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Reviews

Jean-Michel Veillon & Yvon Riou, “Deus an Aod d’ar Menez”, Bemol production 2017

veillon-riou

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

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Zorba Quartet EP “Zorba” RideON Music, 2016

Zorba Quartet EP

Zorba Quartet EP

Personnel:
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.

Zorba-ratingA 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.

 


‘ndiaz: ‘ndiaz, 2014 (Coop Breizh)

ndiaz-1
Personnel:

  • Youn  KAMM: Trompette à quart de ton
  • Jérôme  KERIHUEL: Tablas
  • Timothée  LE BOUR: Saxophone
  • Yann  LE CORRE: Accordéon chromatique

Invités:

  • 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.


Les vies que l’on mène: Hamon Martin Quintet, 2015 (Coop Breizh)

Hamon MartinComing Soon!

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.


L8.1: E-Leizh, 2014 (Ride On Music)

e-LeizhPersonnel:

  • Ronan Le Dissez: bombard
  • Stéphane Foll: biniou
  • Yann-Guirec Le Bars: guitare, mandoline
  • Pierre Stephan: violon

Website: http://groupeeleizh.wix.com/eleizh

« 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.


Lak un’ all: Kafe Koefet (April 2013)

                        Kafe Koefet's second CD!

Kafe Koefet’s second CD!

Personnel:

  • Cyril GUIGUIAN : Gitar
  • Erwan QUINTIN : Violoñs
  • Ludovic RIO : Akordeoñs kromatek
  • Thomas FORTIN : Bombard, Trejenn-gaol, Saksofon

Invités :

  • Jil LEHART : Binioù koz, Kan
  • Yannick DABO : Kan
  • Alain “Benny” NAËL: Kan

Website: http://www.kafekoefet.free.fr

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.


Skeud An Amzer: Penn Gollo, 2002 (Coop Breizh)

Penn Gollo means “empty head” in Breton.

Personnel:

  • Gérard COSQUER: Basse fretless
  • Julien DREO: Accordéon diatonique
  • Jean Claude PETIT: Hautbois
  • Claude ZIEGLER: Guitare acoustique

Invités:

  • 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.