Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Vertø - 1976 - Krig / Volubilis

Krig / Volubilis

01. Krig (4:52)
02. Et Terre (3:34)
03. Ether (1:12)
04. Oka (4:02)
05. Locomo (6:39)
06. Strato (18:37)
07. TK 240 S 52 (5:38)

- Jean-Pierre Grasset / guitars, drums, potentiometers, sounds

Guest musicians:
- Gilles Goubin / Fretless bass
- Xavier Vidal / violon
- Michel Goubin / piano
- Dominique Dubuisson / bass
- Charles Goubin / guitar
- Serge Soulié / drums
- Michel Depalle / drums
- Philippe Goubin / drums
- Okamoto / voice
- Alain Thomas / bass
- Francois Artige / guitars

Verto was formed by French guitarist Jean-Pierre Grasset to help him flesh out his fairly unique experimentally-minded musical vision. Verto, however, was not so much an actual group as it was the working title for Grasset himself, and/or anyone else he happened to be making music with at the time. Previously he had been running Tartempion with Michel Grezes – this was a non-profit organisation that set up concerts and helped bands such as the early Potemkine to find a live audience. (Potemkine were a French group with a unique twist on zeuhl music, though later turning to more progressive jazz-rock fusion realms a la Italians Etna).
He released his first album on the Pôle label, ‘Krig/Volubilis’ (recorded late 1975), which is notable at first glance for its gloomy alien planetscape front cover reminiscent of Roger Dean on a bleak mushroom trip (if I’ve translated the French liner notes correctly, it was done by Grasset). Incidentally, in 1975 Grasset also recorded the first album by Potemkine, ‘Foetus’, which was also released on the Pôle label. The band Potemkine are also his backing musicians on side one of this album (also providing the amps for the session!), plus some other guests. Some of the album, especially side 2, has a strong electronic feel but there were no synthesizers used on any of it – just pure inspiration and ingenuity.
Opening the album, ‘Krig’ [4:58] is the only track to feature a full band sound. Present are Grasset and Charles Goubin on guitars, Dominique Dubuisson on bass, Gilles Goubin on fretless bass, Michel Goubin on piano, Xavier Vidal on violin, and Serge Soulié, M. Depalle and Philippe Goubin on drums. This sounds notably like a spiced-up version of Potemkine circa their classic second album ‘Triton’, bearing that Zao-informed twist on zeuhl rock with an extra experimental edge to the sound courtesy of Grasset’s treated guitar and dark psychedelic arrangements. Fuzzed guitars build up a wall of angst as militaristic bass and drums loose booty it beneath. Come to think of it, there’s even a bit of a mid-70’s King Crimson vibe here, aided by the presence of violin in this dramatic and menacing music. Halfway through it simmers down and a new driving, funky groove kicks in, led by the bass, and the whole thing shifts into a different feel entirely, still very cool, still a bit like Potemkine in part but totally unique. Near the end guitars start squalling like crossed wires and the song crashes to a conclusion.
‘Et Terre’ [3:36] is down to just two guys now, Grasset on guitars and Gilles Goubin on fretless bass and vocal. Again there’s a strong zeuhl vibe present, with the weird multi-tracked (or delayed?) alien guitar squawks and repeated progressing bass motif overlaid by wordless vocal chants, but it’s different again to anything from the first track, much more akin to the very cool electro-acoustic zeuhl duo Archaïa who would release a sole album a few years later. But at this time, the sound and style of ‘Et Terre’ was the first of its kind. Ending with a pocket of laughter we’re led straight into ‘Ether’ [1:14], featuring Gilles Goubin on fretless bass and Xavier Vidal on violins. Is a kind of trip matrix reprise of the previous track, taking a similar bass progression but overlaying it with a scraping violin drone and a web of complex mind-infesting guitar spindles with a cosmic classical guitar flavour. At least it sounds like a processed guitar, or it could even be a sequencer... but only bass and violin are credited for this track. If that’s violin plucking then it’s pretty impressive.
‘Oka’ [4:06] is the most ‘normal’ track on the album, though not ordinary, featuring Grasset on acoustic 12-string guitar, Alain Thomas on fretless bass, F. Artige on 6 and 12-string electric guitar and Okamoto on vocal. It starts with gentle guitar pickings and unassuming supportive bass prods, before coalescing into a fragile sonic dragonfly that starts to shimmer and hover away from the ground, wordless scat vocals ornamenting a floating free-folk flight that would sound at home on any great early 70’s stoned acid folk album – for example, Ton Vlasman’s ‘White Room With Disintegrating Walls’ leaps to mind because I was listening to it just yesterday.
‘Locomo’ [6:46] is a loose, relaxed but assertive, fat avant-funk jam that sounds rather like the legendary Australian group Quasar, a comparison that I also see in a track on the next Verto album (see the separate review). Here we have a trio of Grasset on guitar and drums, Gilles Goubin on fretless bass and Michel Depalle on drums. A couple of minutes in the treated guitar starts to enter almost Hendrixy realms, though never becoming an imitation, and in fact most of the time not really sounding like anyone else that I can think of. At around five minutes the rest of the guys fall back as Grasset freaks out on the guitar and brain-splatter electronic effects a la T.S. McPhee on ‘Split’ for the remainder of the track, and there’s side one done.
‘Strato (including Volubilis)’ [18:48] takes up most of side two, and is a different kettle of fish entirely. Here we enter spaced-out kosmische realms, hinting at a darker ‘Phaedra’-era Tangerine Dream but without synths or keyboards, just Grasset on electric guitar, saw blade, violin bow, TK (see below), and A77 tape machines. You’d hardly guess, though, due to the expert manipulation of sound, kinda like German group Fuerrote’s similar use of droning guitars to approximate a deep space synthscape (see ‘Unknown Deutschland: The Krautrock Archive Volume 1’), though admittedly, Fuerrote did use a synth as well. Even compared to that, however, Grasset’s achievement on this track is remarkable given the means used to get there. In some parts comparisons could be made to Ash Ra Tempel circa ‘Inventions For Electric Guitar’ and ‘Le Berceau de Cristal’, though far less rhythmic and relatively straightforward than the former, and much darker and colder than either; Galactic Explorers’ ‘Epitaph For Venus’; and Günter Schickert’s ‘Samtvogel’, though much more free-floating and spacebound. Daevid Allen/Dave Gilmour-styled cosmic glissando guitar is another stream that crops up. But, these are just signposts along the way, as Grasset has created something of his own despite there being some obvious predecessors to elements of what’s going on here. I can’t describe all of this track as it evolves without lapsing into an excess of mental association fantasy that would be too subjective to really convey the music in this case. Or maybe I’m just too lazy right now to want to give it a shot... That’s probably more like it, actually. Suffice to say it’s wonderful stuff for kosmische heads that constantly shifts and changes seamlessly, full of deep mystery and psychedelic imagery throughout the 18 minutes + playing time. It’s only after the midway mark that Grasset even plays anything that the ear is in no doubt is made by a guitar and not a synthesizer.
‘TK 240 S 52’ [5:33] closes the album and is the sound of Grasset on potentiometers, weaving up an interesting tapestry of eerie droning electronic tones, ending it all on a paranoid alienated migraine machine edge. A TK-240 is a 2-way radio battery made by Kenwood, incidentally (maybe Grasset used one to power the potentiometers?). S-52 was the designation of an old Sikorsky helicopter, but I’m not sure what relevance that would have here. It may also be some obscure piece of electronic equipment but I don’t have much to go on...
Following this album, Grasset recruited an (almost) all-new cast of supporting musicians for a second and last Verto album, for a different label. I’ve reviewed this separately. Neither Verto album has been reissued on CD, bootleg or otherwise. I think it’s safe to say their time has come, and hopefully someone will locate Grasset and the master tapes for the treatment they deserve.
VERTO really is an obscure masterpiece of guitar-driven, electronica and avant space-rock - its seems like an amalgamation of all the various tropes of the seventies French rock scene.

1 comment:

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