Thursday, March 3, 2016

Komintern - 1971 - Le Bal Du Rat Mort

Le Bal Du Rat Mort

01. Bal Pour Un Rat Vivant (16:28)
02. Le Bal du Rat Mort (16:57)

- Francis Lemonnier / saxophone, vocals
- Serge Catalano / drums, percussions
- Michel Musac / guitar
- Olivier Zdrzalik / bass, vocals, organ, piano
- Pascal Chassin / guitar

Guest musicians:
- Raymond Katarzynski / trombone
- Pierre Thibaud / trumpet
- Fred Gérard / trumpet
- Joss Baselli / accordion
- Jeanne de Valène / vocals

This French band was founded by Francis Lemonnier (sax and vocals) and Serge Catalano (drums and percussions) in May 1970 after they left Red Noise due to musical and political disagreements. The name chosen gives you a clear indication as to their political views. The band released one album called "Le Bal Du Rat Mort" in 1971 and one single "Fou, roi, pantin" and were active until 1975. The musicians that joined them were Michel Musac (guitar), Olivier Zdrzalik (bass, vocals, organ and piano) and Pascal Chassin (guitar). At first they were less focused on composing only music but more on mixing it along with satiric theater - a sort of "cabaret satirique", in order to express their extreme left views. They used their music to enhance their message, and they did it in a manner that mixed several styles of music that would fit their show and the message to be passed on to the crowd/listeners. They were related to extreme left movements such as the "Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire" and they toured in the summer of 1970 in, among other places, universities and factories that were in strike.

In July 1971 they manage to get into a recording studio of Pathé Marconi with the help and influence of Philippe Constantin et Etienne Rodagil. They are joined by guests musicians such as the Quintette de Cuivres lead by trombonist Raymond Katarzynski, trumpet players Pierre Thibaud et Fred Gérard, Joss Baselli on accordion and vocalist Jeanne de Valène. The producer Philippe Constantin does some editing of their texts and leaves out two texts that were recited without any music and replaces the booklet which featured originally a painting by Diego Ribeira.

Le Bal Du Rat Mort (The Dead Rat's Ball) is released in December 1971 and 2000 copies are sold. This release did not exhibit the true face of the band, but it did however show their talent as musicians and as composers and ability to combine different influences. This album is a mixture of rock, free-jazz, fusion, folk, oldies tunes, chanson Francaise and a general theatrical and quirky approach to composing. The overall result is a well-done mixture of styles and atmospheres. This may not be groundbreaking but it is different than the average output of French bands at that time and can be seen as avant-garde in their musical approach in this album.

In 1972 Komintern forms "Front de Libération de la Rock-Music" along with
Lard Free, Barricade I and Barricade II, Herbe Rouge, Robert Wood's Tarot and Alpha du Centaure. This movement published a manifest in a journal and their general message was that of anti-bourgeois culture. They tried to spread their word through journals, leaflets, concerts, all arranged by Gilles Yéprémian which was the manager and producer of Lard Free and Komintern. However this movement eventually dissolved.

In 1975 Serge Catalano et Pascal Chassin left Kominern. Catalano is replaced by two drummers: Gilbert Artman de Lard Free and Michel Bourgheix. The group goes on a bit with some shows but eventually breaks up. Catalano continues with his activity in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Francis Lemonnier becomes a music teacher. Richard Aubert would play with Atoll and Kool Gool. Olivier Zdrzalik would play with Malicorne and along with Michel Muzac in the Lapins bleus des îles.

The proof that RIO didn't spring out the forehead of Chris Cutler one particularly inspired Saturday morning in 1977
After leaving the theatrical satire groove of Red Noise both Francis Lemonnier(sax, vocals) and Serge Catalano(drums, percussion) went onto new pastures after a major fall out with the rest of the band supposedly to do with polics. Joining forces with them were Michel Musac(guitar), Olivier Zdrzalik(bass, vocals, organ and piano) and Pascal Chassin(guitar) who all seemed to sport identical extreme leftist views.

In Komintern politics, theatre, French culture and absurdity are all scrambled up in this furious roller-coaster ride. You carefully plug into your seat, and BOOOM the ride is off to a wondrous circus land of strange sailor motifs and dancing Mandrill monkeys on balconies. Additionally you find a complexity regarding musical turnovers that'll make Gentle Giant look like Meat Loaf. Pacing wildly through avantguarde cabaret rock, fusion, angular folky chanson and zany off hinged vocal dominated sections, Le Bal de Rat Mort offers up the possibility of what Samla Mammas Manna would've sounded like, if they were French. Funny thing is that both of these bands actually were playing parallel to each other during the start of the 70s - developing a similar feel and sound at much the same time, only with two completely different cultures running the engine room. My guess is that they probably didn't even know about the other band's existence, let alone what their music sounded like.

All of this obviously started with Frank Zappa, and I think both Samla Mammas Manna and Komintern were highly influenced by Zappa's humoristic irreverence - not only in the lyrical sense but moreover in the manner in which he sliced through contemporary music with huge scissors and chainsaw elbows. Franky boy practically infused Dadaism into the rock world as something tangible and funny. Something you could actually make use off. Komintern took the baton up, just as Red Noise had did, and ran this filter through the heartland of France - it's age old accordion music, the new jazz rock, chanson traditions, beat music flirtations, and then managed to create an entirely unique sound for themselves. A sound that shakes you from your tree - rustles up the ground, and has you bouncing up and down with twitchy, unwieldy and nonsensical joy.

Apart from the core of the band, there are guesting musicians joining in on trumpet, trombone, accordion as well as the wonderful expressive vocals of Jeanne de Valène that show themselves in the most brilliant moments. The infusion of what now is a small Big Band(hoho), litters this entire album in scattered reed chit chatter - making you feel as if you're sitting in a room with some 50 different bird species all competing for your seed.

This is what makes circus elephants horny at 4 in the morning. It's what drunk clowns listen to when they're base jumping off the Eiffel Tower. It's the sort of music that leaps into your head like a long stretched limousine with silver doors and bells on it. It makes you jump for joy - dance into trances maniacally dripping with energy and sweat - open windows in places there are no windows, and shout LARS! at people in the street you've never met in your life.

I have read other music writers before me stating, that The Dead Rat's Ball (What a sensational title eh?) wasn't as experimental and ground-breaking as it's peers when it hit the street in 1971. As opposed to who I might enquire? How wrong they are. I truly object to such an obvious ludicrous statement. This is one of the most experimental and out there albums of it's time, and perhaps together with Måltid from SMM, Le Bal du Rat Mort lays down the blueprint of what later became the principles behind the RIO movement. This is genesis right here, don't you forget it people!

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