Sting’s guitarist goes all French for this acoustic instrumental, whose atmospheric mood is light, feeling by turns improvised, fragmented and exploratory.
Time: 10 tracks / 42 minutes
“The first thing that came to me – before I wrote any tunes – was the title,” writes Miller in his liner notes, explaining how, living in the south of France, he appreciates the French impressionist painters, with their green skies, blue faces and distorted perspectives. He wonders how much the drink affected their sanity.
Miller is Sting’s guitarist and that same distinctive tone that we hear on “Fields of Gold” is clearly present from the opening solo notes of this instrumental release.
The first melodic voice he wanted on this album was bandoneon for its “pure and unwavering” intonation, and while that accordion-like instrument echoes an archetypal French sound, it is primarily Argentinian, mainly designed for chord work, rather than melodies (and often used in poorer churches to back hymns). So normally, it would add an impression of colour behind Miller’s leading acoustic guitar, but in Santiago Arias’ hands, it handles harmonies, takes several meandering leads and drapes numerous runs alongside it.
The title track begins so tenderly that it almost makes you close your eyes to absorb the peace, but breaks abruptly after a few minutes into a beatier track, thanks to Manu Katché’s assertive drumming. “Etude” takes a different route, slowly – but relentlessly – building in rippling intensity.
Generally, though, the album is delicately played and light, feeling by turns improvised, fragmented and exploratory, rather than composed or melodically led.
The lovely “Christiania” is the track where all the elements seem to be best in proportion to one another, with guitar leading the field. Strangely, it is one of the quietest pieces, yet - along with “Ténèbres” – the one with the most presence.
The simplicity of the almost-lone guitar on “La Petite Reine” works well and is reminiscent of his sparser previous album Silent Light.
That release was almost purely solo, with just a little percussion, so the extra musicians on this create a richer and more satisfying feel – as long as the bandoneon works for you. Bass, a little synthesizer (like the short Theremin-like colouring on the title track and the drifting lines on “Mixed Blessing” and “Bicycle”), discreet piano on “Étude” and drums from the well-connected Manu Katché (Gabriel, Sting, Tears for Fears and jazz royalty, just for starters) all fill out the sound.
Think of the notes as paint dabs and, like impressionist Seurat’s The Seine Seen..., it is an understated whole made up from many tiny points.