Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jannick Top - 2001 - Soleil D'Ork

Jannick Top
Soleil D'Ork

01. Epithecantropus Erectus (6:52)
02. Utopia Viva (6:53)
03. La Musique Des Spheres (8:29)
04. Mekanik Machine (9:24)
05. Soleil D'ork (6:19)
06. De Futura (22:47)
07. Glas (7:30)

- Jannick Top / Bass, Guitar, Drums
- Jean Schultes / Drums
- Doudou N'Diaye Rose / Percussions
- Dakar / Percussions
- Christian Vander / Drums
- Klaus Blasquiz / Vocals
- Brian Godding / Guitar
- Michel Graillier / Keyboards

Jannick Top (aka Jannik, Janik, etc.) was born in Marseille, but moved to Paris after a classical Russian education in piano, cello and the more theoretical side of music, becoming acquainted with many jazz-oriented musicians and recording an album with Troc before joining Magma in 1973. As the Wahrgenuhr, he helped solidify the zeuhl sound both by contributing his unique bass techniques - the trademark heavy distortion, played on a bass guitar tuned as you would a cello - and through compositions of his own, including the cult song "De Futura". Although his tenure with Magma was relatively brief (staying from May '73 until Oct '74, and then returning to record and embark on one last tour) his legacy is stamped all over Zeuhl and continues to influence bands from around the world.

Following his departure, Jannick recorded an album with the band Speed Limit, a band made up mostly of Magma alumni and in a similar jazz-rock style. When that project didn't last, he became a sessionist, working his way up the ladder of recognition and eventually recording for various well-known names. Although his musical concerns have taken a turn towards the commercial, Jannick Top has recently guested with Magma, as recorded on Mythes Et Légendes, Volume II.

The compilation album, "Soleil d'Ork" is a collection of his solo work recorded between 1974 and '80, some tracks being in collaboration with fellow Magma musicians and other important members of the Paris scene such as Richard Pinhas. The whole album retains a very Kobaian flavour and would be of interest to fans of the Zeuhl movement.

Jannick Top owns and runs Utopic Records and maintains an archive of Magma bootlegs.

 Jannick Top, being the champion of discerning prog bass guitar, is a musician who suffers from applied superlatives - terms like "bulldozing", "tectonic" and infamously, "dinosaur-skinning" are often related to his trademark zeuhl low-end. However, listening to this collection of his own work it might be that, on the famous Magma classics he may have been a little restrained.

"Soleil d'Ork", despite being studded with guest musicians (and if you follow the french scene, you'll know their names) is All About Jannick(TM) and is naturally written with the Kobaian rhythm section in mind. Consequentially, the record is almost totally saturated with funky bass and matches pulse with the ever-beating wardrums of planet Ork. If you're familiar with Magma's "Udu Wudu" then you should be able to recognise this shared song form - those alien disco synth melodies twinned with those trolled vocals while those doomy bass patterns churn and coil across that military drumdropping and the slither of hissing hi-hat, together defining battle anthems that endlessly loop. I do hope you like this formula, because the Wahrgenuhr certainly does.

Luckily, the songs diverge a little; "Epicanthropus Erectus" is a dark cave-groove with curious fiddlings; "Utopia Viva" is a glorious celebration which tests funk positive; "La Musique des Spheres" (a title you might recognise) is a spooky field of spacy-gothic echodrum ambience that feels like the evil-ternative Jean-Michel Jarre as reprogrammed by the Borg. All these songs are very long and don't really deign to conclude in any meaningful way, suggesting, of course, that the people of Ork live a toroid lifespan where they can see through time in both directions - what need is there for an ending when the temptation is there to scry it directly and ruin the surprise? Much more sensible to live the groove eternal.

"Mekanik Machine" is really special and a total treat for Zeuhl-lovers, because THE CORE is present - by the forces of Vander, Top and Blasquiz combined, this becomes the album's true centrepiece, as well as a possible "lost" Magma song. However, although there's even a little electric piano during the pensive moments, thanks to Jannick's direction everything else is light on the jazz and choral fronts, so the tasteful light and shade is foregone, leaving the song to culminate in one big rumbling, shrieking, pounding explosion of classic zeuhl ridiculousness. Again, it doesn't really end so much as become gradually more haywire and frenetic, but that's practically the album's concept (even if I have to attribute it as such myself) and if you've ever wanted to hear Magma being as heavy as a ton of doom metal CDs, come hither.

The title track should be vaguely familiar, and I suspect it's the same piece of music filtered slightly differently. This is a slightly disappointing moment - I wanted to hear it trolled more, or at least distorted beyond recognisability. If anything, it serves as a reprieve between two titanic epics, because you've read the tracklist and you know what comes next...

The man may be more famous for guiding such musical luminaries as Johnny Halliday and Celine Dion slowly around the studio by the hand, but "De Futura" is his true calling card, right? Here it is in a much more peculiar form, bookended by gibbering demonic voices (or possibly cows on motorbikes) and a despondent kobaian monologue, and once we've entered zeuhlspace some of you might be disappointed, as the Orkish funeral march is propped up this time by that most accursed of man's creation - the drum machine. Still, I really think this punishing heartbeat of the future fits the tune well and adds an even more robotic element, and the lack of more subtle drum textures pronounces this version of the epic as "pure" as can be. You may disagree and crave the variety that Mr. Vander always brings; just think of Top's "De Futura" as the original recording reflected on an oil slick.

The final piece, "Glas", is a trek across the dunes of Ork towards a temple of the bells, complete with sand-laden wind bearing down your respirator and distorted, distant everythingness. I'll mention "Hyuponia" here in the hope that someone will understand the reference.

Frankly, you may have noticed by now that this album is perhaps not aimed at your classic moog-rocker, being mostly ambient or doomy for its entirety, and for this reason, I can't recommend it unreservedly. However, I'm giving it a full five stars because it is an essential element of any prog collection also featuring "Kohntarkosz" - if you like doom metal, funk, industrial or power electronics, then doubly so. I'd just like to say that this is my favourite record from another planet.

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