Japanese label Triton has released a Pascal Rogé album with a rather remarkable program; Crystal Dream features the eminent French pianist in a program that interweaves short piano pieces by Erik Satie with others written by contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, mostly pieces drawn from his Pleiades Dances. Both composers employ relatively simple melodic concepts harmonized with elegant, though elemental, kinds of accompaniments, so perhaps the combination makes sense. On the other hand, Satie never lived into the age of rock-based pop music, his engagement with the popular consisting mainly of French music hall tunes, and later in life, a sort of half-understood perception of ragtime rhythm. Yoshimatsu, however, would not be Yoshimatsu if it weren't for his strong connection to pop, though admittedly in Satie's case the pop group Blood, Sweat & Tears' adaptation of his Gymnopédie No. 1 once earned Satie a Grammy-winning single. Either way, one might wonder "how does this combination-slash-conversation work?"
It works because Rogé makes it work; his stylistic gestures and magnanimous sound provide the glue that holds the oil and water Satie and Yoshimatsu combination together. The only places where the album falls down is where Rogé falls down, which is not very often; a bit of a tentative approach taken to the Gymnopédie No. 1 (the simplest piece!) here, a bit of unfamiliarity with one of the Yoshimatsu works there. Otherwise there's not much that's not perfection on Triton's Crystal Dream, and you owe it to yourself to hear the ravishing Gnossienne No. 4 that Rogé dishes up here. However, for many listeners outside of Japan -- and the U.K., where Yoshimatsu is popular to the point of being considered almost mainstream -- Yoshimatsu is a bit of a cipher, and Rogé has recorded enough Satie outside of this project that in some respects he might be competing at a disadvantage with himself. However, for those listeners savvy enough to seek this out, this will be a bit of a mindbender in addition to a pleasing and relaxing piano album, and if you haven't heard at all of Yoshimatsu then so much the better for you.