Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ансамбль Мелодия – 1974 – Лабиринт

Ансамбль Мелодия

01. Лабиринт
02. Марина
03. Ленкорань
04. Огненная река
05. Labyrinth
06. Marina
07. The City Of Lenkoran
08. Fiery River

Georgi Caranian: Viola, Sax, Synth
Alexei Zubov: Saxes
Konstantin Nosov: Trumpet
Gennadi Petrov: Trumpet
Konstantin Bakholdin: Trombone
Leonti Cherniak: Bass Trombone
Boris Frumkin: Piano
Alexander Bukholtz: Guitar
Igor Kantyukov: Bass
Alexander Simonovski: Percussions

Melodiya Ensemble - 1974 – Labirinth

Sort of the house band for the Soviet state label Melodia. For most of the album, it’s a pretty groovin’ jazz album, with some funky and rockier bits. But the opening track is an eye opener. I haven’t heard this much solo fuzz bass since the debut from SBB (which was also from 1974). I’m wondering if they felt emboldened to display such subversive sounds after hearing it come from one of the satellite states? Like many Russian albums, the Cyrillic can be translated a number of ways and you’ll see this album listed as the Melodia Ensemble, Melodiya Ensemble, and many other combinations. As far as I know, this one didn’t get a reissue like most of the 1980s Melodia albums did (Gorizont, In Spe, Gunesh Ensemble, Kaseke, etc..). Nice to see the Soviets were able to groove in the 70s like everyone else - at least a little bit anyway.

Reissued by Melodia (Russia) as a beginning part of the compilation: George Garanian - "All that Jazz".

Гунеш - 1984 - Вижу Землю

Вижу Землю

01. Байконур · Baikonur  5:02
02. Бу Дерды · Bu Derdy  7:44
03. Восточный Экспресс · Oriental Express  3:32
04. Ритмы Кавказа · Rhythms Of The Caucasus  8:25
05. Ветер С Берегов Ганга · Wind From The Gang  4:32
06. Вьетнамские Фрески · Vietnamese Frescoes  4:20

Bass Guitar – Владимир Белоусов
Guitar, Instruments [Copus, Hitar] – Михаил Логунцов
Keyboards – Степан Степаньянц
Keyboards, Leader – Олег Королев
Percussion – Ришад Шафиев
Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone – Вахид Ризаев
Tenor Saxophone – Станислав Морозов
Trombone – Юсиф Алиев
Trumpet – Александр Стасюкевич, Шамиль Курманов
Violin – Gassan Mamedov

Gunesh Ensemble - Looking at the Earth

At first the ensemble was a part of State TV and Radio Company of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic as a vocal group with supporting instruments. Later the composition of the group began to change as young people joined it. The group began to play jazz-rock tightly intertwined with the Oriental tradition. Gunesh' has always been in the process of reforming and was one of the first and best to organically combine the similar principles of the melodious improvisation on traditional mugams and jazz improvisation. The unexpectedly beautiful arrangements appeared,and polirhythmic compositions with odd measure were
further developed thematically.
For their second LP, Looking at the Earth, Gunesh stepped it up a notch on the creative scale. We still have 2 barn burner horn rockers but Gunesh also added some trippy Caucasus mountain music, Muslim prayer calls, psychedelia, hot fusion, Vietnamese traditional music, etc.. to make for one of the finest albums I've ever heard. Rishad Shafi is possibly the finest drummer to be found in the prog rock archives (Peter Gabriel considered him once but working it out with the Soviet authorities proved to be too much)
Going through the tons of albums I have from Turkmenistan (ha!), I think i've found a favorite! The GUNESH ENSEMBLE (sometimes found only as Гунеш (GUNESH) was a highly eclectic and energetic group led by drummer Rishard Shafi. They were masters of jazz-fusion mixed with all things Central Asian folk including haunting chants and exotic instruments. Of course they even had a Vietnamese singer! After their first album of mostly folk material they really stepped it up and created something truly unique and unbelievable.
Вижу Землю (Looking At Earth) in an unearthly amalgation of musical majesticness. The album begins with a whispering wind and some temple bells before Russian dialogue ushers in some seriously deranged funkiness and energetic percussion and horns with some strange electronic “talking.” The jazz-fusion doesn't waste any time getting warmed up. You know you're in for a very wild ride with this one. The album continues to surprise with abrupt changes but quite capable of sustaining a beautiful melody in the form of song or chant. The interplay of 10 plus instruments may be going on at any given moment. Absent are any influences from Western bands. All sounds original and isolated like it was all created in a remote area that still hasn't made contact with the Western world. However parts do remind me of Italian avant-proggers Area and the last cut sounds like a traditional Vietnamese song meets the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
If you like eclectic world fusion then you will love this. Must hear to believe.This album had only one vinyl release in 1981 and is probably impossible to find but fear not. Rishad Shafi released the first two albums on CD titled “Rishad Shafi Presents Gunesh.”

Гунеш - 1980 - Гунеш


01. Жиги-Жиги (Девушка) 3:42
02. Туни Деряп 5:28
03. Акжа Кепдери 4:03
04. Восточный Сувенир 4:58
05. Кечпелек 7:08
06. Ялан 2:44
07. Коне Гузер 4:15
08. Арманым Галды 3:12

Bass Guitar – Владимир Белоусов
Guitar – Михаил Логунцов
Keyboards – Шамамед Бяшимов
Percussion – Ришад Шафиев
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Станислав Морозов
Trombone – Юсиф Алиев
Trumpet – Александр Стасюкевич, Шамиль Курманов
Vocals – Ильяс Реджепов, Хаджириза Эзизов

The GUNESH ENSEMBLE (Гунеш) actually formed all the way back in 1970 and went through various line-ups. In the beginning the ensemble was featured on the State TV And Radio Company Of The Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, now more familiar as Turkmenistan. While the band began as a vocal group with supporting instrumentation, it was the drummer Rishad Shafi who had the itch to pursue the jazz-fusion world and attracted other members who wished to do the same.

Throughout the 70s the band entered contests throughout the Soviet Union and won first prize in many of the competitions for their highly developed take on traditional mughams and jazz improvisations. A mugham is a very complex musical art that combines classical poetry and musical improv. It is a modal system, but unlike Western systems it is not only used with scales but rather is a collection of melodies that enrich the improvisation that is enhanced for a specific event. This can mean increased intensity, rising pitches or even fusing poetic interpretation into musical form. This is a very common art form in this part of the world.

After ten long years and countless performances the GUNESH ENSEMBLE finally released their debut album Гунеш (GUNESH) in 1980. Unlike the spectacular second release and mega-masterpiece “Вижу Землю (Looking At Earth)” which dosed everything jazz-world-fusion-rock in heavy steroids, this debut release finds the band on a less ambitious journey although it is by no means a sleeper. Whereas the second album finds any global influence fair game, this one is more focused on traditional Turkmen music with a healthy jazzy horn section mixed with some veritable progressive rock which is heard mainly in the drum section as well as with the guitar. This first release has a lot more tracks focusing on vocals and harmonies which are less frantic without the playful trumpets, trombones, flutes and keyboards that dominate the instrumentals.

While this debut album by the GUNESH ENSEMBLE isn’t nearly as brilliant as the second, it is a beautiful debut that takes you to a lonely corner of the globe where very little is known to the average Westerner and extremely well progressive music like this shouldn’t be missed. This album had only one vinyl release in 1980 and is probably impossible to find but fear not. Rishad Shafi released the first two albums on CD titled “Rishad Shafi Presents Gunesh.”

After two decent singles Gunesh would finally cap their own space for a full-length self-titled debut, always under the support of Melodyia.The legendary line-up appearing on the album was Stan Morozov on flute/sax, Rishad Safi on drums, Vladimir Belousov on bass, Mikhail Loguntsov on guitar and Shamamed Byashimov on keyboards.Yusif Aliev appears on trumpet, Alexander Stasukevich and Shamil Kurmanov on trombones and Ilyaz Redzepov, Khajiriza Ezizov on vocals, but I am not really aware if they were permanent members of the band. The album was released in 1980.

Some tracks of the previous singles of the band made it to the final cut of Gunesh'es debut and even them sound a lot better in the enviroment produced by the band over a full-disc performance, combining elements from Ethnic Music and Jazz Fusion in an impressive execution of technical accomplishment, composing talent and vocal passion. Shafi has to be one of the most underrated drummers of the genre, extremely fast and flawless, reminding a bit of  ARTI I MESTIERI'S Furio Chirico.The music is mainly instrumental with a few excellent vocal explosions of Eastern Asian-styled lyrics (which of course I do not understand), but you should focus on the music, which is surprisingly energetic, technically amazing and extremely balanced between Ethnic tunes and super-tight Fusion, or if you like between complex twists and more dramatic overtones with a folky flavour. Fantastic guitars parts and solid bass work with Jazz, funky and Eastern influences, complemented by a discreet keyboardist, performing on his sole organ, and a huge brass and wind section with lots of sax and very cinematic display of a small trombone/trumpet orchestra. For the most of its length the album is fast-paced without significant flaws, a good production and featuring endless interplays and solos with a slight sense of melody and a heavier amount of mourning vocal parts.

One of the well-hidden gems of 80's Jazz Fusion.Ethnic-oriented Fusion with melodramatic vocals and dense executions, definitely one of the most genuine and personal works of Fusion performed by an ex-Soviet group. No less than highly recommended, even if an original copy is pretty rare.

Фирюза - 1979 - Фирюза


A1. Ашхабад 3:57
A2. Край родной 10:03
B1. Чапыксуар 8:48
B2. Диалог в ауле 8:02

01. Ashkhabad  + Native Land
02. Chapyksuar
03. Dialog in Aul

Дмитрий Саблин [Dmitry Sablin] (leader, keyboards)
Игорь Гордеев [Igor Gordeyev] (drums)
Евгений Ночевный [Yevgeny Nochevny] (guitar)
Михаил Мамедов [Mikhail Mamedov] (guitar)
Сабир Резаев [Sabir Rezaev] (saxophone, flute)
Алик Нифченко [Alik Nifchenko] (bass)
Хана Тэн [Khana Ten] (violin)
Дмитрий Манукян [Dmitriy Manukyan]

Zeuhl funk... in Turkmenistan?? Some crazy shit. This is a wild record with incredibly commanding dense-n-intense funk. Sometimes you'll get somber piano melodies, almost romantic in their proggy melancholy feel. Then it will randomly break out into sweeping Middle Eastern passages, commanding a fiery intensity while still keeping an endearing synthy cheesiness to it.
I once joked that if it was from Turkmenistan, it had to be good. Of course I was talking about the Gunesh Ensemble, and didn't realize there was a second progressive group from the same place and time. Three long tracks adorn this one of a kind album. Seven piece group with guitar, sax, flute, keys, violin, bass, drums and percussion. While not as hot or as entirely unique as the almighty Gunesh, this is still a fascinating fusion, one that reflects the unique culture of the Turkmen. I'm constantly amazed at some of the subversive sounds coming from the old Soviet Union. I'm surprised Boheme Music of Russia didn't reissue this with all the other great ex-Soviet albums formerly on Melodia. Cool cover featuring the band, with instruments in hand, proudly wearing their traditional telpeks (tall fur hats).

Strinx - 1973 - Talk To The Wind

Talk To The Wind

01. Talk To The Wind 10:40
02. One For Brian 6:27
03. Green Eyes 3:24
04. Ooshee-Opalah 12:51
05. The Sphinx 9:00

Wolfgang Kliegel (violin, clavinet, harp, percussion)
Werner Geck (piano)
Meinhold Puhl (bass)
Thomas Gross (drums, percussion)

Very fine atmospheric jazz / fusion album, with violin as the primary instrument. More jazz focused than what I usually prefer, but I could see fans of the MPS label really flipping for this one.

Pekka Airaksinen - 1972 - One Point Music

Pekka Airaksinen 
One Point Music

01. Pieni Sienikonsertto - A Little Soup For Piano And Orchestra Op 46,8 (1970)
02. mo-On-ing (1971)
03. Sadetta - Somerain (1968)
04. Skata
05. S Rock
06. Fos 2

- Pekka Airaksinen / organ, guitar and effects

Drums – A. Deblus
Flute, Brass – Antero Helander

A Finnish sound creator Pekka AIRAKSINEN is renowned as a founder of SPERM, one of electronic pioneer combos in Finland. It's said his first album "One Point Music" be in the same vein of SPERM's creation "Shh!" ... Although I've listened to "Hein'sirkat!" only via "Shh!", this explanation makes sense really.
Anyway ... this album has somewhat chilling appearance. Not simply a collection of weird noises or sounds but well-balanced, matured (so-called) noise commune harmonized with foggy percussive electronics. Almost immersed in such a tendency toward hypnotic streams and fourth-dimensional waves. The boundary amongst hedonism, violence, and tragedy launched as percussive noises can be called electronic solitaire titled "A Little Soup For Piano And Orchestra Op 46, 8". A tidy one nevertheless, let me say. The following track "mo-On-ing" is more eccentric, as if we pray in a temple, exposed with mystic spells and Buddhic percussion. His (or a session drummer's) percussion is much effective for us to kick ourselves into Heaven. High-tone organ and flute plays are too keen for listeners to get something comfortable, whilst sticky waves as in the previous track are pretty persistent enough to give us head / ear-ache. This reminds me of a pray in a renowned Japanese temple on the top of a mountain ... the morning should come to us definitely. "Somerain - Sadetta" sounds somewhat beautiful and noble all around. Can hear dream or dreammare rolling up and down. Ok his electronic cembalo-ish synthesizer sounds cannot throw us a good sleep but a fantastic psychedelic nightmare. No safe, no sound, but only a surrealistic pillow (especially the last, the bulkiest explosion) around us. The magnificent suite "Music For The Play Sisyfos" ... really magnificent ... sounds incredible as a sound / noize fuzz. Intriguingly, contrary to the three noise gems upon the Side A, the basis of this suite is such a junk of sounds scattered incredibly here, there, everywhere. As though Pekka would have gathered all of his electronic material, regardless of old or new, unrefined noise hotchpotch goes ahead without any point of soundscape.

Pataphonie - 1979 - Le Matin Blanc

Le Matin Blanc

01. Chanterelle (3:25)
02. Valse Noble (5:43)
03. Kerouac (7.54)
04. Rue Alice (14:29)
05. Le Matin Blanc (2:14)
06. Paméla Story (0:21)

Bonus tracks:
07. Rue Alice (live) (13:10)
08. Kerouac (live) (7:15)
09. Automne Souvenir (live) (7:05)
10. Mémoire Baroque (live) (9:42)
11. Mandoline Station (2:02)

- Pierre Demouron / bass, double bass
- Gilles Rousseau / drums, percussion
- André Viaud / guitar

Pataphonie's second album presents a different facet of the group than their debut did. This is a very dark dissonant album somewhere stuck between pure RIO and a weird Zeuhl music. The trio was definitely not looking to make hundreds of thousands of sales with this kind of experimental music
Starting out on Chanterelle and its highly irritating high-operatic vocal intro, the track veers into an almost Canterbury-esque jazz-rock, but driving with a bowed-contrabass into a lugubrious and haunting climate on Valse Noble that only UZ on Hérésie could match, this sombre and grandiose tune is the first of a few highlights on this album. The following Kerouac is probably their most disjointed and almost atonal/dissonant piece. It sounds like a completely spaced out Soft Machine (circa "Fourth") crossing out with Henry Cow, but the incredible thing is to hear out that there are no keyboards (at least announced) but you'd swear Ratledge paid a visit in the studio.
Over the second side of the album, stands the lengthy Rue Alice track (obviously the Wonderland one) and its quarter hour feast of cacophonic maelstrom-ian chaos, which is pure delight for the deranged proghead crazy enough to have wandered (wondered?) here. Fripp/Crimson, Henry Cow, Soft Machine, Heldon/Pinhas, Shub- Niggurath and Univers Zero, need I say more?? The last two tracks (including the title track) are not any brighter (I did not say brilliant) and the gloomy contrabass is counterbalanced with the doomy guitar (sounding like a violin) are certainly helping out losing your sanity.
The album now comes with a series of four live tracks recorded in '80 (on its '99 Gazul/Musea reissue), some months before the group stopped operations, and the least we can say is that they had not really gotten any wiser musically. Two of the four live tracks are from this album, while the other two are from their first album, but are shortened. Automne Souvenir is relatively calm and repetitive, while Memoire Baroque is very dissonant. The last bonus track was foreseen on the Matin Blanc album, but for some weird reasons, it did not make it.
A weird but not devoid-of-class album, that merits to be heard by anyone wishing how far France took prog rock. Well they almost stretched to the extreme that the proghead may not come back completely unscathed. This proghead declines any kind of responsibility in the case of this kind of event occurring, for they were warned ahead of time.

Pataphonie - 1975 - Pataphonie


01. Pataphonie
02. Structure Poubelle

- Pierre Demouron / bass
- André Viaud / guitar
- Gilles Rousseau / percussion
- Bernard Audureau / piano, organ

A collection of live recordings from 1972-1976 released by the Pole Label

Before Pataphonie was unofficially "born" in 1973, the band members who were friends, played in several rock groups for the 3 previous years before that and mainly did covers. This trio consisted of Andre Viaud (guitars), Gilles Rousseau (drums and percussions) and Pierre Demouron (bass and contrabass). They then joined forces in a group without name that played a mixture of rock and jazz. Gradually they started opting for a more free-form rock. For a certain project they were joined by two other musicians; Bernard Audureau on piano and Alain Seve on saxophone. This group did this project which was inspired by contemporary compositors such as Bela Bartok, Eric Satie and Maurice Ravel and was reputed to have influenced Weather Report, Hugh Hopper and Henry Cow.
The band chose their name at random using a dictionary, going first for Mussel and then Patagonie. The sound of Patagonie attracted them and they opted for a fusion of two words - Pata from Pataphysique (unclassified) and Phonie which stands for sound, making them unclassifiable sounding. The band was to be an instrumental guitar, bass and drums trio. Their sound appeared to appeal to music critics in several journals that said in 1975 that Pataphonie "could be the great European discovery of the year". In 1976 the Pole records label collected their past recorded tracks from 1972 to 1976 and released them under "Pataphonie". However this mainly improvisational-based collection did not show the band member's abilities. The band members themselves said in 1977 that "To be free in music, you must work for yourself. Freedom isn't the notes recitation, but the feeling that you put into. You must work on the sound as a clay model. We think that we play an innovator music with his defaults. We can be wrong commercially, but musically, we're right. Music is not synonymous of success at all". It is only in 1978 that the band can allow itself financially to record in a studio. It is in July 1978 that they record their phenomenal album "Le Matin Blanc" (The White Morning). The album is instrumental, experimental, inspired by free-jazz and traces of contemporary classical composers. This release was embraced by their fans and media. Since no major label was interested in distributing this album the members decided to create their own with the purpose of distributing it themselves - Feeri Music. The album was sold by mail-order to about 1000 people. On the reissue of this album on CD there are bonus tracks. Among them is Mandoline Station which was written in April 1978 and never played live. However due to technical reasons it was not included on the original release. There are also 4 live tracks, including Memoire Baroque which is the title of the never release second album.This second album was completely composed however due to lack of interest and the shift of styles towards the "new music" the band split.
Pataphonie has been compared to Henry Cow, King Crimson, Etron Fou Leloublan and The Muffins, all have some sort of merit and still do no justice for this original sounding and groundbreaking chamber music/rock band.
Le Matin Blanc is highly recommended to fans of the genre.
Pataphonie's self titled debut on Pôle Records in 1975 is a jazz rock record of the 'free jazz' variety consisting of two sidelong tracks.  Starting with either the sounds of someone blowing a raspberry, spitting into a saxophone,slowly sliding their finger nails down guitar strings, or some combination of the three, Pataphonie slowly picks up intensity transforming from a good free jazz cafe act to a real freak out by tracks end.
Track two begins with some industrial strength guitar abuse, still very 'jazz', though - this isn't rock.  This gives way to a nice electric piano led passage before getting into some Sun Ra by way of Sonny Sharrock jamming, maybe approaching electric period Miles Davis (Jack Johnson, specifically), but still far more discordant.  Wah wah guitars battle with the gnarliest sounding organ of the era, no doubt, before burning out and freeing their ghosts to flit about over head; at war with jungle cats in full seizure.  Later, back in the lab, the professor madly calculates his theorem, the sounds of science mix with that of the wild beyond the walls.
The record ends the professor escaping the jungle in a vehicle made of pure dreams, freezing the dense madness as he goes.
Just as noisy as Pôle's Kotrill, but certainly more learned, which makes for a more ordered (predictable?)listen, but still a very enjoyable album.

Potemkine - 1978 - Nicolas II

Nicolas II

01. Tango Panache (6:18)
02. Raspoutine (5:56)
03. Theme Pour Un Swing Imaginaire (5:37)
04. Air De Famille (3:19)
05. Ode De Mars (5:23)
06. Aux Images (2:41)
07. Amphitheatre Magique (6:45)

- Dominique Dubuisson / bass, vocals
- Jean J. Ganghofer / percussion
- Charles Goubin / guitar, vocals
- Michel Goubin / keyboards, vocals
- Philippe Goubin / percussion, drums
- Christian Rouge / percussion

Potemkine's third and final album is their strongest, and is something of an overlooked classic of late 70s prog. Following Triton the band became a quartet again with Michel Goubin back on keyboards, and there had also been a period of intense gigging including opening for Magma on several occasions. All this made for a much tighter and more confident band than previously, both in terms of writing and playing.
The sound of Nicholas II takes the Zeuhl of Magma's Attahk and adds the jazz fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brand X and Billy Cobham circa Spectrum. The arrangements are dominated by the interplay of electric piano and guitar, with Charles Goubin turning in some excellent lead guitar work - he may not have been in quite the same league as John Mclaughlin or Alan Holdsworth, but he was no slouch either. Dominique Dubuisson and Philippe Goubin keep things as tight as ever on bass and drums, with Dubuisson's bass occasionally recalling Bernard Paganotti's fluid basslines for Magma. On this occasion there's a funky undercurrent to a lot of the rhythm playing, and on Theme Pour Une Swing Imaginaire there's even a hint of reggae. Throughout the album the playing is tight, the compositions are focussed and the production is crystal clear, most of the pieces sounding as though they were performed live in the studio. The CD reissue includes all but two tracks from Potemkine's debut album Foetus, on which the quartet were augmented by violinist Xavier Vidal. The earlier music sounds a lot more tentative, with acoustic piano as the main keyboard and Charles Goubin's guitar playing more of a supporting role, but there are some good ideas lurking in there and there are definite hints of what was to come.

Apparently this incarnation of Potemkine opened for Shakti and were warmly congratulated by John Mclaughlin, and going on the evidence of this album he should have been both flattered and impressed. Recommended to fans of Attahk era Magma and of 1970s jazz fusion.

Potemkine - 1977 - Triton


01. Asyle (7:30)
02. Crepuscula (5:01)
03. Loolit II (8:33)
04. Liberserim Urb Et Chant De Viamor (4:03)
05. Eiram (13:38)

Bonus tracks:
06. Loolitt (3:09)
07. Zed (5:20)
08. Rictus (4:49)
09. Mystere (5:48)

- Charles Goubin / guitars, piano, vocals
- Philippe Goubin / drums, percussions, piano (1 - 7)
- Doudou Dubuisson / bass guitar (1 - 7)
- Michel Goubin / piano, vocals (4, 6 - 9)
- Xavier Vidal / violon (6 - 9)
- Gilles Goubin / bass guitar (8, 9)
- Maurice Bataille / drums (8, 9)

Releases information
CD Triton (Soleil Zeuhl 04)
Tracks 5,6 are from the album Foetus
Tracks 8,9 are the two songs featured on the single from 1974, Mystere

"Triton" was the second Potemkine release, the one in which the band's ideology found its definitive expression. Despite the diabolic implications of the album's title, the sound and style delivered in it is not diabolical at all: if any, it is creepy and dark in many places, but in a controlled manner, as if putting emphasis on the mystery instead of the sinister. I'm not totally convinced about Potemkine being an essentially zheul act: I perceive them as a jazz-prog band with strong zheul and RIO components, and as such I enjoy and analyze their albums. Anyway, it is clear that the band has paid more attention to the influence from avant-prog so it is very present in much of he writing process and arrangements for the albums' repertoire. At times you can tell hat there's a noticeable family resemblance connecting what Potemkine are up to and what Univers Zero achieved in their debut album that same year. So here we've got an ensemble on top of their game, moving beyond the sonorities of their debut album and offering a greater deal of energy than on heir follow-up and final release "Nicolas II". 'Asyle' kicks off the album with a constrained yet amazing fire, gracefully sustained on the piano colorful washes and the powerful bass interventions (most of the time overshadowing the texturial guitar phrases). The motif shifts that occur from minute 3 onwards generate that sort of tension that the prog connoisseur can easily relate to the Francophone school of camber-rock. The track ends with a reprise of the initial motif. 'Crepuscula' is more deeply solemn, with an overwhelming mystery that emerges from the silent spaces between the piano chords. Once the whole ensemble settles in comes a beautiful Weather Report-inspired motif pertinently closed down by piano dewdrops. Building melancholic mystery in such an effective manner is a Potemkine forte, no doubt about it. 'Loolit II' partially follows this trend, aiming at foggy atmospheres but with a major dose of density and an enhanced avant-garde attitude. There's a particularly excellent moment in which Charles Goubin brings a tortured guitar solo, very Frith-like (such a pity that it is too short.!). For the last 2 ½ minutes things turn out increasingly extroverted until reaching an incendiary climax. 'Liberserim Urb et Chant de Viamor' rounds like a hybrid of "5"-era Soft Machine and eh first Univers Zero: agile and plethoric of bizarre melodic developments, his piece serves as a preserver of the magic portrayed in the previous track. 'Eiram' closes down the original repertoire of "Triton" on an epic tone: its abundantly jazzy colors, half Weatheresque, half Canterburian, are properly wrapped in a chamber-rock guise that allows the band to explore its most adventurous facet without losing an inch of groove. The CD edition includes no less than four bonus tracks. The first two come from the "Foetus" album, plain jazz-rock with extra avant-garde inspired complexity, either on an playful vein ('Loolit') or in a grayish mood ('Zed'). The last two bonuses come from he band's debut recording, a single that showed Potemkine quite close to heir veteran compatriots of Moving Gelatine Plates with ounces of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Potemkine is an excellent item from the glorious age of jazz-prog: those who appreciate their legacy can only have words of praise for his album, which I regard as their master opus.

Potemkine - 1976 - Foetus


01. Foetus (6:18)
02. Zed (5:13)
03. Nuit Sur Le Golan (2:18)
04. Ballade (6:16)
05. Hymne (1:58)
06. Loolitt (3:04)
07. Cedille (5:53)
08. Laure (4:33)
09. Cycles (2:16)

Line-up / Musicians
- Dominique Dubuisson / bass, vocals
- Charles Goubin / guitar, vocals
- Michel Goubin / keyboards, vocals
- Philippe Goubin / drums, percussion
- Xavier Vidal / violin

Potemkine managed to blend in a very good way the basis of Zeuhl music with its prominent bass role and a lighthearted spirit of fusion with some 20th century contemporary music. They this deviate from the norm of "mainstream" Zeuhl, but they manage to deliver an original sound, making them unique in this scene. Potemkine was formed by three brothers from Toulouse - Charles (guitars, piano, vocals), Philippe (drums and percussions, piano) and Michel (piano, vocals) Goubin. They had taken other musicians to fill in the positions of bass, violin and some drumming and percussions parts. They released their first album Foetus in 1975. This album was more influenced by Magma, though it contained the fusion leniency. In 1977 Triton was released and it featured a more clear inclination towards a fusion sound, but the Zeuhl characteristics are still there (in the bass part, theatrical piano playing and the occasional chanting vocals) and also the chamber music sound that would later appear in RIO originators bands such as Univers Zero. This approach reached its peak in Nicolas II released in 1978 which also marks their last album. You can get both Triton and Nicolas II on CD from SOLEIL ZEUHL.
Having started as early as 71, the Goubin brothers (four of them at one point) started as a cover garage group; they evolved into this JR/F band upon hearing Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. After an initial single released in 74, they got the ball rolling with Foetus and its crusader ship of their band name as an artwork, but by that time Dubuisson had taken over the bass and Vidal had appeared on violin. The appearance of the violin will immediately make you think of MO, but more of the Goodman period than the Ponty era. Of course, the main difference between Foetus and the rest of the JR/F pack is the use of wordless vocals, chants and choirs, one that sound rather "female", despite being the work of the five (male) members. The group's previous single had a slightly Canterburian feel added to the JR/F musical realm, but with their Foetus, it seems to have disappeared.
The band's first opus is definitely a tad derivative on its avowed JR/F influences but one can't really find much Zeuhl in the present album, Foetus still manages to develop its own personality and some excellent and inventive high-pitched choir vocals. But if it is clear that tracks like Laure, or Hymne have MO roots, reinforced by the presence of Vidal's violin, her tracks like Cedille are much slower-paced, which is a piano-based ambient piece, but things can also get even a tad dissonant with the Golan track. Elsewhere, Vidal's violin comes dangerously close to coming un-tuned in the middle section of Ballade. Zed is a very repetitive nature, turning over and over its choppy descending riff.
Although Potemkine's debut album Foetus has never seen a proper CD release (and is not likely to, unless vinyls are reissued), but since all of it came as bonus tracks on their later albums CD reissues, I was able to re-construct their album, and managed a review. According to the great Soleil Zeuhl label reissues' booklets, the band's fortunes grew rapidly, opening for MO or Magma and creating an unison project with other French bands from different parts of the country to play concerts in each other's regions. Despite not getting a proper release, Foetus is a very honest (at times brilliant) JR/F album, a typical product of its time, despite lacking the fully-professional feel of the groups it inspired itself upon, but if you're interested enough, you will get it through their other two CDs, and it's very much worth it. Actually I may even prefer it to both Triton and Nicolas II.

Vertø - 1978 - Reel 19.36

Reel 19.36

01. Comme La Folie (4:12)
02. 19.36 (4:25)
03. 15 Pour Moi (3:00)
04. Danses A Cabanes (1:47)
05. Reel (9:09)
06. C'est Loope (5:44)
07. Carton Acidule (5:19)

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

Drums – Philippe Perronet
Keyboards – Benoît Widemann
Bass – Jean-Pierre Fouquey
Guitar – Dominique Grasset, François Artige

This second and last album from France’s legendary Verto (ie. Jean-Pierre Grasset and guests) is another winner, and is quite different to the first album ‘Krig Volubilis’ (see separate review), as well as being a little more electronic and experimental. Many folks who’ve heard both albums rate this as the best, but really, they’re both pretty awesome on their own terms. Around this time Grasset was also collaborating to brilliant effect with fellow French loons Etron Fou Leloublan (featuring on their second album ‘Les Trois Fous Perdegagnent’) and Video Aventures (various recordings – can be heard with them on the Spalax CD ‘Musiques Pour Garçons et Filles’), and some of the results of those collaborations have more in common with the music on ‘Reel 19 36’ than that on its predecessor. Keyboardist Benoit Widemann from Magma plays an important role as a collaborator on this album.
‘Comme la Folie’ [4:12] opens the album with Grasset on guitars and bass, Widemann on Moog bass and Minimoog, and Philippe Perronet on drums. Thick fuzzed guitar and cyber-bass grind straight into a rocky King Crimson (Red-era) and Magma-infused late 70’s Heldon-like jam. Soon strange leads emerge from the guitar and synth, with the synth sometimes sounding more like a treated electric guitar, wrenching out unconventional twisted notes. After a while the guitar starts to sound more like a synth, and then another electric lead comes in... it gets a bit confusing here for a while, if you’re trying to identify the instruments (well, the drums are pretty easy to pick!), but if you’re just trying to enjoy it, it’s a great chunky piece of electronic rock.
‘19/36’ [4:24] features Grasset on ring-modulated guitar, RSF synth, modified A77 recorders and voice. We slide into deep space territory here, with expansive splashes of space foam in your earphones as you float otherwise soundlessly through the black void, gentle cosmic sweeps and swoops glide around, then an alien voice rudely interrupts the free-float and leads into a robotic, repeated synth sequence that loops on and on like a slippery electric eel flipping over in the air again and again. Just as it seems like it would go on forever, a mirthful echoed group laugh breaks it up.
‘15 Pour Moi’ [2:57] kicks straight into business with no mucking about, cocky, tight, muscular funk bass from Jean-Pierre Fouquey struts its stuff as Widemann’s drums and synth back it up, and the synth and Grasset’s guitar battle it out with spaced lead lines. Sounds rather like the funkier moments of legendary late-70’s Australian experimental progressive jazz rock group Quasar, if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing them, though not with as much godly virtuosity. Regardless, this is some hot cookin’, although twice it goes into a very different ‘mellow’ bit that has the very European electro-zeuhl keyboard feel of some Patrick Gauthier and late Magma.
‘Danse à Cabanes’ [1:44] is a borrowed anonymous traditional folk jig squeezed out of a warbly Moog by Widemann, as Grasset’s snare drum and Fouquey’s cymbals bash out an unsubtle uni-beat rhythm backed by handclaps (courtesy of Widemann, Fouquey, Dany Huc and François Artige – the latter of whom had contributed to the first Verto album), until suddenly it ends and segues into a treated group choir rendition (Grasset, Widemann, Paul Seurat and Okamoto – who was also on one track of the first Verto album) that ends just as suddenly (are there different grades of sudden? Or is sudden sudden and that’s that?).
‘Réel’ [9:04] opens side two with queasy random synths multi-tracked all over the show, like stumbling into an electronic forest whilst inside your computer Tron-style. A minute in and hypnotic percussion and a throbbing, pingy synth loop on one repetitive note have emerged out of the sandstorm like a trance caravan leading out of the desert, and soothing emerald synth blobules soon ooze out of the horizon like melting rays of light. As it all starts to get inner-space hollow and cosmic, restrained fuzz guitar enters sounding like Richard Pinhas without the Fripp obsession, and we are carried further and further through the psychedelic galaxy on a magic carpet of electronic tones. Pure kosmische bliss! This is all courtesy of Grasset on guitars, RSF synth and screw-driver.
‘C’est Loopé’ [5:27] features Grasset on ring-modulated guitar, Widemann and Fouquey on Fender piano, Dominique Grasset and Artige on guitar, and Cyril Lefebvre on dobro. It emerges slowly out of silence with a chaotic, detailed loop of all the instruments playing at once that starts to sound like it isn’t a loop, but then you realise it is after all. Or maybe not. But actually, it is a series of individual loops for each instrument. Over the duration it does seem to change in some ways, but perhaps it’s just the way the different tracks on the tape were being mixed to and fro in the final processing. It’s not chaotic in a noisy or particularly atonal way, there’s definitely a strange sense of harmonious melodicism going on if your tastes are adventurous and your ears attuned enough. Could be some old avant-garde freeformers like Horde Catalytique Pour La Fin or Anima we’re listening to here, condensed and trapped in an eternal bubble of weird-juice.
‘Carton Acidulé’ [5:18] is a web of chromatic melodic Moog riffs played out by Widemann with a different synth track in each channel, and with another (sounding more like a Fender Rhodes) setting a simple Magma-like counterpoint. As the web of intrigue grows in the number of separate synth overdubs, massive fuzz bass thunders down from the skies and now we could just as well be listening to an old Peter Frohmader/Nekropolis album or perhaps Archaïa, the music now enveloped in a dark cloud of zeuhl cyber-dread for the remainder of the track. Grasset is credited here for guitars and Widemann for bass (and Moog), but it all sounds like bass to me, both meshed together in one ferocious instrument.
I’ve no idea what happened to Jean-Pierre Grasset after this. There’s a guy with the same name who’s known for making films, but I don’t know if they’re the same person. In any case, if he continued making music, it would seem to be even more obscure than what he did with Verto. Unfortunately, neither Verto album has been issued on CD – not even on bootlegs. They certainly deserve it, though, and hopefully someone can track down Grasset and do these albums justice for the CD age.

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.

Henri Roger - 1975 - Images

Henri Roger

01. Images... 21:00
02. Au Delà Du Langage 8:00
03. Ataraxie 6:00
04. Asyle Cosmique 11:00

Guitar, Organ, Synth – Henri Roger

Jeudi 9 Septembre 1975 Minuit.
Thursday 9 September 1975 at Midnight.

Henri Roger recorded just one album for the Pôle label, his first album ‘Images...’ which was confusingly released with ‘Pôle’ as the most prominent name on the front cover, so that it looks like it’s another album by Pôle, the group (see reviews for ‘Kotrill’ and ‘Inside the Dream’). Roger played everything on the album – Yamaha YC45D organ, Mini Korg Elka Rhapsody synth, and guitar. Not especially mindblowing as these things go, it is nonetheless a very enjoyable record and one that’s fairly unique and experimental, and tripped-out in a non-threatening way.
The meditative ‘Images...’ (21:45) takes up all of side 1, and features electric organ with loads of unusual treatments and effects. It sounds pretty unique, partly due to the organ mostly being played like a synthesiser and sequencer, and the odd hovering sound treatments that turn it all into a bit of a sedate, mysteriously sparkling cosmic analog mind carnival that’s a sheer delight. ‘Au Dela du Langage’ (8:53) opening side 2 is all synth, and sounds kinda somewhere between something at times dark but less tripped-out from the ‘Besombes-Rizet’ album (see separate review) and parts of the 2nd White Noise album (complete with chintzy sound). Half way through it fades out and after a moment of silence re-enters completely different, making it all actually two different tracks under the same name. ‘Ataraxie’ (6:30) is a mellow, melancholic guitar interlude that segues neatly in from the previous track and out again into the next. It’s all instrumental and pretty without being prissy. ‘Asyle Cosmique’ (10:34) used all of the above instrumentation in a richly textured cosmic stew, kind of ambient but mildly dark, creepy and experimental, like floating through the cobwebs of your mind, man, although guitar doesn’t come into it until near the end, and when it does things get more upbeat and change tack completely, sounding almost like an early precursor to Stereolab. Only the French (or maybe the Italians) could make albums like this little gem, and I love them for it.

Philippe Besombes - 1979 - Ceci Est Celà

Philippe Besombes
Ceci Est Celà

01. princesse lolita (3:32)
02. géant (4:32)
03. pawa (12:09)
04. ceci est cela (14:41)
05. seul (5:08)
06. traversée (9:09)
07. trio (7:46)
08. l'or des fous 4 (5:54)
09. l'or des fous 2 (5:03)
10. pjf 159 (5:40)
11. pjf 137 (5:30)

- Philippe Besombes & guests / electronics

After the ‘Besombes-Rizet/Pôle’ album, Besombes returned to working with Luc Ferrari and making music for contemporary ballet and the Groupe de Recherche Théâtrale de l’Opéra de Paris, when he could find the time. But, tiring of this, he bought some new synths and formed Hydravion (‘Seaplane’) in 1977, with the intention of going in more of an electronic rock direction. This group met with great commercial success in France, and they played live frequently, although the group line-up changed a lot. One memorable gig for Besombes was at a sky station, backed by classical musicians! Hydravion made two albums – ‘Hydravion’ [Cobra, 1978] and ‘Stratos Airlines’ [Carrere, 1980] – the first of which was the best, but still nowhere near as good or radical as his earlier work, including the album under review here.
It’s easy to imagine some bits of the Hydravion music being used for French television in the late 70’s, as much of it was, oddly enough (all tracks were used, according to Besombes – generally for sports, current affairs, news themes and the like – though I have to doubt whether they used the entire tracks, but rather the more accessible sections of each). Some of the cheesy synth rock sounds very dated and immediately reminiscent of the era in which it was born (oddly far more dated than Besombes’ more vintage music, which has barely dated at all), but dedicated synth music fans and hardcore Besombes worshippers will be able to lap it up with an amiable grin, as the whole album is by no means a commercial affair, and even the accessible bits are weirdly catchy. Many of the tracks still exhibited Besombes’ madcap unpredictability, and there are some great tripped-out diversions to be enjoyed that are hard to imagine encountering on mainstream television of the time! I do really like the first Hydravion album despite it not being as great as Besombes’ classic stuff; I haven’t yet heard the second Besombes album, which is reputedly not as good.
After forming Hydravion, Besombes was approached by the Divox label to release a solo album – which would be ‘Ceci est Cela’ – and he moved his studio to where it is to this day, changing its name to Versailles Station. This album collected some previously unreleased recordings Besombes had made for ballet and theatre since the early 70’s, with the addition of a more commercial track – the amusing and very cheesy disco joke song ‘Princess Lolita’ – following the misguided request for a ‘hit’ from Divox. The remainder of the album is prime experimental electroacoustic headfuck, different to his previous releases but still totally unique (though perhaps with hints of some Luc Ferrari in places, which is unsurprising given that they were making music together) and still likely to appeal to fans of ‘Libra’ and the Besombes-Rizet collaboration. Some people regard this as his best album, although I’m hard-pressed to choose a favourite between this and the previous two. I love it all! As I’ve said in the previous two reviews, I think Philippe Besombes, on the basis of these three albums, is one of the greatest electronic musicians and sonic creative genii that we have ever had, and he deserves greater recognition for his obscure accomplishments.
‘Princess Lolita’ [3:32], as I said above, was made solely due to the record company insisting on a track that could be used as a potential hit single. What were they thinking? Although this track in no way sits easily next to the remainder of the album, nor indicates what is to come, it’s pretty fun all the same and makes the record all the more diverse in its scope. What you get in this opening track is a funky disco groove on bass and drums, ridiculous male and female vocals, grotesquely slowed down and sped up respectively, alternately cheesy and trippy disco synth moves, cool handclap rhythms on the chorus breakdown, and a hilarious “nya nya nya nana na na na” schoolgirl chant. It’s all just so silly and obviously tongue-in-cheek that you can’t take it seriously, but you can both laugh at it/with it and dance to it, as it’s goofily catchy and grooved as well.
‘Géant’ [4:32] gets down to business with some more typical Besombes music, a semi-static gravity field of blobby throbbing synth clusters, mellotron and what sounds like a shimmering Theremin laying down an expansive, hovering cloud of beautiful soaring psychedelic gloom.
‘Pawa 1’ [12:09] follows with a crack of thunder that breaks up and keeps scattering like messy shards across the night sky, or maybe it’s the sound of a jet breaking the speed of sound and then dropping immediately back, again and again... it soon develops into a shuddering loop joined with synchronous atonal synth globs, before gracing us with a few moments of silence, making me think the track is over already. But no, read the playing time, it can’t be, and it isn’t, soon fading back in with sweeping wafts of droning electronic sound and processed human chanting, gliding across vast empty space like a solitary, lonely bird of portent. This builds and builds in tension as the sounds space out more and more, the pitch gradually steps up in subtle progressions, before petering out on a peak and flowing seamlessly into a forest of echoing electronics, through which a slow, emotionless but organic sequencer throb carries as though always having existed, like the subtle pulse of blood through cosmic veins. A strange, treated one-way conversation emerges, what sounds like a voluptuous and vivacious French girl speaking poor English, buzzing hard as acid kicks in and turns knees and stomach watery, but continuing to try to talk and occasionally falling into goofy, spunky laughter as technicolor rainbows spray across the room. This gets weirder and weirder, then suddenly POW! another portal slides open in 5 dimensions and with a gleeful “wooooo!” of multitracked women we slide through the hole and into an inner fun-world, jumpy synth sequences bouncing away all hyperactive and stoned, synth tones boing like springs and a joyous room full of happily chatting and laughing girls all talk at once, meshing into a non-threatening but overwhelming metropolitan acid party cyber cocktail extravaganza for the last couple of minutes of the track.
‘Ceci est Cela’ [14:41] begins side 2 gently and gorgeously, a slow subsonic ticking pulse upholding a smooth heavenly miasma of angel echoed flute, mellotron, feather brush sand dune synth palettes and gently trickling electronic cascades of sound. A few minutes later it all changes suddenly and almost imperceptively, all disappearing save the pulse, now more prominent and complex and less subsonic, as heavily treated French voices do strange things from ear to ear and random sporadic runs on the keyboards gradually coalesce into something with more form, albeit mysterious and ambiguous, all the elements of the whole shifting in and out of focus, morphing and giving birth to new elements that crawl around the nooks and crannies growing deep into your brain. Then it all speeds up suddenly, shifting into a chaotic gear before dropping us down into a murky underworld shadow of what came before, and receding, leaving us all alone, in almost total darkness, in the middle of fucking nowhere. Wait, what’s that, some kind of light and sound approaching? As uneasy drones groan, swell and hum, great washes of dusty wind sweep all around, greased sax squeaks and mowls, stopping and starting, joined also with glintzy, cheesy synth keyboard, a jarring two-note riff not really played in any regular rhythm. Shit, it’s a spaceship descending from above, not an approaching car, and as rolling drums step out of the dust and rage into the mix, it all picks up and starts spinning around in a vortex, as you are beamed up by Scotty, that ridiculous two-note keyboard riff going overboard like a little kid fascinated by repeating the same new swear word over and over again. Just as it seems like the beam-up must have fucked-up, you find yourself all of a sudden standing in a totally different world again, this time naked within a glass tube as alien children giggle, point and talk about you to each other, now a temporarily trapped zoological exhibit snatched from the planet you called home and they called a stopover, as a laboratory of electronics gabble in work around you. Then slipping away again, some narcotic substance taking effect as all that’s left are the children’s voices, getting more and more echoed and fucked up and distant as you slip out of this consciousness and emerge as a gloopy syrup ready for the next one.
‘Seul’ [5:08] is a slowly progressing submerged world of out of focus narcotic lumpen shapes, groaning and crawling sluggishly along in a strange sprawl, as percussion picks out a jungle rhythm beneath. Wet squelchy splashes of synth liquid squirt in toothpaste streams as though reverbing within a subterranean cave, dripping profusely from the ceilings, echoing off the walls and exuding nitrous oxide from the cracks between the rocks. After a while this begins to dull the senses as sounds gradually strip away and you groggily drop into semi-conscious slumber.
This album was recently reissued on CD for the first time by MIO, which is especially great because this is by far one of the rarest Besombes albums and the hardest to find on LP. Presumably because of being embarrassed by its existence, the first track – ‘Princess Lolita’ – is indexed as track 0 on the CD, and to hear it you have to press play and then rewind until the start of the track (which plays in the negative time preceding track 1). However, if you go just that bit too far it just resets back to zero and you have to try again. Also, annoyingly, it doesn’t play on the DVD player I’m currently using to play my CDs! It won’t let me go into the negative time. There’s not any reason bar vanity to have done this, as I’m sure many buyers of this CD will want to hear the whole album as it was originally, as I do, and if they don’t want to hear the first track again they could always have started from track 2 on subsequent listens. Although it’s totally different to the rest of the album, and is unfortunately embarrassing to its creator, I think ‘Princess Lolita’ is pretty cool and always makes me grin!
The recent CD reissue also features an album’s worth of previously unreleased recordings from 1972-1976, including 2 tracks by his old duo PJF (see ‘Libra’ review). This extra stuff is all excellent, but rather than try to describe any of it (which would be difficult anyway, and I’ve found these Besombes reviews difficult enough in trying to convey the music in words), I’ll leave it to surprise you if you buy it. Some of it sounds like out-takes or alternate mixes from the ‘Libra’ sessions. Incidentally, the CD reissue mis-spells the album title as ‘Cesi est Cela’, but the track of the same name has what I think is the correct spelling (Ceci est Cela).
After breaking up Hydravion at the start of the 80’s, Besombes made the album ‘La Guerre des Animaux’ [1982], and contributed some music to the various artists LP ‘City & Industry’ [1983], which also featured Bernard Paganotti (Magma, Weidorje, Paga Group) and Gilbert Artman (Clearlight, Lard Free, Urban Sax, Catalogue). I haven’t come across either of these records yet – if anyone reading this has or does, and can make me a copy (I’m happy to trade for rare un-reissued stuff), please let me know!
Besombes also continued to produce and engineer for other bands and solo artists, as he has since the late 70’s, sometimes working with groups as unexpected as Manowar and Whitesnake! He also started his own label which releases mainly French hard rock and metal, and released a techno/electro album under the pseudonym of Arno du Chesnay. His most recent recording project has been with the group Rondinara, with 6 CDs of beautiful music made for babies! Besombes also managed to slip in a solo album of sorts in 1999 without many people noticing, when Sony France approached him to do an album as part of their ‘Musique & Nature’ series of mood music CD’s. Each album in the series has some kind of theme, like ‘Oceania’ or ‘Extase’. Besombes did one for the theme of ‘Cosmos’, appropriately, subtitled ‘Mélodie de l’Espace et des Étoiles’. He’s been discreet about it, doing it all under the pseudonym of A. Boréalis and giving only P. Besombes as the composer of each track (not even giving his whole first name), although these names only appear inside the cover booklet and not on any external part of the package, so searching the internet or even the Sony France website for a Philippe Besombes album called ‘Cosmos’ will probably not get you far if you don’t bear this in mind. The music is pleasant ambient cosmic synth, only occasionally a little experimental, and occasionally cheesy on a few short tracks, but largely unclichéd, lovely stuff. Just don’t expect anything too close to his radical visionary 70’s work!

Besombes - Rizet - 1975 - Pôle

Besombes - Rizet

01. Haute Pression 10:56
02. Evelyse 7:17
03. Armature Double 18:00
04. Lundi Matin 5:41
05. Montélimar 7:37
06. Rock À Montauban 3:30
07. Synthi Soit-Il 21:42

Drums – Jacky Vander Elstraete
Keyboards, Synthesizer, Accordion, Guitar, Vocals – Philippe Besombes
Keyboards, Synthesizer, Flute, Trumpet, Guitar, Vocals – Jean-Louis Rizet
Saxophone – Alain Petit
Vocals [Chœurs Féminins], Other [Caractère En Amélioration] – Françoise Legros

After completing the ‘Libra’ recordings, Besombes was making music for contemporary ballet and the Groupe de Recherche Théâtrale de l’Opéra de Paris, as well as playing synths in Luc Ferrari’s live group, along with Jean Louis Rizet (also on synths – the two had met in 1974 whilst working on music for a ballet group), David Gisse and several others, with other instrumentation including percussion, sax and flute. This group was usually billed by the names of the musicians (topped by Ferrari), but sometimes went by the name of ALM, short for musique à la maison, which translates into English as house music! Besombes and Rizet were requested by the Pôle label to make an album together, and they set about assembling session musicians and working out new music, some of which (such as ‘Synthi Soit-il’) was based on stuff the two had created whilst playing live with Ferrari.
Besombes handled synths, claviers, accordion, guitar and voice, and Rizet contributed synths, claviers, flute, trumpet, guitar and voice. Guests were Jacky Vander Elstraete – drums; Alain Petit – sax; and Françoise Legros – voice, character improvement(!). A great array of keyboards and synthesizers were used – VCS 3 AKS, ARP 2600, Electrocomp 101 & 500, Farfisa Synthorchestra, Yamaha FY 1, Oberheim Expander, Solina String-ensemble, Crumor & Fender Rhodes electric pianos, Hammond organ and Mellotron 400. Incidentally, Besombes had developed connections with the Mellotron people and became their French agent for a while; other contacts gave him access to the latest synth equipment. They would all be used to full effect on this album (though particularly the synths), which would turn out to be a double, packed with ideas and sonic wizardry.
This album is sometimes considered as being ‘Besombes-Rizet’ by the group Pôle, due to both names appearing on the cover in similar size. Not that it really matters either way, given the intended extra confusion generated by the label name (see my reviews for Pôle’s ‘Kotrill’ and ‘Inside the Dream’), but although Rizet played on two tracks of the second Pôle album ‘Inside the Dream’, this should be considered primarily a Philippe Besombes/Jean Louis Rizet collaboration. Besombes told me that ‘Pôle’ had been put on the cover at the last minute without the consent of himself or Rizet, who were opposed to it. The album was probably the best-selling title from the whole label catalogue (and consequently, one of the easiest to find – though still scarce), selling approximately 20,000 copies. It was reissued by Tapioca a few years later, after the Pôle label went out of business. Tapioca pressings of Pôle titles generally have lower sound quality. In 2004 this album was reissued for the first time on CD by MIO, at last making it more readily (and cheaply) available to a wider audience.
This epic album just oozes sanctified mystery, psychic menace and playful insanity and exists in a timeless zone of tripped-out lysergicity all its own. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, nor quite as special for the kind of music that it is (and really, there’s not that much of this kind of thing, from then or now). Have you heard Achim Reichel’s ‘Echo’? That special – but quite different again, in another parallel sphere but just as exalted in my mind and heart. Psychedelic progressive synth-based music doesn’t get much better than this, in my opinion, though it’s clearly not for everyone – some people just find it cold, too weird, and occasionally too repetitive or slow and can’t get into it. It’s the kind of album with heaps of textural depth you need to give time and attention to, and I’d never put it on as background music. It demands to be taken seriously (though it occasionally has some strange fun) and I treat this album as a piece of sacramental music to be played only when all present are prepared to lay back quietly, shut their eyes and let it work its way inside for the next 75 minutes (maybe with a smoke break and breather in the middle!). Indeed, it’s ideal for thorough shamanic journeying without New Age namby-pambying, and after previewing some of the first track when a friend introduced it to me (the same friend and the same time I was introduced to Besombes’ ‘Libra’), I first listened to the whole album whilst tripping on mushrooms, and was utterly blown away. Those two albums changed my life, completely altered my perspective of what was possible on that mind-bending night. Likewise both are still potent aural experiences listened to without psychedelic boosting (and still never fail to impress me), but they are totally and authentically in their element with it – again, even more impressive given the lack of psychedelic experience of the modest genius from whose mind they sprang (although, certainly this collaborative album under review here must give equal credit to Rizet, I still believe most of the insane and often unpredictable creative madness to be heard here derives primarily from Besombes, but both men are brilliant at creating incredible, vivid and deeply psychically affecting synth textures). I can’t guarantee of course that you’ll embrace this stuff as warmly and completely as I have, as I’m a bit of a rarely rabid enthusiast for 70’s Besombes, but you should at least give it a listen to see how it grabs you if you haven’t heard it before and like vintage experimental synth rock.
Spoiler alert: if you already think this might be up your alley and you want to listen to it tripping (where legal, of course ;-)), don’t over-familiarise yourself with the descriptions of the music. This is best when you’re not sure what’s coming next. Enjoy!
Beginning the album, ‘Haute Pression’ [11:01] is a lumbering beast of rhythmic, throbbing synth sequencer and angel-air oozes of icy tone icing, as a meandering, serpentine synth melody solos through it, weaving mystery and anticipation as the music treads ever onwards. The feel is broadly similar to Pink Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’, though more thoroughly zoned. Not really spaced out, more spaced in, psychically penetrating and serious but of minimal emotion, like this isn’t going to be a party pal, we’re going to some deep and dark places, so strap in and go within. Drums kick in at near the 3 minute mark, at first with a few hesitant stop-start rolls, before dextrously dropping into the slot and grooving along like a more motorik François Auger decorating and propelling a Heldon track with the greatest of technical ease. However the drums still keep stopping and starting for ages whenever you think he’s going to keep going this time around, as weird tension builds and builds in subtle waves, synths sucking your mind deeper and deeper into some dark rabbit hole. Throughout the same single note sequencer throb pulses on and on relentlessly, occasionally rising and falling into glassy orbs, simple but unpredictable and deeply absorbing, before spiralling madly into a peak of insanity only to stop suddenly, with the drums (that had been absent for a couple of minutes now) equally suddenly reappearing out of the dust to pick up the pieces of a groove all alone and pace off indestructibly into the distance.
‘Evelyse’ [7:26] oozes gorgeously into existence as soothing medicine for the mind and spirit, gently droning blobular synth tones and healing soft flute feather brushes stroking your synapses into blissed oblivion. A subtle keyboard melody, seemingly improvised, patters and swells tastefully but innovatively in the web of undulating sound, the whole bulging and crashing like a wave against the shore a couple of minutes from the end before subsiding fluidly into glassy pulsing synths and more beautiful flute.
‘Armature Double’ [18:11], taking up all of side 2, is a bit of a headfuck, beginning with growing low rumbles that fade in and climax in sombre bell tolls, seguing into bizarre vibrating alien voice transmissions from an alternate dimension, before weird synth wire weaves into a very slow, meditative and kind of grim droning tone progression, with a shimmering, mysterious melody taking form on top and ever changing. It feels like you’re sitting in the midst of a very sacred ceremony, your mind submerged in a torporous trance as illuminati monks work their magic on the wiring of your subconscious. This music would fit right in to some of the more ritual-based parts of the film ‘The Holy Mountain’. After 6 minutes of this it all stops, and as kettle drums roll away an ominous broken-rhythm melody shifts into a weird space of transition, before suddenly ZANG! the veil is whipped away and a DMT flash rips through your perceptions, spinning off into chaotic madness as bizarre synth notes bend, rend and split open, careening off into every direction you never knew existed. Just as you’re reeling from this instant mental maelstrom and beginning to adjust to it, it all subsides back into the slow, oozing sacred space from before. At near the 14 minute mark this has dispelled and a strange atonal transition takes us into a spiralling inner world of cyber synth, layers of clicking, hissing and pulsing one-note sequences carving out spheres in your ears from the inside out, as a slow melancholy melody adds watery, throbbing detail and occasional squelches make adjustments on the living machinery. It’s pretty stunning in its feel, sounding like it could have been made recently (makes me think a little of Autechre, though not really the same kind of thing necessarily), but still having that gorgeous, organic analogue vintage. Man, I just love this stuff!
‘Lundi Matin’ [5:44] begins LP 2 with a gentle procession of glassy keyboard notes, before setting into a staccato riff, and a cheesy but weird-ass synth tone takes its place, like a big glowing electronic mantis making rhythmic stabs and running its claws like chopsticks down the keyboard, driving the whole piece along in an insectoid simple repeated riff. A web of interlocking keys takes form behind it, creating an unpredictable but harmonious mesh of notes, as another synth flies off in soaring improvised melody, and after a couple of minutes lazy sax enters and oozes out restrained globs of bop melancholy.
‘Montélimar’ [7:43] is another rhythmic piece based on a simple, repeated throbbing synth melody, but this time lumbering and sliding like a simple-minded snail on a single-minded journey home, as the first glimmer of a happy glow appears on the horizon with child-like synth washing over us and another viscous trickling synth drips treacle (this makes it sound a lot cheesier than it is, but I couldn’t think of another way to describe it! It’s really pretty cool). There’s still a melancholy vibe of hidden brooding menace present, though, amongst this blobular bulge of sound, and after a while tabla percussion enters unobtrusively and the web of interweaving melodies even takes on a quasi-middle eastern scale. A trumpet starts wailing away as the net of synths grows ever more complex and thriving, morphing now into a great marching caterpillar, moving on and on, contentedly chewing whatever vegetation lies in its path, before coming to a quick stop, perhaps having been stepped on by some giant shoe from above.
‘Rock à Montauban’ [3:33] is a wacky respite from everything that’s gone before, and a light-hearted interlude to balance the impact of the dark journey to come. It’s basically an intentionally badly played and sung weird pop ditty based on acoustic guitar, bass and vocals. The lyrics are silly and seem to not really mean much. Actually, listening now, it strikes me that it sounds like it could be an irreverent Faust song. After a minute and a half, bleeping and blooping piston rods of synth notes start squelching through your ears and into your brain from every direction, like rotating shafts of Brighton rock, the vocal deliveries become more and more silly, and the song becomes delirious acid ear candy, before the electronic confectionary subsides and all falls tumbling into a stoned heap.
‘Synthi Soit-il’ [21:54] is a sprawling shamanic workout to top off all the shifts in consciousness (hopefully) brought about by the rest of the album so far. It begins fairly low-key, as glacial phased mellotron and sinister throbbing synths weave and drone away like intergalactic serpents, though carrying the feeling that some serious stuff is to come, leading us into the lysergic meatgrinder. Soon this gives way to menacing, humming machine drones and throbbing synth globs, and drums subtly fade in and out, racing around the periphery of the rotating tube that is spiralling into the centre of your brain. The synth drones begin to shift and morph, taking on alien forms and racing straight into that tube along with the drums. It all gets pretty hallucinatory here for a while, and trying to describe it all is like trying to write down everything you’re experiencing in an acid trip, while it’s happening, which is impossible because it’s all so complex and intricately layered and constantly changing into something more remarkable and inexplicable. This is truly some of the most tripped-out and magically intuitive synth rock I’ve ever heard, and it pummels on and on into deeper, darker and stranger realms of the mind and soul. At about the 9 minute mark the maelstrom subsides somewhat and drops into a pulsing motorik quick-throb with the drums and synths, all elements still present and accounted for but now entirely unrecognizable from their former guises. Indeed, this track sounds like a series of threads that run from beginning to end in parallel, but changing form throughout and still managing to cohere psychically with each other in this utterly weird improvised ritual journey, and it was amazingly actually recorded more or less live in the studio all in one run-through, with only some creative mixing and sparse overdubs later. Snaky, nebulous synth melodies continue to slither, and after a while muffled, wordless mantric vocals emerge in the murk below, treated electronically, and strange, talentless, but morbidly apt sparse deathly guitar chords stab away like a zombie serenading decay on a broken, rotting park bench. You could say the piece sags a little in this section, but you’ve gotta respect these guys for even trying to stretch out such a grand opus for such a long time and keep it thoroughly interesting and penetrating. A little while later this all gets swept away literally by a giant swishing, sweeping synth tone and day-dreamy sing-song vocal in the background that must be the cosmic cleaner and his ruddy great robot broom, wiping away all your psychic debris, polishing up your cerebral cortex, with strange but friendly synths twinkly and baffled... it all feels a bit like coming to dazed on the floor of a futuristic psychic surgery room, having just had the most incredible extended nitrous oxide’n’acid binge, but finding everyone has gone home and you’re left there blinking, still mentally intact, but certainly reassembled differently than before and better for it.
For more on what Besombes did next, see the review for ‘Ceci Est Cela’. Rizet went in to production, opening his Ramases Studio, and would occasionally pop up in guest slots on other albums such as Philippe Grancher’s ‘3,000 Miles Away’ (also on the Pôle label, and has been due for reissue on Mellow for many years now – they haven’t responded to my occasional enquiries over the years, nor has Grancher himself) and Jean Philippe Goude’s excellent zeuhl-tinged experimental synth prog rock ‘Drones’.

Philippe Besombes - 1975 - Libra

Philippe Besombes

01. La Plage (2:51)
02. Rugby (1:54)
03. Theme Grave (1:58)
04. Ballade en Vélo (2:14)
05. Les Diapos (2:04)
06. Cérémonie (3:19)
07. Jaune (1:51)
08. PJF 261 (3:19)
09. Raggacountry (3:12)
10. Appel de Libra (1:10)
11. Poursuite (1:18)
12. La Ville (4:32)
13. Les Cosmonautes (2:12)
14. Avécandista (6:00)
15. Tis a Song (2:35)

Philippe Besombes & guests / guitars, synths, voice, drums, collage sounds

This album occupies a very special, weird place in my heart. I first heard it through a friend, who taped it for me from the original vinyl on his dodgy tape deck... When I got it home and played it while tripping on mushrooms, I found that the recording had come out with the speed constantly going up and down, which lent an even creepier air to the creepy bits (a housemate who came up the stairs and past my room at this point was even thoroughly spooked, and she wasn’t tripping!), and for a while I came to know the album in that warped guise. But anyhow, who’s this Besombes guy?
Philippe Besombes was a sonic genius who somehow evaded wider recognition for his music until very recently, with the reissue of most of his 70’s output on MIO. It’s always seemed a shame to me that Richard Pinhas and his band Heldon have been relatively more acclaimed, despite overall being less inventive in the French experimental electronic rock field. Not to knock Pinhas though, he made plenty of great albums in the 70’s. But Besombes is no less deserving of attention, and in my mind, much more so. I like to think I’m his biggest fan, but more likely there are scattered folks all around the world who hold his music in as high regard as I do. The music of his prime 70’s output is some of the most hallucinogenic I’ve ever heard, even more remarkable because Besombes didn’t take any psychedelic drugs, despite what has been implied on at least one on-line write-up. This guy is a sonic genius and aural magician who made music that sounded like he had psilocybin pumping through his veins, but it all came down to his own natural inspiration and curiosity. Believe me when I say that his music is made for psychedelic journeying, even if he didn’t necessarily intend it that way, or do so with any direct knowledge of that kind of thing. A natural shaman who had no need to venture to the other side on chemical sacraments because he was already there, at least through his ears. The music he made in his prime just comes alive, even more so with certain chemical assistance. What potent natural juices this guy had flowing through his brain!
Besombes was a student chemist (no, not that kind of chemistry...) who became more interested in electronic music in the early 70’s, and abandoned his Ph.D studies to further explore this area. Whilst still a student, however, he began making music with a friend, Jean François Dessoliers, using both conventional instruments and primitive electronic equipment borrowed from the nearby physics lab. Calling themselves PJF, they recorded some experimental music from 1970-1971. In 1972 they made music with a ballet company before parting ways as musical partners later that year. Besombes then met Jean Michel Jarre and performed live with him on several occasions. This was well before Jarre had recorded anything and was making more experimental music which we may never hear to redeem him from his better-known path of pleasant mediocrity.
In 1973 Besombes was commissioned to do the soundtrack for an experimental film (‘Libra’) by the Pattern group of directors. The film, which didn’t have any dialogue, went for over 90 minutes and was about four guys living happily isolated in nature, until their idyll is broken by a crashed US satellite, which brings journalists, television crews, and the end of their peace. Judging solely from the completed soundtrack, however, it would seem more suited to accompanying a weird supernatural psychological horror film! It took Besombes a while to assemble appropriate backing musicians, overcome technical difficulties, and wait for funding to arrive, so recording didn’t happen until 1974, in Besombes’ own Studio du Chesnay. The personnel on the recordings was abundant, with Philippe Besombes – synths, claviers, sitar; Patrick Verbeke – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, dobro; Alain Legros – bass, acoustic guitar, voice; Françoise Legros – voice, whistle, ‘bad temper and the rest’ (literal translation from the back cover!); Brigitte Grossin – voice; C. Roulet – drums; A. Martinet – guitar; J. Legras – oiseaux (?); Allan Jack – organ, voice; D. Cambier – bass; Armani, C. Dachez, D. Daure, A. Rébé – cuivres (?); and C. Beaumont, Biscotte, C. Brau, P.J. Knowles, G. Perdriaud, J.D. Umpleby and C. Verbeke – voice.
The release of the soundtrack album on Pôle in 1975 was the beginning of Besombes’ involvement with the label, which would last for another year or so. Around this time Besombes had also begun working with, and learning from in the process, Iannis Xenakis, Luc Ferrari and (briefly) Karlheinz Stockhausen. He was a member of Luc Ferrari’s live group, along with friend Jean-Louis Rizet, which would lead to the Besombes-Rizet collaboration I’ll discuss in a separate review. He also eventually got his Ph.D in 1975, in between all the music-making. You can read more about what he did next in the reviews for ‘Ceci Est Cela’ and ‘Besombes-Rizet’. Now, to the music of ‘Libra’...
‘La Plage’ [2:51] opens the ritual proceedings on a very ominous and creepy note, as unsettling keyboard drones waver, spiky guitar notes stab out a few grim warnings, and an oscillating synth warbles as a female voice babbles wordless panic and psychic meltdown. More soothing angel vocals also underpin it all, aahing wordlessly and sparsely in the back ground all icy cool almost like human mellotron, though hardly acting as a tonic to the overall vibe of spooksville. Weird pinging synths fade in like sheets of brief nitrous oxide dementia, building the dark vibe as the keyboard drone breaks up into fragments and treated guitar scrapes it all down to nothing.
‘Rugby’ [1:54] picks up the pieces with disjointed guitar, bass and drums noodling, very much like a band so tanked they’ve forgotten how to play anything at all, before their brains are splattered across with the wall with a scary treated vocal snarl of whiplash and all mental hell breaks loose. Over a steady bass locked groove and clattering drums alien voices warp and morph like some intergalactic demon baby, as electronics bubble and seethe into every synapse and snap them open in the process. Too soon the groove fades out, though variations on this theme will surface again throughout the album.
‘Theme Grave’ [1:58] enters with a high-pitched electronic signal like a low-key emergency warning, soon joined by a ghostly siren wail, as some kind of treated instrument – hard to tell what – lays down sparse stabs of resonant sound. Soon a slow melody unfolds on multiple keyboards, drums subtly underpinning this sombre development. We’re passengers on Charon’s boat to Hades, and nothing can save us now, as we’re clearly already dead. After such a downer, ‘Ballade en Vélo’ [2:14] is an unexpected respite in its comparitive conventionality. Gentle acoustic and electric guitars twine away with occasional horns adding to the brew, as this melancholy but weirdly cheery tune rolls along like a fond memory of simpler times past, when sanity was something you took for granted. Cheesy but emotionally spot-on and kinda beautiful, and it doesn’t at all outlast its welcome.
‘Les Diapos’ [2:04] picks up the doom and gloom thread of psychic breakdown with more ominous keyboard droning and occasional random deviations of gothic church organ as played by an evil madman. What sounds like the insides of a treated piano being fiddled with, and the occasional echoed snatch of a woman babbling in almost wordless French, contributes further to the feeling of thread-by-thread psychic disintegration, all sounds gelling together in an almost static field of reverbed night terrors.
‘Cérémonie’ [3:19] is lighter in mood, though no less of a serious air, as descending church organ chords are laid down producing a heavenly but dark and despairing atmosphere that’s more early 70’s Pink Floyd than Christian gothic. After a while wordless chants join in over the slow melody, as though lamenting over lost souls, as synths swell and subside in the background like icy winds.
‘Jaune’ [1:51] returns to the ‘Rugby’ theme, only faster, the bass chugging in its malevolent purpose, drums driving it along like the pooka streaking down wet roads under a night sky in black horse guise, as shafts of weird electronic head-fuckery and tape sounds swing further meathooks through your grey matter, all the while as the inside of that piano is being abused again, clanking and clattering jarringly and without regard to natural rhythm. Midway through an alien synth loop winds its way into your skull like a soft drill and the sound of perhaps a highly processed toilet flush washes the bass/drums/electronics down the drain, the loop continuing to the end and stopping suddenly as ‘PJF 261’ [3:19] begins. This track is all shimmering random keyboards, ghostly wordless vocals, snippets of indecipherable conversation and otherworldly electronic treatments, underpinned by a subtle machine drone. It all feels like being held floating in some zero-gravity closed chamber on a space station, as your system is being pumped full of psychedelic drugs and unseen beings monitor the changes in your consciousness behind bubbles of logos.
‘Raggacountry’ [3:12] is a soothing change of pace, as serpentine sitar and acoustic guitar unfold into a garden of delights, birds chattering in the background under a brief splash of sunshine. Initially it’s like some exotic tapestry out of Dzyan’s last album, ‘Electric Silence’, but soon picks up pace as bass and tablas enter and a curious hybrid of Indian sub-raga and country blues guitar winds a path through your heart and mind, rich and vivid as a lucid dream. Synth sounds build in the background, swelling and scattering before the ever-present drone leads straight into a quite unexpected diversion – ‘Boogimmick’ [2:03] – which is, as the title would suggest, a boogie/rock’n’roll jam-out with electronics and weird voices splashing out a colourful web of tripped-out sonics, making it more than just any old retro affair, and ending side 1.
‘Hache 06’ [4:47], opening side 2, is built around a curious bass line that I just love to bits, but can’t come close to describing. After an introductory run-through, expansively phased drums kick in and weird synth tones slip and slide in the surrounding air like phantom gliding birds leaving trails of phosphorescent mist in their wake. Jazzy electric guitar enters too, before they break it down in the middle, all restraint and musical majesty, before it slowly builds and builds to greater twisted heights. This is the kind of music that just keeps opening doors in your mind with gentle persuasion, clouds parting in dark skies to reveal the splendid rays of blinding white light beyond, and then the wax holding your wings together suddenly melts away on a weird ending as you drop quickly back into the womb of disturbed headfuck that this album is obviously full of.
‘Appel de Libra’ [1:10] is more reverbed ghostly, ominous keyboard dronings and wordless chanting layers, giving a bed to the sound of a woman babbling variations on ‘libra’ over and over like she’s in the middle of a belladonna trip stuck in a mind loop, rolling on the floor of a mausoleum gazing in fascination at her own post-cottonmouth copiously dribbling salivary fluids as though she’s discovered the glue that holds it all together – and also lets it all fall apart, as the mood is shattered by a clamour of discordant organ.
‘Poursuite’ [1:18] begins as a drone – yes, an ominous drone of course – fades in and stops suddenly, then again, before the ‘Rugby’ theme re-enters on bass and drums, and the inner-piano abuse continues unabated, creaking and clattering like we’re being stretched on the rack in the gloomy, dank dungeon of the evil madman from before, hallucinogens still pumping through our ravaged brain cells making every twitch and groan come alive in three dimensional colours of psychedelic torment. Not that it’s necessarily painful or unpleasant to listen to – if you’re into this kind of thing so far, mental torment never sounded so good!
‘La Ville’ [4:32] is almost a continuation, but with an entirely different sonic pallette – the bass and drums are still there driving it all, but the bass line is slightly different and more complex, and the drums jazzier and less clattering, as sitar weaves aural illusions, alien voices chatter in one ear before disappearing, all manner of layers of sound sliding around and morphing like a seething witches brew of psychedelic disorientation. Just as it seems the track has faded to a close it returns on chirping electronics, doomy drones and disturbed sitar melancholy, before the alien chirp signals the re-opening of the portal and the original theme returns, only to be similarly interrupted and to return again. Vocal loops reverbed and echoed beyond recognition hover like we’re eavesdropping on some cocktail party conversation where everyone is fucked up on Datura but doesn’t realise anything is amiss, before it all seeps into a malevolent droning storm of sonic headfuck.
‘Les Cosmonautes’ [2:12] is initially quite similar to the opening track ‘La Plage’, creepy and with the same sonic ingredients, but with added deep space atmospherics, 3-D synths winding and growling, sending black hole worms deep into your brain and carving out great tunnels to other dimensions.
‘Avécandista’ [6:00] continues over the now familiar ominous droning and random organ stabs, as a French woman embarks on an emotionally disturbed vocal delivery. I have no idea what she’s on about, but it could be that it’s that same woman still out of her skull on belladonna, having broken out of her ‘libra’ loop, and regardless of the actual verbal content the vocals are unconventional and improvised, but contributing really well to the overall vibe as a further instrument, rather than as actual singing or even a simple spoken monologue. She’s really putting her demented soul into it. There’s no actual tune here to follow, just creepy meanderings over a droning base. This all sounds like it could be unfolding within a church late at night, as part of some arcane ritual involving hallucinogenic dissociatives and dark intent.
‘Tis a Song’ [2:35] closes this remarkable album on an unusual and more positive note, being a slow and conventional (apart from all the nebulous phasing) melancholy ballad that’s like the final part to ‘Ballade en Vélo’, making sure the listener finishes this experience without wanting to go out and slash their wrists (unless this song makes you want to do it through its cheesiness!). The vibe is kind of hopeful and nostalgic, like it’s the end of life’s movie, all (well,most) danger and distress have passed, and it’s time to raise a glass to all friends and foes from some distant past.
‘Libra’ has finally received its due and was reissued on CD in 2004 by MIO. It features sparkling remastered sound, and nearly half an hour’s worth of bonus recordings, all previously unreleased and all worth checking out. The original LP is pretty scarce, though it’s not one of the rarer Pôle releases. Besombes, and this album of his in particular, is also likely to receive a little more recognition through the inclusion of a track from ‘Libra’ on the recent compilation ‘Prog Is Not A Four Letter Word’, which has been turning a few heads. It’s about time this genius received his due recognition from a wider audience beyond the small circle of cult enthusiasts who’ve spoken of his classic albums in hushed tones to their friends and fellow collectors for the past few decades – or kept him a private secret so as not to create competition in searching for his records. Thanks to MIO, there’s now hopefully enough to go around! Unfortunately, though, there are still a few things of his from the late 70’s and early 80’s that haven’t been issued on CD at all and might never be – or at least Besombes has said he has no plans to reissue them.
Big thanks to Philippe Besombes for opening up to a stranger like a friend, and letting me interview him via e-mail with numerous lengthy questions.