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.
- 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.
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.