A site about Breton music and culture.

Diwezhañ

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.

Vorlenn’s Stomp: Alambig Elektrik, 2014 (Coop Breizh)

For the second CD, Electrik becomes Elektrik.

For the second CD, Electrik becomes Elektrik.

Personnel :

  • 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

Invités :

  • 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.

Now a second recording, Vorlenn’s Stomp, has burst upon the scene with a mild reshuffling of personnel and a corresponding slight change to the band’s name, now Alambig Elektrik (with a k). While Disadorn was an intriguing and entertaining debut, the group has struck pure gold with Vorlenn’s, easily one of the best Breton recordings of the year. Vorlenn’s Stomp takes all of the charming elements that made their first recording so likable and bumps them up a notch, while scaling back the use of the sometimes distracting exotic sampled sounds such as lengthy vocal and percussion loops from Africa and Asia. This is due to two key changes in personnel.

The first change is the promotion of vocalist Lors Landat from invité to not only full group member, but charismatic frontman. Landat had been a standout if sporadic presence on the first recording, and here his warm tenor takes front and center stage on the majority of the tracks. This strong vocal presence negates the need to rely on extended stretches of sampled “Deep Forest” style world-music vocals and sounds, which is a relief, and is the perfect focal point around which the group builds complex arrangements of instrumentation. “I have assumed the role of the ‘soloist instrument’, allowing Gaël and Pat to devote themselves to harmonies and rhythm” Landat said recently in an interview with Musique Bretonne magazine. Whereas the first recording was primarily instrumental with a scattering of vocal pieces, Vorlenn’s reverses the formula and has only a couple instrumentals.

The second change is the departure of trumpet player Youenn Le Cam, who bowed out to focus on his new high-concept project, the group N’diaz. This left accordionist Gaël Runigo to take up the ‘machines’, considered to be integral to the group’s sound and identity. Runigo’s take on programmation is, for the most part, significantly more subtle and nuanced than that found on the first recording.

Obviously a replacement trumpet was needed as well and here is the other standout presence of this recording, new group member Patrick Pereira. Pereira, who comes from a jazz background, has created trumpet parts that are incredibly listenable: always fresh, engaging, changing, innovative, and full of exciting musical ideas. Says Landat of Pereira, “Youenn knew how to play a phrase on the trumpet like a bombard or biniou because he has played those instruments for many years. Pat approaches the instrument differently. He uses another logic, he speaks another musical language. But it is all part of the richness of the group!”.

Vorlenn’s Stomp is a heady cocktail of influences, beatifully recorded and presented with gorgeous graphics in a full packet design. It simultaneously succeeds both as traditional Fest Noz music and as pop music. It is lighthearted and fun, but the material is complex and can be listened to at great length. The only piece of music on Vorlenn’s that is not, strictly speaking, part of the traditional dance repertoire is the delicious, pop-inflected number “Redadeg 2014”. This song and the accompanying video were contributed to the very popular “Redadeg” relay race (and concert) across Brittany which annually raises funds for Breton language education. The accompanying video is incredibly charming and funny and expresses a lot of what makes this recording and group so impressive. The link: http://vimeo.com/91569395

Exciting melodies, deep arrangements, a distinct sense of fun and an eclectic palette of mood and feel all add up to a unique and unforgettable sound. Many groups show promise on an initial recording that the sophomore effort fails to keep, but here we find a second recording that not only builds upon what came before, but transcends it.

All quotes are from the article “Alambig Elektrik”, Musique Bretonne magazine, N 239, translation mine.

Joa (self titled): September 2013

Joa

    Joa’s first recording is divine.

Personnel :

  • Malo CARVOU : fleüt-treus
  • Ronan BLÉJEAN : akordeoñs
  • Armel AN HÉJER : kan

Invités :

  • Soig SIBERIL : gitar
  • Jamie MCMENEMY : bouzouki
  • Xavier LUGUÉ : gourrebed boud

Website: http://www.joa-music.eu

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.

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.

An Amzer Gwechall: Duo Carvou – Bizien, 2012 (self)

A new release from veterans Malo Carvou ( Flûtes ) and Bernard Bizien (Guitare ) adds another volume to the genre of Breton flute and guitar originally pioneered by Jean-Michel Veillon, who is thanked in the liner notes. With the recording following the duo’s advertised formula of ‘Musique Bretonne, Irlandaise, Swing Musette’, the listener can expect the musical journey to cover a wide amount of stylistic territory.
Carvou and Bizien have been playing together for a long time, and it shows. Both were part of the original lineup of the great Fest Noz group Penn Gollo on their first recording Splamb!. The two remained together along with vocalist Armel an Héjer as the Ozan Trio, as well as with the expanded lineup of the same group that goes under the name Deus’ta. More recently they joined Jamie McMenemy’s aptly named group “Jamie McMenemy 4”.
An Amzer Gwechall starts off in full Breton mode with a sound and even material strongly reminiscent of Veillon’s earlier work with Yvon Riou. Carvou has a dense, complex flute tone perfectly suited for these pieces. A slight ‘gypsy-jazz’ influence in Bizien’s syncopated guitar accompaniment for faster tunes is distinguishably unique and works very well. After a couple of tracks the recording shifts into a startlingly different gear, however, with the introduction of swing musette, the first tune of which is penned by Gus Viseur.
In any recording, the program represents the private world of the musicians, which typically are reflective of a given genre or genres with shared qualities and instrumentation which the listener can understand as a coherent whole. The coherence in An Amzer Gwechall across the chasm from Breizh to Musette rests solely upon the instruments and musicians, for the aesthetics and mood of these genres are markedly divergent. The divide is a pretty wide one. Does it work; does the bold duo succeed in seamlessly crossing this aesthetic chasm?
Not really. Having said that, let me be clear – I am a musician who performs Breton music and a listener who owns hundreds and hundreds of recordings of Breton music. Of the musette or gypsy-jazz genre, I own less than ten. For someone else, who loves both genres equally and doesn’t mind the surprising shift from mournful, minor key Breton melodies to the sweet, jazzy flavors of Gus Viseur the answer might very well be yes. Because the musette material is actually played very well – there can be no question of the integrity of the performers here.
So all in all, as an appreciator of Breton music, and in particular the flute-and-guitar sub-genre which works so magically well with the material, this recording is worth a close listen because these two players are quite good. I must admit, though, to hitting the ‘fast forward’ button on the musette pieces after a couple of listens when a deeper appreciation of them failed to take root. They are not bad – but to this bombard player’s ears they are not great either, unlike the material from Brittany which is lovely and moving.