The end of September 2018 witnessed an unusual occurrence in Breton music – the simultaneous release of recordings by two of the ‘big names’ in the Fest Noz genre. What makes this much more interesting and not a mere coincidence is the shared personnel, songwriters, material, publisher (Coop Breizh) and even similar cover art. Where the similarity ends is the result: one of these recordings is an astonishing piece of work that easily stands up to endless listenings, whereas the other is a pleasant excursion of a classic, well-loved band perhaps resting on its laurels a bit.
The first recording is Ar Spletenn, the 4th release by the group Wipidoup. After an initial trilogy of recordings on the SI Bémol Productions label, Wipidoup has moved to Coop Breizh. It cannot be a coincidence that both of Huiban’s groups moved to this label and released recordings on the same day.
Ar Spletenn contains the same personnel as usual for Wipidoup: Régis Huiban (accordeon), Gildas Le Buhé (vocals and tenor sax), Pierrick Tardivel (bass, ngoni) and Philippe Gloaguen (electric guitar). It is notable that there is no traditional material ‘per se’ on this recording. All of the instrumentals were written by Huiban. Additionally, he co-wrote the vocal pieces along with Le Buhé. The material still mostly follows the formula that Wipidoup has used on all of their recordings. Rather unusually, a track consists of only a single tune, rather than an integrated medley of tunes as is the norm. Whereas Wipidoup has used variations in arrangement and the juxtaposition of vocals and instrumental sections in the past, here they rely solely on highly developed arrangements. On this recording the balance has shifted towards instrumental material. True to the style of the previous recordings, however, the sound is still, at heart, derived from the vintage chromatic accordion tradition from the early 20th century, but even more saturated with a deep jazz aesthetic. So, what is Ar Spletenn like?
Ar Spletenn is wildly successful. It is Wipidoup’s best effort to date. This is an absolutely wonderful recording, worthy of spending a lot of time with. The compositions are beautiful and touching, the development of melody and arrangement in the pieces is complex and deeply engaging and the performances from each player are among the finest that they have made. While the melody lines might echo Bigouden gavottes or the sound of notable players of long ago such as Yves Menez, these core elements have been expanded upon in imaginative ways to deliver material of that style but without the narrow scope of repetition or limited harmonic character that also characterized them. Track 7, L’elegante, for example, the first section of a Gavottes De Montagne suite, has a melody line instantly recognizable as typical of its type, but the melodic sections are supported and separated by a jazzy underlying groove that utterly transforms it into an extraordinary listening experience (see video for a live performance). Track 3, Jeu de dames, the third part of a Ronds de Loudéac suite, presents a tangled, catchy melody that by the end of the tune has morphed into a completely engrossing riff that rivets the listener’s attention right to the closing note.
Even though there are fewer vocal moments on this recording, Gildas Le Buhé makes the most of them with his warm, powerfully emotional tenor. Track 10, Ton da vale – Er sonnen gouli is incredibly hypnotic and melancholy. Although I fully expected to skip over it in favor of the more rhythmically compelling instrumental material, I have found myself listening to it again and again. I won’t explore any more details here, but rest assured that this recording is full of lovely moments.
The second of the two recordings is the aptly titled Ti Ar Seven, the seventh recording by the legendary group Skolvan. As always, the group’s signature sound is the ‘piston’, a uniquely Breton double-reed instrument situated in a sweet spot between the bombard and the oboe, played by its inventor Youenn Le Bihan.
This seventh release is one of only two not on the famed Keltia Musique label, now sadly defunct. Just by themselves the classic first and second recordings by this group, ‘Musique à Danser’ and ‘Kerz Ba’n’ Dans’ place Skolvan at the eternal forefront of this genre. As a young listener I both fell in love with Breton music and was inspired to play woodwinds by these two recordings, to give you some idea of their impact. Subsequent recordings 3 through 5 are to varying degrees rather less successful, a sea change marked by the diminishment and unfortunate departure of Yann-Fañch Perroches (accordeon) and Fañch Landreau (violon) who ultimately proved to be truly irreplaceable. These two would then go on together to release the astonishing ‘Daou ha daou’ on Keltia Musique, which surely must also be mentioned when referring to the overall body of Skolvan recordings.
2010’s ‘C’hoari Pevar’ marked an exciting return to form for Skolvan with the arrival of the talented chromatic accordionist Régis Huiban. Huiban, who had made a name for himself with remarkable undertakings such as ‘Kof Ha Kof’ with Roland Becker, and of course multiple recordings by the group Wipidoup, served as the cornerstone for a refreshed, reinvigorated sound. Together with veterans Gilles Le Bigot (guitar), Youenn Le Bihan (‘piston’ oboe) and Bernard Le Dreau (soprano sax), Skolvan once again produced a recording of fascinating ear candy full of intriguing musical ideas. Ti Ar Seven, the new recording, is the sophomore effort of this lineup.
Listeners looking for a fresh blast of classic Skolvan will find this a disappointing recording. I’m guessing that Huiban expended the greater part of his creative energy writing all of the material for the Wipidoup release. His relatively few efforts here are still among the best on the disc, however. Other tracks are more problematic, with some of the tunes and licks somewhat derivative of their first recording ‘Musique a Danser’, but just not as good. Of particular difficulty are the sax solos of Bernard Le Dreau, which are surprisingly off-putting. I’ve listened to these repeatedly, trying to grasp what effect he was going after here. What sounds like a smooth jazz aesthetic results in solo melody lines that feel oddly out of touch with the material, creating a number of less-pleasing moments on this recording.
Still, it’s not a bad album by any stretch. Those who will be happy to hear something new from the musical heroes of their youth will certainly be touched. Those looking for a fresh, intensely creative musical experience, less so. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as ‘C’hoari Pevar’ and nowhere near the classic ‘Kerz Ba’n’ Dans’.
Samson DAYOU / Guitare basse
Romain DUBOIS / Programmation , Fender Rhodes
Emilien ROBIC / Clarinette
Youenn Le Cam / Trompette
Antonin VOLSON / Batterie
Loeiza Beauvir / Chant
Youenn Lange / Chant
“Tout en construisant entièrement son répertoire sur le respect de la danse traditionnelle, Fleuves amène une musique particulièrement originale, électrique, électronique, fractale…dans le monde du Fest Noz.”
Here’s a recording that I actually passed on when it first came out, despite being fascinated by the sound of clarinettist Emilien Robic. I first heard Robic as part of the clarinet/accordeon duo Robic/Guillarme and then also in the group Kentañ on the recording ‘Son al leur’. On that recording there was far too little of him featured as it’s a large ensemble. Robic’s clarinet is truly evocative and true to the traditional ‘treujenn gaol’ style but with remarkable technical fluency – what a great clarinet sound he has! I longed to hear more from this musician.
Well, here came this recording on the Coop Breizh website and I eagerly looked at the instrumentation. He was accompanied by bass and then… Fender Rhodes piano? Hmm, that sounded like an odd combination; hard pass. Fast forward several months later and a video came up of this band as I was desultorily surfing the web one evening. I thought, what the heck I’ll give it a listen… WOW.
I could not have been more wrong about this group. What a fantastic sound. Rich, dense, cohesive, complex, driving, beautifully performed. Gorgeous melodies and arrangements. Not a whiff of cheesiness. Incredible. Fleuves has a sound that is simultaneously ultra-modern, deeply traditional and also infused with some retro-sixties qualities courtesy of the exquisite keyboard work of Romain Dubois. Samson Dayou on bass pumps out dense bass lines that sinuously wrap all around melody and keyboard parts alike. This is really impressive and beyond any doubt the best Breton recording of the year (2017) and perhaps for several years. A gigantic and completely innovative recording.
The basic trio is supported by a few invités, most notably Youenn Le Cam (Alambig Elecktrik, n’diaz) on trumpet, who sounds so great on this recording that he really should just join the band. Like n’diaz, this group also contains significant jazz elements but unlike n’diaz it is much more firmly married to traditional Breton music. Antonin Volson’s drums fit perfectly into the sound; he should be a regular member as well as far as I’m concerned.
There are two ’gwerziou’ vocal tracks on the CD, featuring Loeiza BEAUVIR and Youenn LANGE. These are beautifully done and appropriately moody and melancholic pieces. I must admit, however, that I tend to skip over them to hear more of that engrossing, mesmerizing, fluid, detailed crazy instrumental sound that the group produces on the rest of the disc.
There is not much more to say about ‘fleuves’. To put it mildly, this is a highly recommended recording.
Ronan BLEJEAN / Accordéon diatonique
Etienne CALLAC / Guitare basse
Stéphane FOLL / Biniou
Ronan LE DISSEZ / Bombarde, Piston, Duduk
Olivier URVOY / Clarinette , Saxophone
Erwan VOLANT / Guitare acoustique
Darhaou went on a hiatus for a few years after their third recording ‘An Deirvet’. Featuring vocalist “Krismenn” Christophe Le Menn, “An Deirvet” had an oddly subdued, downbeat and melancholic vibe that wasn’t terrible but did not generate great enthusiasm. Fast forward to 2017 and with a slight reshuffling of personnel Darhaou releases ‘direnni’, perhaps their most interesting recording. Direnni is also notable in that it appears that much or all of the work was done earlier and there was a considerable delay in release.
For this recording bombard player Ronan Le Dissez’s perennial musical partner Stéphane Foll has joined the group full time, adding the high sound of the biniou bagpipe to the top of the band’s sound in carefully placed sections for most of the tunes for a really exceptional effect.
Original bass player Pierrick Tardivel has been replaced by Etienne Callac, a veteran of many projects such as the group ‘Kejaj’. Callac brings a uniquely vibrant, pulsing dimensionality to the bottom end that pushes the energy level up.
Ronan Le Dissez breaks away from his use of the bombard in A to add the lower, sweeter sound of the Breton oboe or “piston” to several tracks. This works wonderfully and adds a lot of dimension and depth to the recording. The use of the piston here, combined with some beautiful melodies and careful arrangements, gives a distinctly ’Skolvan’ vibe that most bands are incapable of aspiring to. Dissez also adds, on track 12, Men meur (mélodie)”, the armenian duduk (a double-reed instrument with an incredibly wide reed and extremely deep, meditative sound) for a contemplative, slow retake of an earlier track. Dissez is one of several bombard players to recently record with the duduk – a small trend.
Many of the tracks on this recording show a depth of arrangement that is clearly a step up from what has gone before. The buildup and then breathtaking release of musical tension on pieces such as “Le jus des pommes (tour)” propels the listener’s interest with great intensity. While Darhaou has always been able to create music with great drive, here we find more compelling melodies and imaginative arrangements as well.
The use of the piston also creates a new dimension when paired with the clarinet of Olivier Urvoy, on pieces such as “Les cordes (dañs plinn)” where the duo engage in gorgeous call-and-response. Urvoy’s ‘treujenn gaol’ sound on the recording is as hauntingly beautiful as ever, with the strange exception of a sax solo on the opening track “La belle qui fait la morte (hanter dro)” where it comes across as though it were a sampled line added in post-production, curiously lacking in dynamics. I’d love to know what happened there. Interestingly enough, that same track is one where Erwan Volant’s unique and wonderful rhythm guitar is put to splendid use. Volant, using an electro-acoustic guitar with nylon strings, has an incredible sense of rhythm and a tasty repertoire of jazzy chords that fill the sonic space perfectly.
This a recording that those who don’t bother with anything but the best from this genre of music will definitely want to have and treasure. It’s quite good.
The duo of Jean-Michel Veillon and Yvon Riou duo first recorded together on Veillon’s “E Koad Nizan” in 1993 and then as a duo recorded the landmark “Pont Gwenn ha Pont Stang ” in 1995 and the live recording “Beo” in 2000. Shortly after “Beo” Veillon’s next project was the reincarnation of the groups Kornog and Pennou Skoulm, but to my surprise Riou, the obvious choice for guitar, was not included. It appeared that the magical pairing of Riou and Veillon was no more.
So it was with surprise and delight that I saw Veillon and Riou begin to perform together again after so many years apart. More recently it was announced that a new CD was in the works and now here it is, “Deus an Aod d’ar Menez”.
The Breton music scene has evolved substantially in the intervening years. The influence of Irish and other ‘Celtic revival’ sounds has waned considerably, supplanted by an injection of rock and pop influences as well as a re-exploration of the twentieth century Breton early jazz-influenced chromatic accordion repertoire typified most powerfully by the legendary Yves Menez.
For better or worse, much of contemporary Fest Noz music is driven by bigger dance bands with modern instrumentation and by sonic explorations inspired by contemporary popular genres. What place would the intimate pairing of wooden flute and acoustic guitar find in this changed landscape? Would they provide a timeless, moving experience or just a nostalgic blast from the past?
Putting on the disc answered that question the way opening a window in a stuffy room does – with a feeling of freshness and vitality. With the sometimes energetic but forgettable nature of many modern Fest Noz recordings it can be hard to remember what attracted one to this music in the first place – but here it is. The tender, unearthly beauty of Breton music transmitted powerfully and honestly by two players with nothing to prove. Haunting, beautiful music that transports the listener, unencumbered by pandering sentiment or tasteless gimmickry.
This is one of the most touching recordings of Breton music to come along in many years. It is also a clean duet effort with only the most discreet and limited use of multi-tracking and on the closing track “Talvoudegezh An Dour”, vocals by guest artist Guy Laudren. Unlike their earlier recordings which included a few pieces of Irish music, “Deus an Aod d’ar Menez” offers only traditional and composed Breton music, which suites my taste exactly. It is a disc that finds itself played again and again while I drive to work, and as a musician I find myself playing some of these melody lines on the saxophone, intrigued with the idea of bringing this emotionally charged quality to a modern band which does include drums, bass, and loud woodwinds.
Bemol production : http://www.bemolvpc.com
Now this looks like a very exciting book of traditional and original partitions (music scores) by the celebrated chromatic accordionist Régis Huiban. Huiban, who has penned very fine pieces for groups such as Wipidoup, Kof Ha Kof (with the great Roland Becker), and Skolvan, not to mention his solo efforts, is an endlessly intriguing player with tremendous subtlety and depth.
The release date is September 5, 2016. Interestingly enough the book is being put out by Paker Productions, who are better known for backing flashier but more superficial work. Perhaps the organization is maturing and has acquired a taste more for cake then frosting.
Rémi Bouguennec : Flûte
Gweltaz Lintanf : accordéon diatonique
Hugues Lassere : contrebasse
Kevin Le Pennec : cistre
Last year a video surfaced of some young Breton musicians who were trying to gather funds through a “KissKissBankBank” crowdsourcing campaign to finance a recording. Featuring flute, accordion, standup bass and cittern, the video showcased a presence and sound that was layered, fluid and charming. Now the EP, simply tiled “Zorba” has come out. Does it live up to the promise?
For the most part, yes it certainly does. To some extent in its sound and instrumentation this recording hearkens back to an earlier era in Breton music when groups such as Kornog or Pennou Skoulm also played intricate arrangements with ‘pan-celtic’ instruments such as the wooden flute and cittern. Zorba, however, infuses this sound with a thoroughly modern flair, with notably jazzy and complex melodies mostly penned by the groups’ accordion player, Gweltaz Lintaf. Unlike bands such as Spontus, who have pursued increasingly complex and idiosyncratic material in their recent recordings, Zorba is much more listenable.
A fine example of this is the first track, ‘Boubolina’, a scottish that opens with an incredibly propulsive melody and then segues into a complex, Pink Martini-like response section that gives the whole a really unique character.
This is a really solid recording. The weakest track, a plinn called ‘Katchyk’, is still a good piece of music but lacks the stomping drive I usually associate with a plinn. The fourth track, a Tour (andro) called ‘Lajaï’, is the highlight of the EP and features a remarkably lovely and energetic melody and beautiful arrangements and musicianship.
A crowdsourced EP, obviously lacking the big funding of more well-known acts, yet it is one of the more distinctive and likable Breton recordings of the year. I take this as a sign that all is well in Brittany and that the unique genius of this genre of music continues to percolate up from the wellsprings of homegrown youthful talent.
- Konogan an Habask : bombarde, biniou, uilleann pipes, whistles
- Thibault Niobé : guitare jazz & folk, bouzouki
- Erwan Volant : basse
- Gabriel Faure : violon, mandole, viole d’amour
- Elsa Corre : chant, kayamb
- Jéröme Kerihuel: batteur-percussionniste
Invité : Patrick Péron : Orgue Hammond
This is the second CD from Konogan An Habask, the former biniou player from the group Startijenn. An Habask clearly had a lot more talent than the limited palette allowed in Startijenn, so it made perfect sense for him to jump ship after a number of Startijenn’s formulaic recordings failed to break new ground. His first solo effort was titled “D’Ar Pevarlamm” and rather than being marketed as another solo title, this second release gives that name to the mostly same group as a whole, which is kind of a classy move. The performers are really first-rate and include Erwan Volant on bass (Hamon-Martin Quintet), Thibault Niobé on guitars and bouzouki (Penn Gollo), Gabriel Faure on violin (who is perhaps the revelation of this recording), Elsa Corre (Duo ar bas, Kreiz Breizh Akademi) on vocals in both Breton and Galician and Jéröme Kerihuel (‘ndiaz) on drums and percussion. An Habask shows once again that he is a highly talented bombard, uilleann pipe and biniou player.
That first recording won the prestigious ‘grand prix du disque du Télégramme’ award for 2012, so it is no surprise to see that Deltu is a serious affair. What I mean by that is that this is a high-budget project with tremendous players, lavish production and deluxe packaging. An Habask describes the second album as an evolution of the first: “This album allows us to offer listeners the evolution of PEVARLAMM: a concert music that combines catchy dances ( gavottes, reels, jigs… ) and moving songs. A music in which bombard and biniou also offer an innovative virtuosity.” (translation mine)
Deltu is obviously intended for commercial success, and in this case that is both a blessing and curse. That is because while this recording is undoubtedly going to enjoy significant commercial and perhaps critical success, it is still not very satisfying. My guess is that the intended audience is not so much the traditional music community as those with a taste for contemporary pop music who might want to let their ears take a polished celtic side-trip. Those who relish many of the recordings of Dan Ar Braz or Carlos Nuñez, for example, will undoubtedly enjoy putting this CD onto the player tray right next to those, and letting the romantic swoosh of glossy sound carry them away into a misty celtic space, and then be brought back down to earth by outbursts of frenetic virtuosity on traditional instruments, slick jazz guitar, bass and drums.
What we have here is a melange of amorphously celtic music with some prog-rock influence and a gleaming production sheen. Unfortunately, this results in arrangement and production that is often wildly overcooked. Softer tunes such as ‘Ton Sioul’ really sound like elevator music, and even the more appealing ‘Anjeluz Amzer Fask’ still suffers from a cloying schmaltziness. (schmaltz: from Yiddish, figuratively: a work of art that is excessively sentimental, sappy or cheesy). On the other end of the scale, uptempo pieces such as ‘Un Droiad Fest Mod Pourled’ veer off course with overly grandiose arrangements that don’t serve the piece well.
‘Polka Gus’ is a standout in this sense, featuring a merciless pulse of fast staccato notes played with metronomic precision by An Habask’s bombard. To be perfectly clear, this represents an astonishing display of skill. If you make a rapid series of “ta ta ta” sounds with your mouth, you are recreating the basis for what is called ‘tonguing’ the note in oboe parlance, and this is a staple technical skill that oboists around the world practice as a major means of articulation. This tune probably exceeds the most advanced tonguing exercises in classical oboe methods by teachers such as Marcel Tabuteau; it is truly remarkable. I was at first impressed, then as the barrage went on and on stupefied, and finally somewhat overwhelmed and repulsed. I played the tune for a colleague, a former symphony oboist who is very seriously into breton music. “Wow that’s really impressive technique” she said, followed shortly by “You know, it isn’t actually good music, though.”
Talented vocalist Elsa Corre is featured on much of the CD, singing in Breton and Galician. I have seen her as half of ‘Duo du bas’ and was quite impressed. In a more strictly traditional, unaccompanied Breton vocal setting this young singer has a quality not dissimilar to the great Annie Ebrel, and that is really remarkable. On Deltu, however, her sound falls short, particularly on the Galician pieces where her voice just isn’t the right sauce for a dish from northern Spain. Most of the vocal pieces on the recording seem to be trying to reach for a highly charged, dramatic quality, and Corre’s delivery here, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite have what the material calls for.
Deltu is a recording filled with striving and excess. It tries too hard to be sweet, tries too hard to impress with musical ‘chops’, tries too hard to blend a broad spectrum of different musical styles. Discerning listeners looking for a more trad experience might find it a bit much and toss it onto a dusty shelf after a couple tries, but my guess is that those with more mainstream sensibilities looking for a ‘celtic’ diversion may find those same excesses moving and delightful. It’s a matter of taste. It is a personal vision brought to life by an extremely talented player and as such has a lot of interesting moments, but as a whole it is not a vision that I can really enjoy.
- Youn KAMM: Trompette à quart de ton
- Jérôme KERIHUEL: Tablas
- Timothée LE BOUR: Saxophone
- Yann LE CORRE: Accordéon chromatique
- François Corneloup: Saxophone baryton
- Grégory Jollivet: Vielle à roue
You like playing jazz, and you like playing breton music. Do you play breton music influenced by jazz, or jazz music with breton themes mixed in? For the group ‘ndiaz, the answer is emphatically YES. Originally formed as a quick ‘one off’ project for the Festival Fisel as part of the “Les Confidences sonores” event by Jean-louis Le Vallégant, the players found that they very much liked what came out of this grouping and proceeded to turn it into a full time gig. Their eponymously named first recording is the fruit of this meeting.
“An Diaz, in Breton, means the foundations, the idea here being the harmonic, rhythmic and melodic base. This we represent well: we have only the minimum for dancing, just a fundamental energy. Moreover, with this name we play on the sounds and sound allusions to jazz, to India” stated Le Corre (Musique Bretonne magazine, N 238). The CD art conveys this idea very well, with the musicians being playfully covered in clouds of a few distinctly colored powders.
I was initially quite surprised when trumpet player Yoenn Le Cam left the great band Alambig Electrik to form ‘ndiaz. Alambig contains a lot of the same elements of jazz and world music that ’ndiaz does, so I was curious about the change. Listening to the recording the answer is soon evident. While Alambig relies on sampled material to bolster the sound and presents itself with tongue firmly in cheek, ‘ndiaz distinguishes itself by being a serious instrumental band and presents its mixture of musical elements directly through instrumental and compositional prowess. The players are all very impressive.
Yann Le Corre, previously of Karma, is one of the better players of chromatic accordion in Brittany. Youenn Le Cam (previously Alambig Electrik, Pevar Denn) not only plays trumpet and a single vocal track here but is also very accomplished on wooden flute and biniou. Saxophonist Timothée Le Bour has become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in interesting projects such as Idéal Jazz and his Le Bour-Bodros group, and for good reason. Percussionist Jérôme Kerihuel, (Didier Squiban, Dan Ar Braz, Erik Marchand) although indulging in a few annoying oddities that I will mention in a moment, fills the role perfectly, adding beautiful rhythmic support and a clever taste of world music flavor.
Unusual for a CD I choose to review, I have to admit that I immediately disliked ’ndiaz the first time I played it. The cause: the first track “Départementale” begins with hindustani-style ‘bol’ or consonant vowel sequences sung along with the tabla. Naturally I have heard this on recordings of north indian classical music, but also, and here is the problem, by countless cheesy rock and/or jazz groups from the 1970s. Although ably performed by Kerihuel, it is incredibly clichéd – it is definitely not fresh or original. I get that Kerihuel is obviously passionate about Indian music. Nonetheless, I think it would be a good move to limit the ‘bol’ in this setting. He also occasionally rings a little bell. Just stop it with the little bell, okay?
So the ‘ndiaz disc got a cursory listen and was shelved for a while, hence this review coming a year late. What got it back out was track 7, “Kerauffret”, the last of a 3 part “Rond de Loudéac” suite. This is an incredibly hypnotic piece of music well worth the price of entry for the CD just by itself. Track 6 flows right into it so there is a nice transition form the slower ‘bal’ section into the final part – see the promotional video below which presents a bit of this. Everything comes together here; the percussion, the twin voices of Cam’s trumpet and Timothée Le Bour’s saxophone playing call and response, the thick, gorgeous chords of Yann Le Corre’s chromatic accordion. This track was the ‘gateway drug’ for a fresh and more rewarding listen to a CD that, despite the occasional percussive oddities is one of the most interesting and inspiring pieces of breton music that I have heard in years.
There is a powerful streak of jazz running through breton Fest Noz music, and nowhere else have I seen these two ingredients mixed so finely or well together. Tunes like “Morningside Avenue” which starts with an incredibly sweet rendition of a traditional Laridé 8 temps tune and slowly transforms into a full jazz piece, display incredible musical virtuosity, depth of arrangement, and compositional talent. In a similar vein is the first section of the Loudeac suite, Kerauffret, which starts out as a rapid, staccato traditional melody and transforms into a high-energy jazz crescendo.
If you are looking for a purely traditional recording of tunes played with traditional instruments you will be disappointed by this recording. If you have a more open and nuanced musical palette and are looking for talented musicians surfing the edge of a highly dynamic music scene, this is just the ticket.
The young band Zorba Quartet has impressed me greatly with their taste and musicianship. It looks like an EP is in the works, and as is common in the impoverished 21st century these guys are turning to crowdfunding to get the cash to get it going. And a video – this video.
Here’s the lik to the crowdfunding site:
Who is in the band? Gweltaz Lintanf on accordion, Rémi Bouguennec on wooden flute, Kévin le Pennec cittern and Hugues Lassere on upright bass.
Duo Menguy – Le Pennec (Tempus fugit, valse). Wooden flute / cittern (Erwan Menguy, Kévin Le Pennec)
Here’s a stunningly played and beautifully filmed video of two up-and-coming Breton players, Erwan Menguy (flute) and Kévin Le Pennec (cittern). Menguy has appeared as a sideman in a number of settings, and Le Pennec is in the intriguing young group the ‘Zorba Quartet’.
The newest release by the Quintet is by far their best, incorporating a newfound compositional maturity with impressive instrumental breaks reflecting the influence of the separate Hamon-Martin Duo project.
- Ronan Le Dissez: bombard
- Stéphane Foll: biniou
- Yann-Guirec Le Bars: guitare, mandoline
- Pierre Stephan: violon
« L8.1 » is the rather obscure title for the first recording from the group E-Leizh, which itself charmingly translates from the Breton as ‘Plenty’. The cover and inside graphics show what appears to be compressed bales of recycled material in a warehouse, with the partially embedded band members digging their way out. Perhaps a reference to the nature of a mature traditional idiom and the endless re-use of associated material, the cover is amusing irregardless.
E-Leizh has been around for just a few years now, but these musicians have been playing together for much longer. With the exception of the talabarder (bombard player) Ronan Dissez, the rest of the band formed the bulk of the great Fest Noz group from the late 90s, Hastañ, who released just one live recording on the unique « An Naer Produktion » label.
Biniou player Stéphane Foll has had a long relationship with Dissez, previously guesting with Dissez’ group Darhaou, and releasing a CD together a couple of years ago, Dilezet’m Eus Ma Dousig, Evit Mont Da Soniñ… . As a side note, Darhaou was on hiatus following the release of the relatively weak CD An Deirvet in 2010 but has returned with a slightly changed lineup which now includes Foll as a full member. I certainly look forward to reviewing that upcoming recording!
Expectations for L8.1 were set very high due to a few videos available online which are nothing short of electrifying. Take a moment and check these out. Does it get any better than this? No, it does not.
In the mixed-instrumentation Fest Noz group genre, Ronan Dissez has emerged as one of the most interesting bombard players today, with a signature sound and style that is solid, gorgeous and creative. I also note his use of a bombard in A, which is slightly unusual. Foll is his match and the two of them meld together seamlessly as one powerful, expressive unit. Of interest is the fact that a good portion of the material on L8.1 is original, coming from Dissez and to a lesser degree Foll.
The band’s other duo is a perfect foil, comprised of Pierre Stephan’s strong violin work and the incredibly propulsive guitar of Yann-Guirec Le Bars. The band’s arrangements frequently play these pairs off against each other, switching back and forth effectively to heighten contrast and tension that can then be released with some astonishingly high-energy material with the whole group on board. Stephan also uses a limited degree of electronics to sometimes draw unusual sounds out of his violin. I typically hate this sort of thing but he pulls it off modestly and well.
Did the recording meet the expectations created by the videos? To my slight disappointment no, it did not fully reach those heights. The recording is only very good, while the live performances are truly exceptional. The biggest difference that I can discern is that the pairing of of Stephan and Le Bars did not carry the same volume, urgency, or excitement in the recording studio that they do onstage. The CD’s version of the Plinn captured on video above does not have the same electrifying feel, for example. Stephan’s violin solo feels more tentative and gentle as opposed to the very commanding presence he displays in the concert footage. Le Bars’ guitar parts are also similarly more restrained. As a result, there is a sometimes palpable drop in energy in sections where this duo takes the leading role.
Even with this modest failing of the recording arts, I still wholeheartedly recommend this as an extremely good example of the art of Fest Noz music. The material is intriguing, the quality of play is stellar, and it is loaded with creativity and originality. I look forward to hearing more recordings from this group, perhaps in a live setting where their full sound can be completely unleashed.
- Lors Landat : kan / chant
- Gaël Runigo : akordeoñ, programmiñ / accordéon diatonique, programmation
- Roland Conq : gitar / guitare
- Par Pereira : trompilh / trompette
- Ronan Le Jossec : enrolliñ ha meskiñ / son et mixage
- Philippe Janvier : bombard, biniou / bombarde, biniou
- Youenn Le Cam : biniou
- Eric Menneteau : kan / chant
- Mathieu Sérot : bombard / bombarde
- Pierrick Tardivel : gitar boud / basse
- Julien Boussamba : remix
Alambig Electrik made a splash in 2010 with their first recording, the humorously titled Disadorn Noz Fever (Saturday Night Fever). The veteran lineup featured Gaël Runigo on accordion, Youenn Le Cam on trumpet and MIDI samples, and Roland Conq on guitar – joined by a few talented invités such as Pierrick Tardivel (bass) and Lors Landat (vocals). Their unique approach combined ambitious, layered arrangements augmented with sampled sounds (programmation), high-energy material and a good dose of humor. The group performed in loud, over-the-top “crew vintage” seventies lounge and disco wear and sported matching oversized sideburns. Drawing heavily on traditional material, the jazz influence, trumpet and electro-world percussion all combined to create a pleasing whole that also appealed to pop sensibilities.
- Malo CARVOU : fleüt-treus
- Ronan BLÉJEAN : akordeoñs
- Armel AN HÉJER : kan
- Soig SIBERIL : gitar
- Jamie MCMENEMY : bouzouki
- Xavier LUGUÉ : gourrebed boud
A sensitive, transcendent new release that transforms the ultra-traditional Breton singing tradition into a high art form of vocal and instrumental expression.
With the eponymously titled first recording of his new ensemble Joa, vocalist Armel an Héjer has finally found the aural setting to fully showcase his remarkable voice. Certainly there is no dearth of talented vocalists in Brittany, but Héjer’s voice is of a caliber that puts him into a class of his own: focused, melancholy, soulful, with a potent and rich timbre. To think of a male vocalist of a similar quality is difficult; one might be drawn to a comparison with the great Yann Fañch Kemener. Both have tremendously appealing voices, but where Kemener’s suggests a dramatic, almost operatic setting, Héjer’s seems more personal and earthy, reminiscent of the meditative vocal traditions of central and south asia.
Over the years Héjer has frequently appeared with the duo of flutist Malo Carvou (who also came over to Joa) and guitarist Bernard Bizien. These three formed the Ozan Trio, and also formed part of the larger Fest Noz ensemble Deust’a. Héjer did not, however, come along with the duo a few years ago when they joined Jamie McMenemy’s group “Jamie McMenemy 4”, which put Carvou and the talented accordionist Ronan Bléjean (formerly of the group Darhaou) on stage together. Bléjean is the third member of Joa.
Joa, then, replaces Bizien’s guitar with Bléjean’s accordion and thus the core group is comprised entirely of winds and reeds. More than just replacing one player with another however, Joa entirely drops the influence of gypsy jazz and swing prevalent in the former for a new sound that is perhaps more straightforwardly Breton, although in saying that it must be clearly understood that this reviewer has never heard anything quite like it before.
This is a gorgeously recorded CD. Close-miked, every nuance of breath and swelling of a note or reed is captured in detail – and those nuances are there in abundance. What an emotional, expressive recording. Whether a slowly pulsing, breathing meditative backdrop of flute and accordion to an impassioned vocal piece, or one of the lively instrumental numbers that speckle the diverse menu, the rhythmic and tonal quality is organic and compelling. The arrangements are deep, tasteful and always moving.
Joa provides a varied program of slow and faster-paced vocal tracks and instrumentals that keeps the listening experience fresh and diverse. The few tracks where guest players (invités) are brought in to provide additional complexity are especially intriguing. Given the other musicians involved, it is no surprise to hear bouzouki player Jamie McMenemy (Kornog, etc) appear here. McMenemy also brought along his longtime musical friend the legendary guitarist Söig Siberil, and on the standout track “É’nig Bihan Ér C’hoed” these string players are joined by upright bassist Xavier Lugué. The video, “Kerden an Awel” (strings and winds), beautifully expresses all of the qualities that make this group and this recording so powerful:
This is a great recording. In a musical milieu frequently crowded with derivative work this is a mature, unique and personal vision singularly expressed and recorded with great skill and perhaps even more importantly, great heart. This reviewer can’t wait to hear what these gentlemen do next.
- Cyril GUIGUIAN : Gitar
- Erwan QUINTIN : Violoñs
- Ludovic RIO : Akordeoñs kromatek
- Thomas FORTIN : Bombard, Trejenn-gaol, Saksofon
- Jil LEHART : Binioù koz, Kan
- Yannick DABO : Kan
- Alain “Benny” NAËL: Kan
Kafe Koefet, one of the hottest Breton acts going today, released the groundbreaking CD Trouz Ba’n Davarn (Noise in the Tavern) three years ago to significant and well-deserved acclaim. Without relying on overt gimmickry, they a forged an exciting sound that was recognizable and unique while still firmly grounded very squarely in the tradition of mixed instrument Fest Noz groups that began decades ago with groups such as Gwerz. Their new release, Lak un’ all, is sure to excite the curiosity of those intrigued by that first effort. Like the first effort, it contains the soaring violin of Erwan Quintin (here better captured than the first, live recording), the rich chromatic accordion of Ludovic Rio and the tasteful guitar of Cyril Guiguian, showcased a bit more than on the initial recording.
It is always an interesting point in time, the very first listen of a new recording of a well-loved artist. How have they grown and changed? Lak un’ all gives you a broad hint of the changes from the first moment, a powerful sustained note from the bombard with a brooding susurrus of accordion running underneath. Whereas the group’s original formula was at core a trio with accordion, violin and chromatic accordion, one of the more startling revelations of the first recording was the repeated guest appearance of bombard player Thomas Fortin. It therefore comes as no great surprise to see the group now appear as a quartet, with Fortin playing not only the bombard but the clarinet and soprano saxophone as well.
That first tune Ar Gêr Waremm (Laridenn) soon breaks into a compelling rhythm and rich harmonic support under a powerful, insistent melody line laid down by the bombard. The first thought that crossed my mind was “Penn Gollo”, and indeed there are a few moments during the bombard-led tunes, particularly the first part of the plinn suite, Modedonea, that seemed very pleasantly reminiscent of the lush sound and masterful, driving double reeds of the group Pen Gollo.
Fortin does not rely solely on the bombard, however. It is a familiar dilemma to a small group wanting to present a diverse and well-rounded program – as exciting as the bombard is, it can overshadow the other instruments and therefore many groups will come up with a way, either through arrangements or changing instrumentation, to vary the formula. Here the solution is the appearance of the clarinet and saxophone. Fortin’s clarinet is of particular note and this reviewer would like to hear a lot more of it. He has a remarkably appealing tone and touch on this instrument, as demonstrated so ably on pieces such as the march Poz Kafe (Ton Bale), where a lovely solo ends all too soon. The somewhat peculiar dance tune Ur Banne Cafea-Palinca ! takes the clarinet in a surprising direction, attempting to present a sort of hybrid of breton and klezmer music.
Fortin’s soprano saxophone fits a quite different niche. While the tone would never be confused for, say, the flowing, jazzy sound of Bernard Le Dreau from Skolvan, on tunes such as Un Taol C’hwitell (Laridé-gavotte) the sax is ably used to play extremely fast, muscular passages, much like a more mellow-sounding bombard. Un Taol C’hwitell also showcases a typically satisfying Kafe Koefet suite where a dense, fast arrangement builds to an exhilarating crescendo with the sax and fiddle playing a high, syncopated counter-melody over the top of the original tune.
Kafe Koefet’s first release also featured some wonderful vocal pieces featuring, most notably the great young singer Yannick Dabo, who returns here in typical call-and-response with the new standout guest, the legendary singer, luthier (instrument maker) and vocalist Jil Lehart. First appearing on biniou on the final portion of the Modedonea plinn suite, Lehart’s presence on this recording is very welcome indeed, whether instrumental or vocal. Dabo and Lehart have been performing as a successful vocal kan ha diskan duo since 2011, so folding their duet into a wider ensemble with Kafe Koefet on tracks such as Tristat Eo Ma Vlanedenn (Dañs Tro Fisel) is a tasteful venture into the formula popularized by groups such as Loened Fall. Lehart and Dabo are not the only vocal guests included in Lak un’ all, however, as the recording closes with Fendeur (Mélodie), a richly mellow, Gallo-language duet with Fortin’s clarinet accompanying vocals by Alain “Benny” Naël.
Lak un’ all, then, presents Kafe Koefet growing in a direction that expands outward from the original formula but for the most part does not depart from it radically. It is a worthy successor to Trouz Ba’n Davarn, and this reviewer cannot wait to hear what comes next. I must also note the consistent extraordinary quality of the hand-drawn graphic package for both CDs, listed as by Olivier Chéné. The drawings, particularly in this new recording, are exquisitely charming and evocative and I found myself wanting more of these as well as the music whose mood they captured so perfectly.
- Gérard COSQUER: Basse fretless
- Julien DREO: Accordéon diatonique
- Jean Claude PETIT: Hautbois
- Claude ZIEGLER: Guitare acoustique
- Jean-Marc ROTH: Batterie
- Odile Ribeyre: Violon
A brand-new review of a recording that is a decade old? The discerning reader may well wonder why this is the case, but the answer is simple. Skeud An Amzer is one of the great classics of Breton music, easily as fresh and inspiring as any new recording that will be released in the coming year.
Skeud An Amzer was the second recording from Penn Gollo, and marked a substantial change in personnel from their first, moderately successful release splamb!. The most notable arrival was the talented accordionist Julien Dreo, who would become a mainstay of the new ensemble. The most notable departure was the duo of Malo Carvou and Bernard Bizien, who have continued to perform together elsewhere to this day ( see the 2012 review of their An Amzer Gwechall ). This duo’s role was taken over by new guitarist Claude Ziegler, whose rhythmic accompaniment added a nice upper end to the bass of Gérard Cosquer. Cosquer is one of the finest bass players in the Fest Noz genre with a fat, deep bass sound and highly creative lines that are always appropriate, intriguing and satisfying. Skeud An Amzer continued to benefit from the talents of the departed Marvou, however, with a number of tracks being credited to his pen.
A unique sound emerges right from the opening notes of track number one, a 6-temps titled Les trois étangs. Les trois étangs starts with a sonic landscape that is full, muscular, rhythmically driving and harmonically rich with just accordion, bass, and guitar. This trio eventually unfolds into a quartet with the dramatic arrival of the signature ‘piston’ oboe of Jean-Claude Petit, who must be considered one of the great masters of this uniquely Breton instrument. Petit’s piston playing is less sweet than that of the better-known Youenn Le Bihan but is much more powerful, capable of playing long rapid-fire melodic passages that can propel a tune with enormous intensity.
Whereas Le Bihan and his group Skolvan have developed a sound that is tender and very jazzy, and a group such as Forzh Penaos uses aggressive rock music elements to deliver their music with tremendous impact, on Skeud An Amzer Penn Gollo subsumes both approaches into an experience that is simultaneously contemporary, innovative and unmistakably and profoundly Breton. That is quite an accomplishment, and the result is a great recording that is both tasteful, powerful, and worthy of endless repeated listening.
It has been 12 long years since Yann-Fañch Perroches and Fañch Landreau released the classic Daou ha Daou, a milestone recording of inspired Breton violin and accordion (see review below). I say long years because while other Breton artists have subsequently released fiddle-and-accordion recordings, unfortunately none of them have been particularly inspiring – pleasantly perfunctory at best. Daou ha Daou has remained in a class by itself, and those of us who wanted to hear more of the vibrant playing, complex, swinging arrangements and exquisitely soaring melody lines have remained hopeful that someone could fill the void left by these wonderful artists. Well, to get to the point, Samajhima is that recording, provided not by the original players but by two dynamic young musicians who more than ably fill the shoes of their predecessors.
It is no accident that violinist Thomas Felder lists Fañch Landreau as his primary musical influence on his Myspace page. The briefest listen to his sound demonstrates the connection very clearly. Felder is a very strong player who can fold his violin’s tones subtly into those of accordionist Stevan Vincendeau or break out with a lead melody line bursting with incredible power and aplomb. Vincendeau’s accordion work has a palpably nuanced, fine touch like Perroches, and his ability to rip through a fast melody line and provide thrilling harmonic and rhythmic support is even more pronounced.
Like Perroches and Landreau, these two young musicians are so tightly locked-in rhythmically that every measure pulses with energy. Their music is inspired. Whereas a lesser player struggles to make it through a tune, and a competent one shows some individuality in their playing, these two use the tune as the springboard to leap off into seemingly effortless interaction and play of great complexity. Swapping leads, supporting each other’s parts in a constantly shifting tableau of melodic and harmonic movement, Samajhima is a dense and constantly intriguing musical discovery.
Unlike Daou ha Daou, much of Samajhima consists of original compositions and it is intended more for listening and less for dance. In a sense this is surprising since on their many uptempo pieces here, such as the introductory track Awen, the duo find a ferociously infectious groove and really drive it home. This is some of the most propulsive Breton music I have heard in some time, and they do not rely on an overblown ‘big band’ group to create this impetus, but on dynamic performance and exciting compositions.
Not only are these pieces original compositions, they are also very good. Some of the best material in the Breton genre, like that of many traditional genres, is the oldest; musical pieces that have stood the test of time while countless others have been winnowed away. These guys are writing new work that is of truly superlative quality, and in the world of Breton music that is saying a lot. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Vincendeau and Felder perform live, and was glad to hear them announce that they are working on a second recording, this one more “sauvage” and intended specifically for the dance. Since they already rock it so very hard, I am eager to hear what they come up with next. I just hope that it doesn’t take them 12 years to release it. This is a hot recording. To paraphrase Captain Beefheart: If you have ears that can hear, you just have to listen.
- Regis Huiban: accordeon chromatique, accordina
- Pierrick Tardivel: contrebass
- Gildas La Buhe : saxophone, vocals
- Philippe Gloaguen: guitar
“In its new opus, Wipidoup is devoted explicitly to the transmission. From the first call to the dance to the final call to sleep, children both young and old are taken by the hand to discover the melodious richness of musical instruments and the poetic delirium of the impassioned Breton voice.”
As mentioned earlier, this and all of Wipidoup’s recordings are available from Bemol Productions. Bemol’s online store or “VPC” is not the easiest to find on the web, so here is the link: http://www.bemolvpc.com/
- Yannick DABO : chant breton et gallo
- Renaud BINET : violon
- Olivier SULPICE : banjo, mandoline
- Baptiste RIVAUD : flûtes traversières
- Ludovic RIO : accordéon chromatique
- Guillaume LERICHE : mandole
I find it ironic that some of the most interesting Fest Noz music being released today comes not from Brittany proper but from the substantial Breton community in Paris. Paris is, as I have written before, a long way from Brittany in many ways so it was both surprising and refreshing to discover the group Kafe Koefet’s first CD Trouz Ba’n Davarn a while back ( see review below), which is not only one of my favorite Breton recordings in the last couple of years, but of all time.
Now comes Da zigentañ, the first release from another Parisian group, Tizhde’i. Featuring some of the same musicians as the group Kafe Koefet, Tizhde’i (which means ‘let’s go!’ in Breton) is completely distinct in its emphasis and sound – although equally gorgeous. The very simple cardboard sleeve, bereft of liner notes, suggests ‘demo’ or ‘budget’ at first glance, but the quality of the material suggests greatness. Perhaps there is something about being a little removed from the scene in Brittany that allows these musicians to approach the genre with a sincerity and honesty bereft of gimmickry or sensationalism, or perhaps it just that this group of players is blessed with profoundly good taste. Whatever the reasons, Da zigentañ is a very good recording.
One of the more startling revelations on the Kafe Koefet recording was Yannick Dabo, who appeared as a guest vocalist on several tracks. Dabo is the central figure in Tizhde’i and he provides the basic recipe for this recording – a lead vocalist singing in Breton and Gallo with a densely layered supporting instrumental group. Dabo has a truly remarkable voice. He does not have the operatic profundity of Yann-Fañch Kemener, or the wild eyed exuberance of Armel an Héjer. But he does have a beautifully centered tenor sung with just the right balance of expressiveness, control, and the characteristic vibrato of traditional Breton song. Another welcome figure from Kafe Koefet is Ludovic Rio, whose impressive performance on the chromatic button accordion is placed further back in the mix than it is on Trouz Ba’n Davarn – not surprising in a six-piece band. In fact, if I had one criticism of Tizhdei’s presentation here it would be the lack of another vocalist or strong responding instrumental voice to answer Dabo’s call, since Breton music is so much about call and response.
The arrangements, which are complex and somewhat unique in the context of current Breton groups, feature all of the instruments about equally. The presence of Olivier Sulpice’s banjo, which is played in a style much more Irish than bluegrass, and the ‘mandole’ (octave mandolin) of Guillaume Leriche add a very lively, bouncing rhythmic quality to the tracks. Leriche’s chordal accompaniment is particularly effective. Renaud Binet’s violin parts are extremely well done – this is an interesting player and I found myself wanting to hear him step up and take a lead melody role at times. Similarly, Baptiste Rivaud clearly has the technical ability to produce flute lines of subtlety and power but is never employed as a soloist. What we do hear is a tightly integrated group of players acting in concert to provide response and a rhythmic and harmonic envelope to support Yannick Dabo’s vocals, although extended instrumental breaks do occur such as on track three, a ton doubl plinn called Konskried Logivi.
This group has a refreshing quality of sound that hearkens back to an earlier era of Breton music. Using traditional instrumentation and lacking the heavy jazz influence that permeates many current recordings, Da zigentañ might bear some comparison to classic recordings of groups like Gwerz or Kornog, or a contemporary group like Loened Fall, but the formula presented here is fresh and pretty unique: talented instrumentalists playing well developed arrangements of traditional melodies, but with an emphasis on backing a uniquely likable vocalist rather than just a showcase for virtuosic lead instrumentals. The last track of the disc, simply titled Pach pi, illustrates this concept particularly well. Alan Stivell recorded the Goadeg Sisters singing this old ‘tradiboudibe’ song back in the 1970s and many recordings of it exist. Here it is presented with an infectious rhythm and a flute counter-melody that make the vocals just soar. A tasty instrumental break well into the piece keeps the energy level exquisitely high. You may have heard versions of this song many times before, but this is without a doubt the best that has ever been recorded.
Tizhde’i does not have a website, but here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/Tizhdei
Note: If any Breton speakers can let me know what the words ‘Da zigentañ’ signify here, I will add it into the review.
- Jean-Marie Lorans: Bombard
- Riwall Jego: Binioù-Kozh
- Emilien Robic: Treujenn gaol (Clarinet)
- Jérome Guillarme: Akordeoñs Kromatek
- Samson Dayou: Gitar-boud (Bass)
- Mathieu le Rouzic: Gitar, Bouzouki
- Sylvie Rivoalen: Kan (voice)
- Romain Dubois: Fender Rhodes
- Glenn le Merdy: Percussion
- Cyril GUIGUIAN : guitare
- Erwan QUINTIN : violon
- Ludovic RIO : accordéon chromatique
- Invités :
- Dimitri ALEXALINE : bugle
- Lucien BÉGO : binioù koz
- Yannick DABO : chant
- France DARMOIS : chant
- Thomas FORTIN : bombarde
- Raphaël GOUTHIÈRE : soubassophone
- Anthony QUILLIVIC : guitare
Wow. Right from the opening notes of the Paris-based group Kafe Koefet’s first CD Trouz Ba’n Davarn (Noise in the Tavern), the listener knows they are in for something really special. While it sometimes seems that all too often a famous act promises greatness but disappoints by delivering stilted results in the interest of doing something novel or different, a relative unknown like Kafe Koefet (which means ‘coffee cocktail’ in Breton) can come along and save the day with a delightful, great masterpiece of Breton music.
‘Pariz’, as it is known in Breton, is rather far from Brittany in many ways and the casual listener might well be surprised to learn that this CD is Parisian in origin. Like other great cities around the globe Paris has been collecting immigrants from far-off regions for some time and it has boasted a substantial Breton community for more than a century, now estimated at 1 million.
At its core Kafe Koefet is a trio with accordion, guitar, and violin. They also perform as a quartet with Thomas Fortin on bombard. Fortin appears frequently on this recording and his playing is a delight that simply bursts with energy. Ludovic Rio’s chromatic button accordion playing and superior arrangements of the material are truly remarkable. By turns deeply melancholy, tender, swinging or intensely rhythmic, the sound he draws out of his accordion in this recording is unmistakably like no other: masterful, complex and powerful. Cyril Guignan’s tasty guitar meshes perfectly with the accordion and provides a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint that always fits the mood regardless of whether the track is a high-intensity dance-floor burner or a more reflective piece. The third member of the group, Erwan Quintin, is another musician with a unique sound. His playing can be aggressive to the point of ferocity, at times threatening to come apart under the intense, raspy attack of bow on strings. At other times, he provides soaring counter-melodies that wind themselves vibrantly around the lines coming out of the accordion. I would love to hear more from this man in a studio setting, where the control over the sound might soften some of the edginess of his live playing that emerges when he is really and truly belting it out.
Besides Fortin’s bombard, an array of guest artists flavor the core sound on a few tracks without overwhelming it. Most noticeable are two vocalists, Yannick Dabo and France Darmois, singing in Breton and Gallo. Both have infectious voices that make their appearances here a treat. The vocal tracks are part of a perfectly varied program that really make this disc shine under repeat listens. There is so much of interest going on sonically, and the shift from wild intensity to dark, rich moodiness creates an incredibly rich palate for the listener that leaves you wanting much more. If you have only a few recordings of Breton music, I encourage the reader to purchase this one as it is truly and uniquely engaging, worthy of being filed in a special category with just a few others as a masterpiece of Breton culture.
BONUS: Translation from an interview with Erwan Quintin by Stéphane Julou, on tamm-kreiz.com
Q: Coming from Paris, is it a handicap to find dates in Brittany? Is it difficult to exist as a Fest Noz group in the area of Paris?
A: A handicap already exists inside Brittany when a group wants to play outside of their own area. Paris is a little further off, so it’s probably a little more difficult. But I also feel that the Breton public is curious about what a Fest Noz group from Paris is able to produce.
As for the Paris region, there are a million Bretons there and the cultural world is dynamic. Apart from holiday periods or long weekends (during which Bretons come home to visit), there are Fest Noz every weekend. It often happens that there are 2 or 3 on the same night. And there are also many Fest Deiz as well. So there are many opportunities to perform in the region.
Here is a video link to Kafe Koefet in concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhweeP_b1Vg
Invité : Jacques Pellen: guitar
Named after a kind of Breton dance, Kejaj is a fairly new band made up of well-established veterans from famous groups such as such as Carré Manchot, Skeduz, Gwenfol, Guichen, Hamon-Martin Quintet, Dibenn, Filifala, and Celtic Procession. Kejaj typically appear as a quartet, and occasionally as a quintet with the addition of guitarist Jacques Pellen. With all that talent onboard, is Kejaj an instant classic? Not entirely. Although there are some very nice things about it, Kejaj is a good but not great recording. Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t.
Some of the arrangements are dense, thoughtful and really intriguing, and the general level of musicianship is astonishing. This is particularly true of Yannig Noguet on accordion, whose sound and playing here is beautiful and flawless. Hervé Le Lu (from Carré Manchot) also stands out with lengthy, perfectly articulated, rapid-fire bombard passages exhibiting precise control of tone and dynamics. These two are frequently tightly synced together in complex passages — simply amazing.
Ronan Pellen, a ubiquitous presence in quality efforts in recent years, (Hamon-Martin, Skeduz, Gilles Le Bigot) plays cittern on this recording. He is a very talented player with a deft touch and a keen sense of accompaniment. Pellen’s melodic playing is spot-on and during his lead passages, some of which are fairly extended, he really shines. His sound is a bit thin, however, when it comes time to provide chordal backing. I can’t fault his arrangement or technique, but the final result doesn’t always fill the sonic space well. Pellen has never had the rich, super-saturated sound that players such as Franck Le Bloas or Jamie McMenemy can produce. All too often here his cittern is called on to serve up harmonies which it just doesn’t have the breadth of tone to fully deliver. Whether this is the end result of production decisions or simply his choice of instrument, at times it is quite noticeable on this recording.
The bass of Etienne Callac is unlike anything I have ever heard in a Fest Noz band, and it’s quite good. Because of his somewhat ‘jazz’ tone and fairly busy arrangements, I initially feared that Callac would indulge in some of the distracting excesses that players such as Alain Genty can be prone to, but this is not the case here (Although there is a brief touch of a reggae vibe in one or two tracks, which I have never cared for in Breton music). His bass is complex and driving, with interesting melodic elements that mesh well with the other instruments.
Jacques Pellen is well known in Brittany for his ‘Celtic Procession’ and other projects typically involving a more dramatic and electric guitar presence. His work here, however, is a real problem for this recording. His electric guitar doesn’t mesh well with the band and the somewhat grandiose sound is a jarring and awkward presence on several tracks. This is most notable in the Rond de St. Vincent track “La Cote D’en Bas” where clumsy arrangement and a dominating electric guitar solo drag the listener’s finger inexorably towards the ‘fast forward’ button. Perhaps Kejaj was reaching towards some special artistic goal with these passages, but unfortunately they are ill-fitting and mostly just don’t work. The group would be much better served by guitar that could provide harmonic support and tonal depth to Ronan Pellen’s tasteful cittern.
Kejaj provides both some brilliant music (particularly on tracks such as the ‘Noz Tomm’ Gavotte suite) and some off-kilter oddness in a few spots where Jacques Pellen unleashes his electric personality. Listeners will find that if they can bear with the occasional misplaced electric guitar, there is a lot here that is very well done indeed and well worth the effort.
- Video footage of Kejaj in concert: http://vimeo.com/16756444
- This CD can be purchased online from Coop Breizh: http://www.coop-breizh.fr/
A combination of instruments more commonly found in Irish music but only beginning to emerge in Breton recordings is the duo of fiddle and accordion. With “daou-ha-daou”, which translates from the Breton as ‘two and two’ or ‘duet’, two of the brightest stars in the Breton firmament have created an instrumental masterpiece of tender and moving dance music.
Fiddler Fanch Landreau and accordionist Yann Fanch Perroches are best known for their work in the legendary dance group Skolvan. In daou-ha-daou they continue together as a more intimate pair whose musical center of gravity is found in the dark and vibrant rhythmic impulse of the Fest Noz dance repertoire. The sensitive playing and subtly intertwined voices are very much intended for listening as well as dance, however. The tunes, both traditional and original, constantly take interesting melodic twists and turns, all the while maintaining the essential dance swing. This finely wrought combination of complex arrangements and seductive rhythm makes daou-ha-daou a treat for the ears as well as the feet, and propels it into that rare category of recording that effortlessly grows in stature with repeated listening. The CD-Rom capabilities of the disc provide extra bonuses in the form of scores and tablature for the tunes, as well as a charming series of photos of the musicians.