Hello friends. I'm back from an extended hiatus due to an intensive 6-week crash course in French grammar. The workload almost amounting to a full-time job, I haven't really been keeping up with current cultural events outside of reality television. Thus I can't really think of any new and exciting concerts or films or gallery openings in the NJ/NY area whatsoever.
Keeping in line with my recent activity, however, I thought that now may be a good time to dip into some good old-fashioned bizarro French music.
At first I considered subjecting readers to an entire LP by 60 French Girls, aka Les Djinns Singers, but thought better of it. Here's a taste of what you're missing.
Of course, most of this stuff can already be found floating around the blogosphere with a little looking around. But, then again, what isn't?
Last week at Downtown Music Gallery, I discovered an entire rack of CD-Rs--or, as the store calls them, Classically Deceased Recordings. This is super rare stuff, the original LPs of which would cost hundreds of dollars and are long out-of-print. However, the CD-Rs are so professionally designed with all the original artwork that the only giveaway is the bluish hue on the disc's underside. DMG's proprietor, Bruce Lee G., told me that someone from Dust-to-Digital has been cranking them out, but the name currently escapes me. Some musicians have even been coming in to offer their albums up for CD-R treatment and are receiving royalties from all sales in return.
In any case, I found that they had re-pressed pianist Dave Burrell's extraordinary La Vie de Boheme (BYG-Actuel, 1969), a free jazz take on Puccini's canonical opera. Okay, so it's technically not French--the opera just has a French title. But the LP was recorded in France and half the musicians are French, so shove it. Most people know Burrell from his excellent work with David Murray; currently he's backing up Giuseppe Logan's new quintet, a nice favor for the old guy. On La Vie, Burrell plays piano and occasionally harp, Rick Colbeck doubles on trumpet and piano harp, Jackie McLean-alum Grachan Moncur III blows his bittersweet trombone and rattles the chimes, Kenneth Terroade plays tenor sax and flute, Beb Guérin is on bass, Claude Delcloo tears it up on drums, and Burrell's mother Eleanor provides vocals abstract enough to be initially mistaken for theremin. It's a suite in four acts, the shambling ensemble picking up the occasional classical theme, embellishing it for a time with jazzy flourishes before burying it beneath layers of improvisation or simply abandoning it in a sudden stylistic shift, like Burrell's insane lightning runs up and down the keyboard. But overall it's a set full of drama, whimsy and melancholy, full of sweet, lilting themes and good cheer all around. What's even more remarkable is that the album was recorded the same year as Burrell's notoriously blistering Echo (BYG-Actuel, 1969), a skronkfest whose A side could easily give Borbetomagus, Peter Brotzmann and Frank Lowe's noisiest efforts a run for their money. Yet both Echo and La Vie share in common a general focus on collective improvisation over the traditional soloing hierarchy--the sole exception being a 5-6 minute drum segment by Delcloo in Act Two. If you like this track, check out the album; it's a singular and wonderful disc. I also spotted Francois Tusques' splendid Intercommunal Music (1971) on DMG's shelves, another OOP French classic originally released on Shandar.
Another totally beguiling and awesome disc I heard for the first time several years ago at DMG is this obscure one-off between Barney Wilen and Dièse 440, Live in Paris 8 Janvier 1983. It's actually still in print on the Futura/Marge imprint, known for releasing many of the albums found on the NWW list; its roster includes cult heroes like Bernard Vitet, Michel Portal, Jacques Thollot, Siegfried Kessler, Jacques Berrocal, Raymond Boni, Francois Tusques, Joachim Kuhn, as well as acid-fried psych classics like Red Noise and Mahogany Brain's efforts--the whole Mutant Sounds crowd, you could say--and even some pretty straightforward bop entries like Dizzy Reece, Freddie Redd and Dexter Gordon. Anyway, Wilen is best remembered as the tenor sax in Miles' group around the time of Ascenseur Pour L'Echefaud (1958), but it seems he got into some pretty weird shit in the '70s and '80s while he was living in the South of France. According to the liner notes, this concert was recorded the same year that Wilen "planned to provoke a duel" with Fela Kuti on the Champs-Élysées and played continually for 24 hours at the MJC Picaud in Cannes. After seeing French synth trio Dièse 440 in 1980, he decided he simply had to play with them in the future. The result is exactly what one would expect: moody 80s synths and tape manipulation a la Pyrolator with free floating boppish sax musings darting in and out of the trio's loopy soundscapes. Not a particularly homogeneous meeting of the minds, but the recording delights for the sheer disparity it highlights.Barney Wilen & Dièse 440 - Défilé
Speaking of Futura, here's one of the lesser-known items in their catalogue, though it was reissued in 2001 by Elica and is still in print(?). The album is the sole LP of Jean Guérin, titled Tacet (1971). I can't vouch for its current availability, but so as to not step on anyone's toes, I've limited this post to two excerpts. Guerin is credited with percussion and VCS3, Jean-Paul Rondepierre and Bernard Vitet (check out his La Guêpe from the same year, which featured Guérin's percussion) on trumpets, Phillipe Mate on tenor, Francoise Achard with vocals and Dieter Guevissier on bass. It's really more of a solo album for Guerin, as all the other musicians merely provide fodder for the leader's synthetic soup. Someone else on the web described it as akin to "the free-jazz-in-a-reverberating-echo-chamber sound of Sun Ra's Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy combined with the extraterrestrial electronic experiments of Pierre Henry's Messe pour le temps présent, throw in some absurdist vocals, and ... I don't know. It's so odd. But then in all comes together in an entrancing future-primitive vibe, with bubbling water sounds, mysterious echoey effects and hypnotic rhythms (and non-rhythms). Perfect music for taking mushrooms on a rainy afternoon, watching the raindrops melt into asphalt, and then performing expressionistic modern dance moves in your undies." A simpler comparison would be to the soundtrack of the animated cult film La Planete Sauvage (1973), which utilized Guérin as sound effects adviser. It does sound like all of those things, even a bit like Herbie Hancock's Sextant (1972), but the stuttering sax samples on the first track point to something far more modern. If only I could put my finger on what... perhaps something in the vein of Pierre Bastien? Great stuff regardless.
In listening to Guerin's album, I was also reminded of some of Bernard Parmegiani's more manic work, particularly his music videos like the beguiling L'Ecran transparent/The Transparent Screen (1973), which I've uploaded below. You can actually get the Parmegiani score on a 3" CD-R called Musique Concrete Soundtracks to Experimental Short Films, Vol. 6. I've seen the video mistakenly attributed to Polish animator Piotr Kamler (Chronopolis, Delicieuse catastrope) on the web, but it's directed and written by Parmegiani, who also stars. The score has much of the tautness of his superb De Natura Sonorum, and the film is unusual for its visual insistence on the presence of sound--this odd searching after what cannot be grasped as concrete object in the natural world. And yet sound assails him on all sides, enfolding the actor in a "transparent screen" of information. Dig the image of a human face turned into gigantic oreille: "We cannot stop the sound automatically. Quite simply, we are not endowed with earlids..."