Monday, September 17, 2007

Music of power and drama, beauty and spirit

This was an important, revealing release when it was first issued in 1991. Now, with both Tapscott and John Carter having passed on, it takes on even more significance with our knowing that they are beyond the vagaries of man and Fate, and cannot contribute any more to our lives. On The Dark Tree they created music of power and drama, beauty and spirit. It's a shame we had to wait so long to hear it, and now we should treasure it.  Art Lange

Horace Tapscott was a jazz musician of the absolute highest accomplishment. A brilliantly original pianist, deeply swinging, fleet-fingered, hard-driving, able to voice nearly the entire history of jazz piano in a single solo, nay, all of Western music (check out his sly quote of "We Three Kings" in "Lino's Pad"), possessed of a prodigious technique and unbounded energy, these qualities are magnificently on display on the two Dark Tree outings. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA, in 1989, there's a stunning electricity, a hard-swinging vibrancy, an almost impossibly deep groove in these sessions.

A good deal of the glory of this music is likely due to the leader being in the presence of entirely like-minded and equally brilliant bandmates: avant-garde warrior Cecil McBee on bass, who navigates his instrument with such surpassing dexterity even as he gets the fattest, toughest sound imaginable from it; the inimitable Andrew Cyrille, perhaps THE most distinguished free drummer ever, and the huge presence of clarinetist John Carter, himself one of the most important chroniclers of the African diaspora's musical experience, as well as being perhaps the greatest practitioner of jazz clarinet in the history of the music.

Equally important is the extremely high quality of the compositions. Each has a profound weight, an almost unfathomable insistence, yet wrapped in a dancing, almost inebriated, mock glory that belies their grandeur. Mesmeric, insistent, complex yet entirely accessible, these songs bespeak a lifetime of communality, struggle, and eventual triumph by dint of sheer perseverance. Yet, there is not the slightest whiff of maudlin solipsism, cheated glory, groveling self-pity, or slighted entitlement.
Instead, as with the finest of avant-garde jazz, there's a kind of insouciant, flip-you-off casualness amid an organized chaos that bespeaks the full monty of deal-with-it, in-your-face musical essentiality. Huh? No mistake, these lads are trippin', and at the highest possible level.

OK, here's the deal. You know what this is? Cecil Taylor that you can actually like; Anthony Braxton that makes sense; Wadada Leo Smith sans the radical weirdness. This, in my humble opinion, is the finest black American folk music ever recorded. (customer review,

Horace Tapscott - The Dark Tree Vol.1 (1989) [EAC-FLAC]

1.  The Dark Tree (20:56)
2.  Sketches Of Drunken Mary (11:32)
3.  Lino's Pad (16:46)
4.  One For Lately (10:24)

Horace Tapscott - Piano
John Carter - Clarinet
Cecil McBee - Double Bass
Andrew Cyrille - Drums

Recorded live at Catalina Bar & Grill, Hollywood on December 14-17, 1989

Hat Art CD 6053

Pianist Horace Tapscott has long been Los Angeles's great undiscovered legend. A very original stylist capable of playing bop, free jazz or anything in between, Tapscott does not sound like anyone else. Unfortunately he has made few recordings through the years and thus far none with his regular working band of the past decade, but his two Hat Art CDs partly fill the gap. Tapscott was teamed during a stint at Catalina's in Hollywood with clarinetist John Carter, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Andrew Cyrille. The lengthy renditions they give three of the pianist's compositions (along with trombonist Thurman Green's "One for Lately") allows listeners outside of L.A. a rare opportunity to hear Tapscott stretching out on records; his playing and that of the all-stars is near peak form. (Scott Yanow, AMG)

I was ecstatic, yesterday, to find the first volume of Horace Tapscott's The Dark Tree. It only takes a few minutes of the title track for it to live up to the hype: John Carter lingers dispassionately high above the dark, dark ostinato Cecil McBee and Andrew Cyrille are hammering down, before diving in fully. Tapscott layers on thick, roiling piano textures that manage to change just enough for the whole not to be too static. The ostinato lightens for Tapscott's own solo, which allows him the space for ominous texturising and frantic, stumbling-over-itself line-spinning. It's just a fabulously intense performace throughout.

"Sketches of Drunken Mary" starts as a more traditional swinging waltz, but with an appropriately tipsy feel. "Lino's Pad" opens with a military snare drum pattern that's great because you can hear the drum's metallic overtones (that's a sound I've always loved). The pattern and a bass vamp anchor a more relaxed, bluesier version of "The Dark Tree" ostinato, in seven and with a swinging bridge in four. The alternation threatens to get a little tedious over sixteen minutes, but doesn't, not quite. Tapscott gets to mix percussiveness and rough-hewn lines to great effect.

Carter pulls off the trick of always seeming just a little distanced, but audibly tearing it up at the same time. He creates high drama in "Lino's Pad," suspending the action by ending phrases with strangled whispers in the kettle whistle range, before grandly swooping into something else. It's only on "One For Lately" that his sound seems to emerge from the heart of the ensemble, rather than descend upon it from above.

The final track recaptures the brilliance of the opener, but takes an opposite route: complex, abruptly zigzagging interaction that lives off an unstable energy stuffed into a compact ten minutes. It never settles into anything near a groove, but is tense and fascinating all the same. (

Link1  Link2  Link3 

Horace Tapscott - The Dark Tree Vol.2 (1989) [EAC-FLAC]

1. Sandy And Niles (11:17)
2. Bavarian Mist (13:16)
3. The Dark Tree 2 (18:30)
4. A Dress For Renee (4:57)
5. Nyja's Theme (19:44)

Horace Tapscott - Piano
John Carter - Clarinet
Cecil McBee - Double Bass
Andrew Cyrille - Drums

Recorded live at Catalina Bar & Grill, Hollywood on December 14-17, 1989

Hat Art CD 6083

Pianist Horace Tapscott, a greatly under-recognized but very original pianist, is showcased even more on this set than on the first volume, for clarinetist John Carter is only on two of the five selections (four of which are Tapscott originals). With bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Andrew Cyrille propelling the all-star group, Tapscott's percussive yet generally melodic style is well-featured. But why doesn't some label record his regular working group? (Scott Yanow, AMG)

For us, it’s Tapscott’s masterpiece. A towering work full of emotional drama, sensitive musical interplay, and sophisticated compositions. It’s ripe for rediscovery. Check out the long-but-gripping title track for some of Carter’s most fiery playing and a stellar example of Tapscott’s ability to mix solid vamps and winding pianistic excursions.

Tapscott’s refusal to travel early in his career and his commitment to grassroots L.A. causes kept his talents a longtime regional secret. The 90s saw him shuffle towards the spotlight, releasing some stellar solo outings accompanied by a series of wonderful and seemingly never-ending archival releases called The Tapscott Sessions. Although he’s passed away, Tapscott will cast a long shadow over jazz in the years to come. (

Link1  Link2  Link3

Sunday, September 9, 2007

" The trio and the griot " Romano, Sclavis, Texier & Le Querrec

Four major personalities of the French jazz history have imagined the third chapter of an adventure started ten years ago. In 1990, Guy Maurette, founder of “Jazz sous les manguiers”, which then became “The Jazz Week in Brazzaville”, decided to organize a French musicians tour. Guy le Querrec, one of his old friends, suggested to bring together three major French jazz musicians: Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis and Henri Texier. This idea became a reality and our three musicians were soon for three weeks on the road in six Central African countries.
In order to keep a memory of these moments and of this original band, Guy Le Querrec and the trio imagined a record with a booklet including about fifty photos of the two journeys. This album, the first of this exceptional trio, was released in May 1995 and includes original compositions of each artist, especially written for the band. “Carnet de Routes” has been particularly successful.

Three years later, the four decided to renew the experience, this time in South and East Africa. The “trio and the griot”, as they were called, thus recorded a second opus ‘Suite Africaine’ with a sumptuous photo-book. With a great elegance and a lot of humility, they offer with it a music marked by the atmosphere of different countries, proving that their music is in constant evolution and fed by an exchange of culture.

Over the past years, the concerts of this trio around the world added a few pages to this ‘African novel”. And they came to the idea of recording a third and last album. As a testimony and essential actor of the project from the start, Guy Le Querrec was the indispensable intermediary for African cultures and traditions. His numerous trips to Africa over the past thirty years deeply influenced the content of the trio’s journeys.

This third chapter of the Romano, Sclavis, Texier- Le Guerrec project tells us about thirty years of photo -reportages on the African continent, the musicians playing according to original pictures of Le Querrec’s private archives. Each musician selected four images for his composition among a pre-selection by Guy Le Querrec. The album will be offered with a booklet containing over hundred photos.

A tribute by an exceptional trio to the people, which ‘gave birth’ to it. A tribute of three musicians to their friend and most faithful photographic witness.

Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis & Henri Texier - Carnet de Routes (1995) [VBR 220-250kbps]

1.  Standing Ovation 4:26
2 . Vol  6:02
3 . Daoulagad 6:21
4 . Bororo Dance 6:46
5.  Annobon  5:02
6.  Les Petits Lits Blancs 6:55
7.  Flash Mémoire 3:25
8 . Korokoro 5:17
9.  Entrave 3:29
Aldo Romano - Acoustic Guitar, Drums  
Louis Sclavis - Clarinet, Saxophone [Soprano]  
Henri Texier - Double Bass  

Label Bleu 6569

This recording from the West African tours of the Romano/Sclavis/Texier trio in the early '90s is one in a series of three. That this band played in Africa and was documented by photographer Guy LeQuerrec (who suggested the tour to the various African arts councils in the first place, and is credited here with playing "Leica") was remarkable in and of itself. There were many better-known trios and quartets at the time, but the music Romano/Sclavis/Texier made as a result of Africa's inspiration is nothing less than mindbending (and the packaging that comes along with this disk and its partners too).

This trio, with Sclavis' soprano saxophone and clarinet on the front line, Texier's lower-than-low contrabasse, and Romano's drumming, which is reminiscent of an even more sophisticated Ginger Baker (Romano plays with the power of a rock drummer with all the sophistication of Max Roach or Elvin Jones), is an almost overwhelming entity on this recording. Elements of not only jazz in all its configurations but funk, French folk music, West African griots, and the melodic influence of the late Johnny Dyani from South Africa all boil down into one intense pot of musical empathy and innovation. These cats are all composers who know the strengths of each their band members. When melody lines come off Sclavis' horn and are tied in separate octaves to Texier's bass playing, creating a new chromatic color to the proceedings, such as on "Bororo Dance" and "Flash Memoire," listeners get to hear music in the process of being created from nothing but the abilities of its makers. This is a trio that owes nothing to Sonny Rollins but perhaps something to Steve Lacy's trio and Pierre Doerge's New Jungle Orchestra. This band swings like a vine and jams like they are on a bandstand in a small club in front of a full audience of other musicians.
(Thom Jurek, AMG)


Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis & Henri Texier - Suite Africaine (1999) [MPC 300kbps]

1. Hauts Plateaux 4:43
2. Bois Croises 2:04
3. Soweto Sorrow 4:07
4. Ggaba 4:15
5. Windhoek Suite 7:53
6. Pingouin 1:53
7. Guy Danse 3:58
8. Water Buffalo 5:32
9. Sur le Lac 6:08
10. Impala 1:46
11. P'tit Mome 1:58
12. Soul Is Free 5:23
13. Girafe 1:54

Aldo Romano - Acoustic Guitar, Drums  
Louis Sclavis - Clarinet, Saxophone [Soprano]  
Henri Texier - Double Bass  

Label Bleu 6609

Here is another lavishly packaged disc in the Romano, Sclavis, and Texier trio's African tour series. This one is a studio date done in 1999. It's a single disc about an hour in length boxed with a 60-page booklet of photographs by the band's spiritual director, photographer Guy LeQuerrec. This is a suite composed of selections written by individual members. By now, anyone familiar with this trio knows that there is a thoroughly modern jazz that has at its considerably large heart a global vision. Certainly Suite Africaine was influenced in its entirety by the group's tours of that continent, but the influences that came before and have been attached to their playing since then are also in the mix. First, there are heavy syncopated rhythmic melody lines that crisscross in "Hauts Plateaux," the Arab-Israeli melodies that intersect in two separate yet inextricably linked harmonic intervals in Romano's "Soweto Sorrow," and the crazy percussive semantics -- where even Sclavis on bass clarinet gets into the valve on valve drumming -- in "Bois Crosses."

As for the improvisation in this recording, it is kept to a minimum, though what is here is profoundly immediate and angularly imaginative (it has to be since such a weight is placed upon it by its lack of structural space), because, after all, this is a suite. There are 15 segments, all moving toward the center of something that remains unspoken until you look at the photographs in the booklet, and then it becomes unmistakable. It is impossible to convey in words except to say that as an entity, this trio plays differently, has changed irrevocably as a result of these tours. The music still swings -- "Giraffe" -- and challenges boundaries, as in "Soul Is Free" and "Windhoek Suite," and conveys humorous lyricism such as on "Guy Danse" or "Ombrellas." But a shift took place in the way the trio composes and performs its material. While they may have kept their European sophistication approaching harmony, interval, textural ambience, they've lost their cool distance from their music and from their audiences; they've gained a more complex yet grounded sense of rhythmic and melodic invention, and a sense of integrated modality -- and that exists in no other jazz or improvisational trio on the globe. There aren't enough platitudes for this band or its photographer. If you purchase no other jazz recordings this year, pick up the Romano, Sclavis, and Texier African recordings -- they're worth whatever you pay for them.
(Thom Jurek, AMG)


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis & Henri Texier - African Flashback (2005) [EAC-APE]

1 . Berbere (4:39)
2.  Derriere Le Sable (3:51)
3.  Harvest (2:26)
4.  Entre Chien Et Loup (2:33)
5.  Three Children (4:02)
6.  African Panther 69 (2:21)
7.  Surreal Politik (5:39)
8.  Viso Di Donna (3:39)
9.  Fô Lion (5:20)
10.  Le Long Du Temps (4:24)
11.  55 Wheels (4:36)
12.  Look The Lobis (4:32)
13.  Dieu N'existe Pas (4:13)

Aldo Romano - Acoustic Guitar, Drums  
Louis Sclavis - Clarinet, Saxophone [Soprano]  
Henri Texier - Double Bass  

Label Bleu 6679

As what used to be called rhythm sections go, one of the most irresistibly springy jazz-and-beyond partnerships in European music is the occasional pairing of veteran French bassist Henri Texier and Italian drummer Aldo Romano. Here they join the formidable clarinettist and saxophonist Louis Sclavis on a third venture for Label Bleu.

The pieces are by all three members, responding to images of African life by photojournalist Guy le Querrec, whose evocative work is included in a substantial CD-sized book. As with Texier's Ramparts D'Argile, this set can be as gracefully swinging as the best straightahead jazz, as exuberant as village-wedding music, as edgily cacophonous as a traffic jam in the heat and as funky as a late-period Miles band; the latter is down to Romano, who can move easily between rich, Africanised percussion sonorities and a slamming take-no-prisoners backbeat. Sclavis is teasingly lyrical or abrasively free on clarinets and sax, and Texier's basslines could make an album on their own. Delicious.
(John Fordham,

African Flashback is one of my favorite Jazz albums. Featuring Aldo Romano on drums, Louis Sclavis on clarinet, and Henri Texier on bass, it is the third and last album of this amazing European Jazz trio. The idea behind this trio was initiated in 1990 by Guy Le Querrec, a renowned French photographer. who went touring Central Africa for three weeks. They had been so enthralled by this experience that they decided to make Carnet de Routes in 1995. Featuring original compositions from each artist and about 50 photos of the trips, this first album met incredible success. In 1998, the four friends decided to go back to Africa. This time, they visited South and East Africa. As a result, a second album, Suite Africaine, was made. It also met great success. And I really love those two albums.

Later on, Le Querrec was asked to choose from the thousands of unreleased pictures he brought back from Africa and to give his selection to the musicians who would imagine stories behind these pictures that they will tell the listeners in Music. Released in 2005, African Flashback is the result of this work and it is simply superb! There's no other word to describe this jewel. The CD comes with an impressive booklet containing Le Querrec's selected pictures. It was very had to select one of the songs as I really love all of them (except Surreal Politik that isn't to my taste at all). After listening over and over to this masterpiece, I decided to give my preference to Look The Lobis for the incredible Bass play donned by Henri Texier and the very distinct Rock tone of the song.

I am very grateful to these musicians and all the other artists that create such amazing Art. I can't imagine how we could live without Music.

Link1  Link2

Monday, September 3, 2007

John Greaves

JAZZWISE (UK, December 2004)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

John Greaves & Peter Blegvad - Kew Rhône (1977) [320kbps]

1. Good Evening (0:33)
2. Twenty-Two Proverbs (4:08)
3. Seven Scenes From The Painting (3:32)
4. Kew Rhône (3:04)
5. Pipeline (3:41)
6. Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects & Their Titles (3:36)
7. One Footnote (to Kew Rhône) (1:29)
8. Three Tenses Onanism (4:07)
9. Nine Mineral Emblems (5:51)
10. Apricot (3:05)
11. Gegenstand (3:46)

Lisa Herman - Vocals
John Greaves - Piano, Organ, Bass, Vocals, Percussion ( Tr.7)
Peter Blegvad - Vocals, Guitar, Tenor Sax (Tr. 5)
Andrew Cyrille - Drums, percussion
Mike Mantler - Trumpet, Trombone
Carla Bley - Vocals, Tenor Sax (Tr. 1 & 7)
Michael Levine - Violin, Viola, Vocals ( 9 )
Vito Rendace - Alto & Tenor Saxes, Flute
April Lang - Vocals (Tr. 5 & 8)
Dana Johnson - Vocals (Tr. 2)
Boris Kinberg - Clave (Tr. 5)

Greaves left Henry Cow to work on a project, Kew. Rhone. with Slapp Happy's Peter Blegvad in New York City. Greaves had met and worked with Blegvad during the brief merger of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy between November 1974 and April 1975. Kew. Rhone. was a song cycle with all the music composed by Greaves and the lyrics written by Blegvad. In addition to bass guitar, Greaves also played keyboards and sang. The album was released in 1977 and credited to Greaves, Blegvad and Lisa Herman, the lead vocalist. It was well received by critics: All Music Guide described it as "An unfortunately neglected masterpiece of '70s progressive rock ..."; and Robert Wyatt reportedly liked it so much he bought two copies "just in case the first got worn out!" (wikipedia)

When Henry Cow amalgamated with Slapp Happy in 1975, recording two acclaimed albums before parting ways again, John Greaves began a writing relationship with Peter Blegvad, which came to fruition after Greaves left Henry Cow the following year. Together they recorded the Kew.Rhône album, a marriage of words and music of unprecedented, almost surreal, complexity. A critical success, it suffered commercially from the anti-intellectual zeitgeist of late 70s England, not to mention the fact that it came out on the same day (and same label) as the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks ! (

An unfortunately neglected masterpiece of '70s progressive rock, the first extended collaboration by John Greaves and Peter Blegvad (formerly of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy, respectively) is a brilliant amalgam of Slapp Happy's skewed pop sense, the collective improvisation approach of Henry Cow, the sly wit of the Canterbury prog rock scene, and (most fruitfully) Carla Bley's inimitably skewed progressive jazz. Although Bley's contributions are purely instrumental and vocal (the album was written entirely by Greaves and Blegvad), songs like the rushing, choral "Twenty-Two Proverbs" sound heavily influenced by her early-'70s work with Paul Haines and Michael Mantler (who engineered this album; there is no producer credit). Most of the lead vocals are taken by Lisa Herman, whose lovely, clear voice delivers Blegvad's playful, often surreal lyrics (filled with anagrams, palindromes, and other verbal games) in a tone that suggests a deeper emotional core to songs that might otherwise have been merely clever. One of the most satisfying albums that any of the principals have been involved with, Kew. Rhone. is a challenging but surprisingly accessible album that rewards as much attention as the listener offers it. (AMG)

Side 1 of the vinyl original opened with "Good Evening", which functioned like the opening tune of a Broadway musical - some of the main musical themes of the album are played in a short but highly effective big band arrangement. This leads straight into "Twenty Two Proverbs", which is just that - a collection of proverbs from a variety of sources set to music and sung by Lisa Herman with occasional interjections from other voices - John Greaves' delivery of 'What have I to do with Bradshaw's windmill?' is one of the album's early highlights. The proverbs sometimes seem to relate to each other; 'A cat may look at a king' is juxtaposed with 'By night all cats are grey', while 'Names are not the pledge for things but things for names' flags up one of the album's main lyrical concerns. "7 Scenes From 'Exhuming The First American Mastodon' By CW Peale" follows, the lyrics based on the cover painting, itself based on CW Peale's painting of his own scientific project. This track has some remarkable brass by Mike Mantler, which plays off Lisa Herman's lead vocal to stunning effect. "Pipeline" follows, which pulls off the rare feat of having a line such as 'Figure b. illustrates the assertion 'Ambiguity can't be measured like a change in temperature' and making it melodic and catchy. The lyrics refer back to "7 Scenes"; objects mentioned in that song reappear here in a different guise (Names are not the pledge for things...). Again, despite the apparent complexity this a breezy, melodic song which will linger in the mind for a long time. The title track is the album's centrepiece, another hummable gem with opaque lyrics. The first part of the song is written solely using the letters in Kew.Rhone, for example 'We who knew no woe', and the second features a lengthy palindrome: 'Peel's foe, not a set animal, laminates a tone of sleep'. Once again all this is sung to some extremely memorable music, with some wonderful strings by Michael Levine and a superb vocal arrangement with another sterling contribution from John Greaves' pleasing Welsh tenor. The first half of the album culminated with Catalogue of Fifteen Objects and their Titles (Names again...), which is also referred to obliquely on 'Squarer for Maud' by National Health.

Side 2 kicked off with another short track, "One Footnote", which suggests further anagrams from the title and invites the listener to think of some more. "Three Tenses Onanism" is a highly poetic paen to the pleasures of self gratification and sees the music move more towards RIO/Avant prog territory, each of the three tenses being represented by a different musical idea. Peter Blegvad is the main vocalist here, his knowing New York drawl adding an extra dimension to the lyrics. 'Nine Mineral Emblems' returns to the jazz tinged Canterbury stylings of the first half of the album, and contains some accurate information about mineralogy given an unlikely but effective erotic subtext: 'When heated, SCOLECITE lengthens, squirms - not unlike the worm that looks for lodgings in a pearly urn'. "Apricot" feature's Blegvad's second lead vocal, and is probably the closest the album comes to a straightforward rocker (not very close, admittedly, but there's something of Lou Reed in the vocals and it has the album's most prominent electric guitar)."Gegenstand" brought the album to a subdued close - this track has the sparsest arrangement on the album, dominated by John Greaves' bass playing. (


John Greaves (with Robert Wyatt) - Songs (1995) [320kbps]

1. Old Kinderhook (1:06)
2. The Song (5:31)
3. Swelling Valley (3:42)
4. The Green Fuse (5:56)
5. Kew Rhône (5:26)
6. Eccentic Waters (2:04)
7. For Bearings/Silence (5:12)
8. The Price We Pay (3:08)
9. Liaise Aux Ex-sans-trique (5:41)
10. Back Where We Began (4:47)
11. Gegenstand ( 4:04)
John Greaves - Vocals (Tr.4,9), Accordion, Piano, Bass
Robert Wyatt - Vocals (Tr. 2,5,11), Percussion
Susan (S’Ange) Belling - Vocals (Tr. 3,8,10)
Kristoffer Blegvad - Vocals (Tr. 7)
Caroline Loeb - Vocals (Tr. 6,9)
François Ovide - Acoustic Guitar
Sophia Domancich - Piano
Paul Rogers - Double Bass

Elton Dean - Saxello
Mireille Bauer - Vibraphone
David Cunningham - Electric Guitar
Peter Kimberley - Backing Vocals
Benoit Blue Boy - Harmonica

John Greaves has always done his best work in collaboration, whether in his early days in the hyper-collaborative collective Henry Cow or later albums with the likes of Pip Pyle, Lisa Herman, and his primary collaborator, Peter Blegvad. On his fifth album, Songs, however, the parade of guest stars occasionally gets a bit overwhelming. It's more like a John Greaves tribute album than anything else! Working with a drummerless acoustic piano/bass/guitar trio starring French pianist Sophia Domancich, along with various guest musicians, Greaves runs through a program of older songs and a few new ones. He does none of the singing, leaving that to friends like Robert Wyatt (who contributes three vocals, including a stunning remake of "Kew. Rhone.") and Kristoffer Blegvad. This isn't a bad thing in itself (Wyatt and Blegvad are both stunning interpreters), but it does mean that some of Greaves' own personality is unfortunately missing from the album. Songs will be a treat for longtime fans, but newcomers are advised to start elsewhere first for the full effect. (AMG)

This is a good introduction to John Greaves' solo career and also stands up as an extremely strong album in its own right. It's almost entirely acoustic, and consists of reworkings of songs from earlier albums interspersed with some new material, with the assistance of an impressive roster of guest stars from the Canterbury scene. Greaves himself takes more of a back seat than usual - the core band for the sessions consisted of double bass, piano and acoustic guitar, the pianist and bassist playing parts that he previously played himself, although he does occasionally add his own accordion, bass and piano parts, and takes the lead vocal on some of the songs.

About half the songs are the product of his long standing collaboration with Peter Blegvad, including two from their masterpiece Kew.Rhone. These are both sung by Robert Wyatt, a longtime fan of the album. Kew.Rhone itself is interpreted beautifully, with Wyatt singing what were originally multiple vocal parts and making the song his own. The arrangement is clear and crisp, with Ovide's acoustic guitar filling in for the string parts and adding a new layer of melodic ingenuity. There's a particularly effective interlude where the three main players demonstrate a remarkable interplay, and they complement Wyatt's voice splendidly - it's hard to believe that the music and vocals weren't even recorded in the same country. Gegenstand sees Greaves' electric bass deployed alongside Rodger's acoustic double bass to great effect, with another haunting Wyatt vocal, and Robert Wyatt also sings The Song and adds some of his featherlight percussion elsewhere. Two immensely talented female vocalists, S'Ange and Caroline Loeb, add their own lustre to several of the songs. Eccentric Waters - "An Opera In 3 Acts and 2 Minutes" - is a particular highlight, while L'Aise aux Ex-Sans-Trique spins a beautiful 5 minute song out of the album's performing credits. Kristoffer Blegvad (brother of Peter) is a longtime Greaves collaborator and turns in a pleasing vocal on Silence and duets with S'Ange on Swelling Valley. Greaves himself takes the lead vocal on L'Aise aux Ex-Sans-Trique and The Green Fuse, which is a Dylan Thomas poem set to music. John Greaves' hommage to his Welsh roots is brilliantly realised - setting poetry to music is a risky business, but here it is done with intelligence, style and a genuine feel for the original verse.

Songs is a splendid album which repays careful and repeated listening. The older material is reinterpreted and arrranged in ways which add to the originals without making them redundant, and the new songs fit in nicely. Everything on here has great depth, subtlety and charm, and is recommended to any fan of Canterbury or the more melodic end of RIO/Avant prog. (


John Greaves & Élise Caron - Chansons (2004) ) [190kbps]

1 effilochée 3'18
2 mélange 4'26
3 trois fois rien 2'57
4 chanson de l'orphelinat 2'46
5 nez a nez 4'41
6 patience 1'54
7 les fourmis 3'51
8 kiev 2'20
9 bestiaire 1'27
10 Nabuchodonosor 3'27
11 infini 3'17
12 les roseaux 3'10
13 priere 4'31
14 les p'tits bateaux 2'58
15 limbo 3'03
16 impatience 0'24

John Greaves - Piano, Bass, Backing Vocals
Elise Caron - Vocals
David Venitucci - Accordion
Vincent Courtois - Cello
Louis Sclavis - Clarinet, Soprano Sax
Robert Wyatt - Vocals, Percussion

This is a remarkable album which really exists in a class of its own. 'Chanson' is a French genre in which the lyrics are more like poetry set to music - think Jacques Brel or Serge Gainsbourg - and there are singers known as chansonniers who interpret these, Edith Piaf being perhaps the best known outside France. This is John Greaves' vision of chanson, and it's a little gem, although fans of his RIO/Canterbury work may find it a little surprising.

Greaves wrote all the music and the words were written by one Christophe Glockner. My French is good enough to understand that the lyrics are extremely clever, but sadly nowhere near good enough to appreciate all their subtleties and nuances. The musical backing is quite minimal; Greaves plays piano and acoustic bass guitar, David Ventucci double chromatic accordion and Louis Sclavis plays clarinet and soprano sax here and there. Elise Caron is the chansonnier who brings the songs to life, and saving a couple of guest appearances that's it. This is very much in keeping with Greaves' recent albums, which have tended to be largely acoustic, although the style is very French and shows only traces of his RIO/Canterbury roots. Of especial interest is the guest appearance by Robert Wyatt on Melange, to which he contributes featherlight percussion and his distinctive voice, and this is where the album edges closest to any kind of rock connection. The arrangements are superb and the limited instumental voices are juggled adeptly to create a range of moods and atmospheres, and anybody who professes distaste for the accordion may be won over by Ventucci's incredible technique.

In its highly specialised field this is a minor masterpiece, but given the review criteria on this site I think good but non essential sums it up. Fans of Slapp Happy or the Greaves/Blegvad masterpiece Kew.Rhone will find plenty to enjoy here, especially French speakers, as will afficiandos of the eccentric French outfit ZNR. Newcomers to John Greaves would be better starting with Songs or La Petite Bouteille De Linge. Cautiously recommended. (