, sharing their talent with the instruments that will produce the eclectic sound "Strange" offers. The album features twelve compositions that make a total time of 48 minutes.
It opens with "Leh" which has a violin since the very first second, later tabla and sitar join, making a mid-east tune that let us fly to distant places. This first piece is beautiful, yet sorrowful; an excellent introductory track. "Cirque" has some strings in the first seconds and then all of a sudden changes, keyboards produce new shadows and moods. This track could be used as the background of a weird movie scene, like some surreal circus, showing in one side the happiness that clowns must share, and in the other hand, the sadness those clowns have behind their disguise. Hope you get me.
"Charlotte" has weird keyboard tunes that are accompanied by tabla and sitar, making once again that mid-east sound, combined with a European flavor. There is later a great violin, and a curious child-like sound.
"What's democratie?" is a wonderful composition that is closer to the world-music realm. It honestly reminds me a bit of Thievery Corporation, a band that has nothing to do with progressive rock, but that also takes different cultural elements that are represented in music. Here we can listen to a cool rhythm made by percussion, while a female chorus sings and piano and guitar background complement it. At half the track there is a change, the music slows down, a tense atmosphere is kept by keyboards while strings make it gentler. Later it returns, and finishes as it began.
"Tinananan" is a shorter track with a nice mixture of world and electronic music, the sitar and female voice take us to India, but with always a fresh sound.
"Le Caquou" is another feast of Indian and European music, I like these compositions and how Julien combines different cultures and uses different elements to create such a good music. In "Sophie" the electronic sound predominates and leads, while percussion and flute make their appearance later.
"Cosmos" is one of the longer tracks here. It starts with violin and then percussion and keyboards join and produce a soft, delicate rhythm that is delicious. Later it is progressing little by little, adding elements while the seconds pass and increasing the energy. Very good song! "Planete" is a weaker track, with a chill-out mood, without leaving the world-music rhythm.
The longest composition is "Strange", reaching the seven minute mark. It is a very rich track because it gathers everything this album has offered so far. Here we can listen to violin, sitar and nice percussions that show the mid-east, Indian flavor of the music, while piano put a jazzy mood on it. Later it is developing passages and adding new elements, so in a place the electronic music is shown here, but not as obvious as in other tracks. Here I also like the bass sound, which I had not perceived before.
"Nocturne Indien" is a very cool song that reminds me a bit of the opener track of this album. The elements used are practically the same, Indian-like music and in the end electronic tunes. The final track is "No Name" which adds a soft and peaceful mood made by keyboards and accompanied by winds and percussion. A very good closer!
After having listened to Julien's two solo albums and his live one with Fractale, I can say I have the arms wide open to his upcoming projects, since I have enjoyed each and every of them, because the music is simply excellent. My final grade, four stars.
Review by memowakeman, SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
Julian Julien is an eclectic-multifaceted jazzy rock musician whose career began in the early 90s with the publication of La tombe des lucioles and with soundtracky recording experiences. He released a few solo albums before to form the collective Fractal.
These albums that range stylistically from progressive rockin standards (Zheul / RIO / Kosmische music) to soulful jazz (with eastern inflected tendencies) have been published during the last decade. As a musical writer Julian julien develops a radical aptitude for an unique combination of styles, marvelously creative and always surfing on the challenging side of music. Strange is the second offering after the release of the raga-ish-world jazzy outfit entitled Terre (2000).
Published in 2006, Strange reveals Julian Julien's qualities as an instrumentalist but also his interest for experimental soundscaping composition. We can notice a particular approach to music which favors film scores and a cinematic sound aesthetism. The world inflected flavor we can hear on Terre is less substantial despite the presence of some relevant exotic-percussive improvised sound textures. The album captures the attention on soloing progressive rockin excursions, largely improvised and based on a strong repetitive rhythmical section. The improvised parts are always groovy, epic, hypnotically melodious. The inter-musical exchanges remind me the vigourously avantgardist "krauty" dimension of Et-Cetera, Drum Circus (...) and the "landscape music" side of Alice Coltran. Expansive, quietly psychedelic, charmingly meditative with some compelling moments and great dynamics, Strange is beyond any classification and remains warmly recommended for the prog-leading audience.
Review by philippe, SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Content Development & Krautrock Team
Like most people I missed this gem when it first came out in 2006, which is a shame because Julian Julien's “Strange” is one of the better instrumental albums to come to my attention over the past year. A lot of different music can come to mind when listening to this colorful CD; the art pop experiments of Brian Wilson, Les Baxter’s exotic arrangements, Indian soundtracks, the electronica pastiche of Kruder and Dorfmeister, Ennio Morricone and Phillip Glass’ short works to name a few. Its hard to find a genre label for this album, but basically “Strange” consists of exotic art-pop tunes and cinematic soundscapes with very inventive instrumental combinations and rich sonic textures. The melodies used are catchy, but never trite or boring, at the same time, many sections are more ambient or minimal than melodic. There are plenty of Indian and electronica influences on here, but nothing is used in a cheap gratuitous manner, all of the elements fit together naturally.
Some standout cuts include “Tinananana” with its Indian dub beat that constantly slips in and out of a double time tabala driven break-beat and “Le Caqnon” with its Bollywood melody and sublime Les Baxter style wordless vocal ending. “Sophie”, with its ambient techno beat topped with Indian flute solos is also nice. This is highly recommended for those who like interesting exotic instrumental music with some modern electronica touches. “Strange” is a very imaginative album that deserves wider recognition.
4/5 John Sanders - USA
Some of you will know the multi instrumentalist Julian Julien as the mastermind of the band Fractale. With this solo titled “Strange” he presents us with a more spacey world music offering. It strongly reminded me of something Clearlight Symphony would do. The thing that stands out is the excellent combination of classical, world, and various folk, jazz, and electronic ingredients Julian uses here. If anyone remembers Gregory Allan Fitzpatrick's - “Bildcirkus” then you also have some reference points to go on. This is playful, circus like sometimes, and often beautiful all instrumental progressive music. Another clear reference is the band Tri Atma. One more likeness I think of is Savage Rose-“Dodens Triumf” soundtrack. Normally that band would not be compared here, but that one soundtrack does have strong characteristics to this carnival classical/folk/electronic/zeuhl world music fusion. This just touches the surface of trying to describe the styles of ‘Strange’. Thus, the delight of the whole recording, where you sit and never know what is coming from one song to the next. Not that there is any disconnect, but simply a great variety of genres that Julian uses in his compositions.
The strongest theme running through the CD is a celestial trance feel, along with the pit stops and fusions of the aforementioned comparisons. There is some occasional voice ( one beautiful female eastern contribution stands out ) added to the large assortment of instruments. This has seven guest musicians on things like sitar, violins, Tablas, and other ethnic percussives. Julian does all the programming, keyboards, and samples. All to make one nice exotic trip and enjoyable musical listening experience. There was even a spot where it sounded like Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. The bonus track at end “untitled” is just as great as the rest of the music. The fact is, there isn’t a weak second on the recording. It easily holds your attention, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to all lovers of progressive music.
Reviewed by Lee Henderson on November 7th, 2011 - USA
Known for his band Fractale, Julian Julien has produced in Strange, a solo album that’s odd, but also very compelling. The instrumental sounds on this CD are, appropriately strange, but also beautiful. While this is a combination of sounds you probably aren’t familiar with, and it feels otherworldly, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to it. Combining chamber music with jazz, space and world music, this is a unique musical tapestry that works surprisingly well.
Track by Track Review
Leh This instrumental comes in quite pretty. It has a chamber music kind of texture mixed with more classic progressive rock. There are lots of layers creating a thick and beautiful sound. We get some backwards tracked bits later.
Cirque The same basic musical concepts are presented here, but there’s a real wonderful craziness to the sounds. It’s beautiful and also a little disturbing at times.
Charlotte World music elements are merged with the sounds of the rest of the set here. This is pretty, but also strange.
What's Democratie? There’s a bit of an R & B texture here. The percussive motif is an intriguing change and female vocals over the top lend some of that soulful sound. There are also world music chants later. This is an interesting cut and actually the most accessible one to this point. It drops back to mellow world music later.
Tinananana Percussive, this combines tribal rhythms with Indian music and elements closer to the rest of the disc.
Le Caquou East Indian music gives way to space music.
Sophie There’s more of that Indian sound here, but this also has more of a rock sound.
Cosmos Chamber music mixes with more mainstream progressive rock on this cool tune. It’s one of the highlights of the set and has some dramatic and powerful passages. There are a number of changes and in a lot of ways this feels like the classic era of progressive rock delivered on more chamber music oriented instrumentation.
Planète A busy percussion arrangement is covered by jazzy sounds as this cut is created. It works to more spacey textures later, too.
Strange A gong opens the title track, and then percussion and Indian sounds are again merged. After a time it works out to a piano based jam that’s more like pure jazz. There are some weird world music vocals and some pretty intriguing jamming in place. As it continues, the 60 combination of sampled world music vocals, Indian music and jazz piano makes this one of the coolest cuts here.
Noturne Indien As this enters, it feels very symphonic. However, it’s sort a sampled symphonic texture like you might hear on modern R & B or hip hop. That gives way to more real symphonic textures and we’re taken through some intriguing alterations as it continues. Jazz, classical and world music are all combined here.
Untitled The organ sound that brings this in makes me think of Vanilla Fudge. The track builds up from there with the keyboards as the guiding force. There are other sounds and elements in the arrangement, but overall this feels like a proggier Deep Purple merged with Vanilla Fudge.
Review by G. W. Hill - USA
Prolusion. French composer and instrumentalist Julian JULIEN made his solo artist debut back in 1999, and has since produced and released two more outings. "Strange" is the most recent of these efforts, issued by Cristal Records back in 2007.
Analysis. Progressive rock is an intriguing stylistic universe for many reasons, and one of them is that the artists who tend to defy obstacles, boundaries and unwritten rules tend to end up inside it, whether willingly or not. What Julian Julien thinks about it I don't know, but I see that the record label that released this production has marked it down as unclassifiable, which is always a good thing in the book of a dedicated progressive rock fan. In the case of this album, you might want to disregard the rock part of it though, as the stylistic expression here is one with more of a base in folk and world music. The foundation throughout is elaborate percussion, exotic in expression, frequently with a tribal spirit and always with a Middle Eastern or Asian orientation, sharp and energetic to the point of approaching styles, such as house and techno on occasion, otherwise staying more or less put within a world music framework. Reeds, keyboards and strings are placed on top of this, sometimes in sparse arrangements, on other occasions with an elaborate array of different motifs forming a sophisticated overall theme. Ambient moods and chamber rock oriented passages sit side by side with jazz-tinged sequences and even some variety of dub reggae on one occasion. A few nods in the direction of more purebred art rock appear when the organ is added to the proceedings, but mostly this is a production with at least one foot well paced within the world music universe. And as some sort of thematic red thread, appearing in the greater majority of these excursions, we find the sitar, combining quite nicely with the aforementioned elaborate percussion foundation to insert a strong raga flavoring to the proceedings, sometimes in a small dose, barely audible or slyly sneaking into the arrangements, on other occasions as a dominating element or part of a composition. Applied with finesse throughout, on a disc with a rather innovative take on what to anglo-american ears might be described as exotic world music, made and performed in a manner that should have a strong appeal for many art rock fans. A tad too repetitive at times, to my ears, but a welcome experience, nonetheless, and solid material, I might add.
Conclusion. A touch of jazz and a touch of folk music liberally flavored with exotic sounds and rhythms is what Julian Julien has to offer on his 2007 production "Strange". And with plenty of sequences sporting a distinct raga motif, those fond of progressive folk music in general and the psychedelic variety of it in particular appear to be something of a key audience for this CD. More varied in stylistic span than what one might surmise, not quite as varied in performance as one might ideally hope, but a fine production, by and large, and relatively unique at that.
Review by Olav M Bjornsen - Norway
Probably unknown to most of You Julian Julien deserves our attention and im here trying to make the appetit grow in everybody. Julien is a young French composer and offers us a multiple, varied and intense music approach. This is his second effort after the album "Terre" of 1998 (Prikosnovenie label). To be honest im really looking forward his third effort which is still under construction called "Fractale" of which you can enjoy samples on myspace and realize the potentiality of this band and the unconventional mix of jazz and rock they present, the horns section is incredible.
Anyway let's explore and describe the album "Strange"starting from the easy point: is it really strange music? and obviously the answer is: Yes it's hell of a strange album this Strange album!!
You can see in the line up that there is no drums/bass, no rhythmic section doesn't mean a static work, first because there are sampled drums here and there and second because the derbouka, percussion and tablas work is huge, uh? sampled drums? I know it may sound strange but I think that's the point... sorry if I repeated it already 10 times, strange is strange!! Julien's hard work is exactly that programming/sampling work which is extremely accurate and precise underlining the attempt of "creating" a new tendency in music, jazz or rock or ethnic world music. "Strange" is at same time ethnic and avantgarde, sometimes the line between played instrument and sampled is so thin that's difficult to get the difference.
A picture of this album is trying to imagine to sit in India in a small town, colors of India around You mostly light brown and orange, dark red and yellow, You sit on nude land in the middle of a market, You smell the spicyes, You feel like a big city like Paris is far, gone from your mind ... but then You just turn on your left and your laptop is there connected wireless to the rest of the world and with one easy clic You can videochat with your violinist in Paris; this is "Strange" something far from the rumors/noises of the big city, far from computers and the frenetic life of our mad life but at same time linked viscerally with "tecnology" melodies of "Strange" take roots from these traditional lands such as India in primis but are developed and brought to us, modern 2K people. The use of sampler and programming is huge as anticipated, Julien asks his performers for "true" music and tablas, derbouka and percussion replies instinctively while violins, violoncello, sitar and guitar plus keyboards create melodies and harmonies performing on nude, sometimes really weird but never odd, drum samples. Well don't get bothered by this sampled drum, it only pops out here and there, let's say 18,8% of the entire album so if you are purists of "played" music, really don't worry! believe me! We can say that dialogs between violins, cello, guitar, sitar and keyboards are incredible, tight but at same time gives time to understand what's going on so I don't mean they are simple but just at the right place at the right time.
There aren't protagonists, only in few sections of this album the keyboard takes a dominant role, album is like a coca-cola bottle after you leave it fall on the ground, absolutely ready to explode!! And like a coca-cola bottle it's widely full, there is no free space, im not meaning that this album is a brick, exactly the opposite, it's colored and full of emotional moments and absolutely enjoyable, it's not RIO! If melodies aren't taking your attention there is always something which attracts You, the "strange" reverb on the guitar, the "strange" echo of the violin, the hell of "strange" sound of keyboards, absolutely varied and "multi-listenable" (wow I coin a new word). It's taking me a lot to write this review just because every time I play the album and I m passing the 20 times now I hear something which I didn't notice before especially when I change the equalizer presets modes.
There aren't particular signs of similar projects around so I highly recommend to everybody this "original" album especially to those who enjoy ethnic music and those ready for something fresh and new; it's not RIO, it's not symphonic, it's not fusion and it's not jazz-rock but it needed some promotion because it's cool!!! It's "Strange", did I say this already?!
Review by Valerio
Julian Julien heißt offenbar wirklich so, kommt aus Frankreich, betätigt sich in den letzten Jahren mit seiner Band Fractale vornehmlich am Saxophon, hat aber davor zwei Soloalben eingespielt. Schon 1998 erschien das Album "Terre", 2007 legte er das hier zu rezensierende "Strange" nach.
Ein Saxophon bedient Julien hier allerdings nirgends (oder vielleicht ist da eines ganz am Ende des Albums - in der Besetzungliste taucht allerdings keines auf). Dafür ist er an verschiedenen Tasteninstrumenten tätig, wobei seine Hauptaufgabe wohl darin bestand die verschiedenen Samples zu organisieren, die Instrumentalspuren der Gastmusiker einzubinden, Perkussion und Beats zu programmieren und das Ganze abzumischen. Das Ergebnis ist ein dichtes Gemenge an Weltmusikalischem, Jazzrock, Kammerrock, moderner, mitunter tanzbarere Elektronik und einigen freiformatigeren Momenten und klingt damit schon ein wenig "strange".
Das Album fängt toll an. "Leh", "Cirque" und "Charlotte" bieten eine Art von Ethnokammerprog, mit Streichern und Sitar, indischer Perkussion, verstimmten Pianolinien, quietschenden Tastenklängen und seltsamen Elektroniksounds. Toll! Ab "What's democratie?" verändert sich die Musik dann aber deutlich. Durchgehende, meist elektronische Beat- und Dubmuster, unterstützt von echter Perkussion, bestimmen das Geschehen, dazu kommen diverse Ethnogesänge vom Band, wieder indisches Getrommel, Pianogeklimper, Sitareinlagen, oft unterlegt mit allerlei schrägem Geplinge, weiteren Elektrosounds und Ambientschweben.
In einem rezenten Interview hat Julien angegeben, dass er sehr früher viel Musik von Niels Petter Molvaer gehört hat, was man dem Album deutlich anhört. Ein Elektroethnodubjazz(rock) à la "Khmer" ist hier immer präsent. In der zweiten Hälfte des Albums arbeitet sich dann wieder Kammerrockiges und Jazzig-Progressives in den Vordergrund (in "Cosmos" und in den letzten drei Nummern), was in Verbindung mit den asiatischen Ethnoklängen eine recht eigene Atmosphäre erzeugt.
"Strange" ist ein ziemlich interessantes Album, welches Weltmusikalisches, Jazz, Rock, Elektronik und Kammermusikalisches vermengt. Ein wenig gewaltsam erzwungen wirkt das Ganze allerdings ab und zu und die häufige Verwendung der asiatischen Sprach- und Sangessamples wirkt ein wenig billig und abgestanden, so wie man das eben von diesen pseudoexotischen Ambientpop-Dance-Ethnonummern aus den 90ern kennt. Trotzdem ist das eine ganz gelungene Mischung, in die Ethno-Elektro-Avantprogger ohne Aversionen gegen gelegentlich erhöhte BPM-Raten durchaus reinhören können!
10/15 - Achim Breiling - Germany