Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jacques Berrocal, PARALLÈLES

d'Avantage, 1977; reissued by Alga Marghen; available

Alga Marghen edition: 10 tracks, 61:14

Jacques (he wasn't Jac just yet!) Berrocal has been reviewed here before. This, his second album, is probably the single best-known thing he ever did. The reason for that is the avant classic "Rock'n'Roll Station", which Nurse With Wound later covered*. Here, it is scored for the powerful voice of Vince Taylor, Roger Ferlet's repetitive double bass, and Berrocal's bicycle improvisation(!). It's admittedly a great track, but it almost pales in comparison to the others. "Parallèles" itself is an improvisation by Berrocal and Ferlet, who trade off runs on valve trombone and regular trombone respectively for eight and a half minutes. Similarly, "Galimatias" is three minutes of Berrocal on solo cornet. It says a lot about Berrocal that these two tracks are endlessly fascinating despite their limited instrumentation. By contrast, "Post-card" has trombonist Berrocal and pocket trumpeter Ferlet accompanied by Michel Potage on guitar and voice. What's unusual is that this was recorded in a pigsty (yes, you can hear the pigs), and Potage recites the back of a random postcard. These four tracks made up the original A-side. "Bric-à-Brac" takes the honors of occupying the B-side, and it's a doozy for sure! In addition to Berrocal, Ferlet, and Potage (who play about fourteen instruments between the three of them), five other players are involved: cellist Philippe Pochan, double bassist Pierre Bastien, pianist Richard Marachin, and multi-instrumentalists Claude Bernard and Bernard Vitet**. True to its name, "Bric-à-Brac" is an epic noisy improvisation, never sitting in one place yet never really overdoing it either. It's subtitled "To Russolo", and that should tell you everything you need to know about how it sounds. Towards the end of the track, a version of "Rock'n'Roll Station" shows up. The album proper finishes on this delightfully unexpected note, but Alga Marghen has generously added five bonus tracks spanning '72 to '79. These range from the sound collage of "Villa Povera Naturale" to the electronic experimentations of "Cryptea IV" and "Lisylis Pavillion". The best, however, is "Occupé", a six minute gem from an unreleased Michel Potage LP featuring most of the players from "Bric-à-Brac". While this is a varied and unusual album, it's definitely a great representation of several sides of Berrocal. It's also my absolute favorite Berrocal album.

*Berrocal and Stapleton have worked together many times, going back to the second NWW album.

**Vitet, you may recall, was in the excellent Un Drame Musical Instantané.

***You may recall her from Jean Guérin's TACET; she also appears on Vitet's LA GUÊPE.


New Alliance, 1991; out of print

12 tracks, 40:14

This is one of those gems I find that wasn't truly released until years after it was recorded. Sproton Layer was a group of Ann Arbor teens (all between 15 and 17 when the project started in '68) deeply under the influence of Barrett-era Pink Floyd, free jazz, Beefheart, the Stooges, etc. Why should you care? Well, it just so happens that the brothers Miller comprised 3/4 of this group. Bassist/lead vocalist Roger went on to Mission Of Burma et al eight years later (after relocating to Boston), while drummer Larry and guitarist/vocalist Ben joined Destroy All Monsters for the seminal "Bored" single. The brothers had previously performed together as Freak Trio, which was apparently a mostly improvisational project. The remaining Sproton member was trumpeter Harold Kirchen, who brought an unusual yet completely wonderful touch to the band. As for the music itself, these guys put some "professional" groups to shame! Having performed live several times in the previous two years, Sproton Layer recorded this album in 1970. Simultaneously ahead of their time yet perfectly suited to it, Sproton Layer created songs that can be noisy and heavy or pretty and dreamy, often within the same short composition. Larry's unusual jazz-influenced drumming combines perfectly with Roger's chugging bass, while Ben has absolutely no problem either following along or going off on noisy tangents; he even delves into proto-noise rock and surf modes at times. Secret weapon Harold punctuates all the right moments with expert trumpeting, and while his presence is a little startling at first, after a few listens you notice just how much that damn trumpet adds. To their credit, there's also not a drop of filler on this album*. The lyrics can be pretty goofy in a psychedelic way (sample: "I know where there's a bush!/O-VER THERRRRRRRE!"), but given the heavy Barrett influence that's perfectly understandable. A Barrett-influenced Mission Of Burma is probably the best description I can give this, but it really should be judged on its own merits as a remarkable recording by a young band who never got their due. While this IS out of print, you should be able to get a good used copy for less than $5 (I did!). This was the last thing Sproton Layer ever did; New Alliance released a three-song single at the same time that shows off their improvisational side on a track or two, and this is also worth hearing. Once you hear Sproton Layer, you'll be glad ANYTHING by them survived to be issued at all! Music this good shouldn't go unheard; why is it out of print now?!?!?!?!?! It's probably worth noting that the Miller boys get together periodically as M3, so if you like this that should be your next stop.

*Sadly, though, none of the songs on WITH MAGNETIC FIELDS DISRUPTED shows off their improvisational side all that much, but oh well, that's what the single's for.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Richard Pinhas, CHRONOLYSE

Cobra, 1978; reissued by Spalax, Cuneiform, and Captain Trip; Cuneiform edition available

9 tracks, 52:56

First and foremost: Happy 100th entry to my humble lil' blog! Hooray and all that! Okay, on to the review.

Pinhas' group Heldon has already been reviewed here (and most of you probably knew about'em already!). This was Pinhas' second solo album to be released*. However, it was actually recorded in 1976 somewhere between Heldon's IV and V**; it just wasn't released until two years later. Truth be told, it's not really even a solo album per se. Side one had "Variations I-VII Sur Le Theme De Bene Gesserit" and "Duncan Idaho". These feature Pinhas and his Moog, truly solo. The "Variations" are exactly that, most being quite short (with the exception of "Variation VII") and all featuring the same basic set of sequences. Don't let that deter you, as they all form into a mesmerizing and literally trance-inducing mini-suite of minimalist analog bliss. "Duncan Idaho" is similar, but features its own unique set of sequenced eletronic sounds. It's also much longer than any of the individual "Variations" at just over six minutes. So far this sounds like a true solo effort, but then the massive side-long "Paul Atreides" comes along. This thirty-plus minute behemoth is essentially a Heldon track, with longtime Heldon drummer François Auger and sometime bassist Didier Batard joining Pinhas. Richard himself tackles guitar, Mellotron, and ARP synths. "Paul Atreides" opens with eerie drones and what could be classic sci-fi sound effects, slowly progressing for several minutes before Pinhas unleashes his soaring Frippian guitar and Auger starts to provide a suitably motorik-style beat, with Batard completing a solid rhythm section. After a stretch of true space rock, the song comes full circle back to the space drone of the beginning. It's a truly intimidating listen, and it just may be the single greatest track in Pinhas' entire catalog. The rest of the album is great, too, making this one of the most important and enjoyable Pinhas-related releases. Oh, and if the track names seem familiar, Pinhas got them all from Frank Herbert's DUNE; he also "dedicated (this album) to all S(ci).F(i). freaks", for what that's worth!

*His first, RHIZOSPHERE, has its moments but is mostly inferior to CHRONOLYSE in my opinion.

**Yes, the titles are much longer, but for the sake of space and time I'm referring to them by number only.