08 June 2009

Clou d’estrade

Pulcinella -- Clou d'estrade
Yolk, 2008

Controlled abandon…? Maybe…but not abandoning control.

More wonderful madness from the Yolk label / collectif in Nantes…! I’m slowly working my way through their website, listening to samples and investigating their artists through other channels online (band websites, MySpace music sites, &c). It’s an invigorating journey of artistic discovery…and I’m continually finding new things to add to my wish list. This album is a delight from start to finish – great playing and writing, infused with both energy and restraint (you wouldn’t guess from the pic below of the band on stage!) – let me tell you, these guys can swing...! There are quiet, beautiful moments as well – but the energy and sheer joy with which these four players address their art is breathtaking.
[ pic © Monique Da Costa ]

From the first bars of the opening track, ‘O mais’, composed by wind player Ferdinand Doumerc, the listener can’t avoid the reality of being in for quite a ride – bassist Jean-Marc Serpin-Morin opens with an energetic riff, and is soon joined by drummer (multi-instrumentalist, actually) Frédéric Cavallin, who enters like a friend who thinks you’ve slept long enough, thankyouverymuch. Time to wake up. Soon after, Florian Demonsant brings his accordion into play, the reeds of Doumerc join in, and we’re off to the races. There’s plenty of humor in Pulcinella's music – but never at the expense of fine playing – and it’s easy to hear Demonsant and Doumerc smiling on this track. The tune is laid out quickly, with plenty of ideas jostling for control – it’s almost like listening to a conversation in a café, with several people talking at once, tossing ideas into the air…but these guys, with all of the energy they’re expending, are working together, not at odds.

The mood settles down a great deal for the second track, ‘Les loups sortent de la bergerie’, which I believe translates as ‘The wolves leave the sheepfold’ – it’s a beautiful melody, slightly reminiscent of the traditional Japanese tune ‘Sakura’ at moments, and gives a strong image of sneaking away, in line with the title. ‘Vie et mort du platane de Prugnanes’ follows, a great tango piece spotlighting both Doumerc and Demonsant – they very deftly move to and fro in the mix, taking solos or playing backup to the other. Serpin-Morin and Cavallin keep things moving right along, with plenty of their own thoughts laid out in the arrangement – at about the four-minute point in the piece, something that sounds very much like a musical saw enters, adding a slightly eerie voice to the sound, like a creature crying off in the dark woods. This instrument is used at other times on the album, never overplayed, an unusual but not intrusive element by any means.

‘Sale gosse’ means ‘Horrible brat’ – and the accordion of Demonsant on this tune takes the role with relish, starting out with a repetitive passage that provides the musical equivalent of an insistent child poking one in the ribs, saying the same thing over and over. Doumerc plays some great tenor on this track, and Demonsant rises to the forefront now and then for a bit of melody. The rhythm throughout is very regular and pressing, with a few respites now and then – but just when you might think the piece is winding down, with some beautifully mellow lines from Doumerc, here we go again, full speed ahead. Demonsant’s accordion nudges are never far away, threatening to lead the band into a break-out return to high energy at any moment. The piece moves through a lot of changes, ending with a breakneck return to the rapid melody.

As the title might indicate, ‘Hippocampéléphantocamélos’ is very much a hybrid beast – both the rhythms and melodies involved in this piece vary greatly as it moves along…and there’s a strong feeling of walking to this one…which could of course be the product of my over-active imagination. It’s like listening to some sort of fantastical composite creature ambling along, with its different parts struggling for control over the others. In this track, as well as many of the others on the disc, the control of the band over the dynamics of the music is stunning – delicate work from various members that might be lost without empathy and sensitivity from all concerned shines through in just the right moments as the intensity of the arrangement shifts and instruments come in and out. Everyone has something to say, and they’re all heard. Amazing stuff.

‘Je suis dans la dèche’ goes through a lot of changes as well – slow passages, rapid ones, some really nicely written tight arrangement that give way to intervals of free blowing improv. ‘Amiel’ begins very quietly – lots of tinkling percussion, scrapes from Serpin-Morin on the bass strings, little toots from Doumerc and Demonsant. Only about two minutes into the tune does the arrangement congeal, heralded by some lovely métallophone work and Demonsant’s accordion, punctuated by some nice basswork from Serpin-Morin. At around six minutes in, the voice of the saw returns, and the piece builds slightly toward its conclusion, never venturing far from the lovely melody.

‘Rev’là Raymond’ rounds out the set, beginning with a tune that one could imagine being whistled during a walk down the road, complete with missteps and staggers laid out wonderfully by the whole band, led by Doumerc and Demonsant. At over eleven minutes, this is the longest track on the disc, and allows the group members many opportunities to shapeshift the arrangement and mood – each change is effected naturally and skillfully, with an ease that speaks of players who are in comfortable and known territory with their bandmates. As the tune winds to a close, the intensity smoothes out with a return to a quiet delicate melody that recalls the previous track. With the high energy level of much of the music on the recording, it’s a great way to leave the listener wanting more.

Here’s a clip from YouTube – shot from the audience, not the highest quality by any means – of a concert by Pulcinella performing in combination with the Emile Parisien Quartet. The tune is cut off at the end, but it’ll give you a bit of an idea of what these guys can do...

Be sure to check out the Yolk site (link below), where you can explore to your heart’s content – each catalogue listing offers a sample track. Print (another knockout French band, described in my last post) record for the label as well – their mail-order service is dependable, relatively fast (coming from Europe, after all), reasonably prices…and they take PayPal, which is an extremely safe and reliable method of payment when ordering online, a secure link to a credit / debit card or to a bank account. The band has a great website – all in French, zoot alors! – with a couple of tracks from the disc available for listening, with an additional tune, ‘Morphée’, that’s quite wonderful. There’s also some small-screen video there – much higher quality than the YouTube clip above. The graphics and animation on the site are great – very much in keeping with the humor and spirit of the band and its music. Check it out (link below).

Give me more…!

full band credits from the CD…

Ferdinand Doumerc
saxophones alto, ténor et barython, flûte traversière, métallophone
Florian Demonsant
accordéon, chouette
Frédéric Cavallin
batterie, percussions, glockenspiel, métallophone, flûte à coulisse
Jean-Marc Serpin-Morin

Pulcinella – official website

Pulcinella on MySpace

Yolk label / collectif

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