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A Wonderful, Literate, Masterpiece
on 11 March 2008
I always consider that David Sylvian should be cast in a similar role to that of Scott Walker. Both turned their backs on what were enormously successful bands to follow their own muse with little real care for commercial rewards. Instead they simply went about creating a distinctive niche from which both are still putting out records which bear little interest in commercial realities and are more artistic statements.
"Brilliant Trees" is where Sylvian began his journey. Here is a record which is steeped in French literature and art from the Paris of the inter-war years of Satre and musical cues coming from jazzy time signtures of ECM, the forth world ambience of Brian Eno, and echoes of a band who coloured a great deal of his music took cues from throughout the 80's, Can.
There is an echo of former group Japan in the opening track "Pulling Punches", which could have easily fit onto the final "Tin Drum" album, but from then on it really takes no interest in anything of his past legacy. The jazzy time signatures of "Ink In The Well" and "Red Guitar" mark them as two of the most distinctive top 40 records of the whole decade. Whilst a good deal of the rest of the album is filled with gentle textures and a quite ambient feel about it. Although this contains faint echoes of Japan it is fuzzier and lacks the clinical feel some of their work contains.
What makes the album for me is some of the contributions from the support musicians. Danny Thompson's double bass sounds as rich and warm here as he did when working with Nick Drake and the solo by Kenny Wheeler on "Ink In The Well" gives the track a really blistering second half. Old collaborator Riyuichi Sakamoto provides some beautiful support throughout but it's the lovely treated trumpets of Jon Hassel which dominate almost all of the second half of this album which cement the move away from pop to a place Sylvian clearly wanted to be. Lyrically intelligent and at times bleak this is a fine record.
Along with "Secrets Of The Beehive" and "Dead Bees On A Cake" this is one of Sylvian's most satisfying and coherent works. After 20 plus years I still return to it. As for the remaster? The sound is brighter and having a hint of hiss all adds to the atmosphere, in my view.