Saturday, May 7, 2016

Toruk - The First Flight is an unexpected delight

Toruk - The First Flight by Cirque du Soleil 

Where to even begin describing this unexpected delight?

After a lukewarm performance on Joya, I didn’t have high expectations for Toruk. If I were asked to pick a favourite Cirque du Soleil soundtrack, the scores of Bob et Bill (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) would never have been among my choices. Now, I would consider Toruk ranking among some of the most listenable, and ranking among one of the best.

Toruk succeeds where Avatar didn’t - it distinguishes itself beyond the broad genre of ‘tribal’ music.  The late James Horner wrote a surprisingly unremarkable score for Avatar; for a film with such acclaimed in its visuals and imagery, it certainly lacked distinction in its musical style. I would never be able to tell you what influences have been picked and make up the DNA of Toruk. It absolutely has a tribal feel and basis, but draws on electronic beats, complex percussive patterns and a huge variety of voices and instruments. Bob & Bill seem to hit their stride when it comes to creating a more cinematic and immersive feel for a soundscape.

Typical of the pair’s work with Cirque, there is no big ballad or grand use of themes and motifs. There are fragments of both but instead, the compositions seem to progress through many movements within a single track. The only caveat is that some phrases seem under-developed, but the variety is refreshing and the result is a collection of tunes that manage to cover a lot of ground. The music feels like a fusion of works from Deep Forest albums, Tan Dun operas and Damon Albarn's scores for stage. As a little side-note for big Cirque Musique fans, this record has a few cameos from superstars including Julie McInnes, Isabelle Corradi and Christian Laveau contributing vocals - it’s really cute that they contribute here.

On a whole the album is extremely unified and very listenable – there are a few brilliant tracks that distinguish themselves. ‘Lu Aw Navi’ is quintessential Cirque, a multi-layered percussive-electronic fusion that builds climactically through layering and caries the central theme of the album, and ‘Direhorses’ is an absolute revelation – a jaunty and celebratory string arrangement that is extremely emotive and elating. The new singers to the Cirque catalogue including Cumie Dunio and Elsieanne Caplette have excellent voices that blend and transcend around the music, and I hope these talented ladies end up on more Cirque recordings.

I will be interested in listening to the duo’s score for Paramour, Cirque’s ‘first’ (read: third) attempt to break into the New York theatre scene – as it’s going to require them to bring out some serious melodies and ballads that I wish were included here. However, on a whole the album is dynamic, rhythmic and enjoyable, and a terrific offering for Cirque to have in their catalogue.

Finally, we have another Cirque du Soleil soundtrack that lifts us up and takes us to another world.

'Toruk - The First Flight' by Cirque du Soleil is available digitally on iTunes and, and is also available on Spotify & physical CD.