La Pieuvre & Circum Grand Orchestra

Circum Disc CID 1301

Never ones to eschew grand gestures such as the Eiffel Tower, De Gaulle’s force de frappe or the Cannes film festival, leave it to the French to come up with a program that combines the talents of two large orchestras of improvisers – 32 musicians in all. As notable for the gesture as well as the execution, the two lengthy compositions by guitarist Olivier Benoit played here, evolve by calling on textures advanced by the electric rock-oriented doubled rhythm section of Circum Grand Orchestra as well as the Jazz-oriented and Free Music impulses of La Pieuvre.

With both ensembles offshoots of Lille-based Collectif Muzzix, the mammoth collective is comfortable enough to also bring into the mix aspects of so-called classical techniques, sampled computer-created and field recorded sounds, big band harmonies, plus poems and recitations in English and French. All this is performed in response to Benoit’s conduction gestures.

If there’s a linkage between the two, nearly hour-long compositions, it’s that both are primarily group efforts. Individual soloists are on hand during the 13 sequences of “Sandine” and the additional lucky 13 parts of “Andesine/Bytownite”, and their names are carefully noted on the package sleeve. But the majority of these brief interludes serve more as connective tissues to what timbres have preceded it or as sonic foreshadowing of what is to come. Correspondingly, both – or is it all, three? – compositions are like solid blocks. With so much information to be expressed by so many people – often par hasard – the breathing room provided by pauses or protracted silences is MIA.

Introduced by a lengthy sequence in which two male voices jabber incessantly in French, “Sandine” finally reveals its shape with sweeping unison horn-section work, but the aural resemblances are as much to Blood. Sweat & Tears’ as any big Swing band arrangement. However it’s the final sequences which really define the piece. Organ-like keyboard riffs and guitar twangs finally shake off the pop song references. The climax moves back and forth between pounding percussion and string distortion – which pulls the performance towards Rock’s heaviness – and pastoral clarinet lines, split-tone tenor saxophone guffawing plus trombone lines – all of which reference orchestral Jazz. Finally as a tongue-twisting saxophone solo blends with popped cymbal resonation, the entire band vibrations pass from one side of the performance space to the other.

Flowing polyphony could be the watchwords of the second composition, which is also introduced by a voice, but this time intoning an Edward Lear-like poem in English. Staccato lines jab as the theme dribbles back and forth from section to section during later sequences. As the narrative crunches forward only to reach a crescendo of tremolo pumps, the opposition is provided contrapuntally by clinking pianism, radio-wave static and brassy splatters. Finally movie soundtrack-like guitar flanges and satiny saxophone lines complete the conversation begun with the recitation.

Most closed-ended as a composition, “Bytownite” is the dense coda where Rock, Jazz and jackhammer-like thumps struggles for supremacy. As a spectacular Buddy Rich-style percussion display smacks up against horn parts that could have wandered over from a 1970s disco date, the piece accelerates to near stasis only to be broken up by a joyous coda that extends into sax work and voices crying, cursing and squeaking. Just when it seems as if the coda is going to regenerate the entire program with louder, brass and rhythm textures, reminiscent of a John Barry-penned soundtrack, polyphonic cries from the other instruments mounts a response, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

Most likely a program which would be better appreciated in the immediacy of a live performance, Feldspath still offers up stimulating if somewhat anonymous musical creation. It also bodes well for future projects by the bands in joint creativity.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Track Listing: CD 1: Sandine CD 2: Andesine/Bytownite

Personnel: Nathalie Goutailler, Christopher Motury and Christian Pruvost (trumpet); Samuel Carpentier and Claude Colpaert (trombone); Maxine Morel (tuba); Sakina Abdou, Vincent Debaets, Julien Favreuille, Jean-Baptiste Perez and Jean-Baptiste Rubin (saxophones); Christopher Rocher and Yanik Misorec (clarinet); Martin Hackett (melodica, flute and voice); Stefan Orins and Barbara Dang (piano); Martin Granger (keyboard); David Bausseron, Sébastien Beaumont, Ivann Cruz and Philippe Lenglet (guitar); Pierre Cretel and Nicolas Mahieux (bass); Christophe Hache, Patrick Guionnet, Stéphane Lévêque and Antoine Rousseau (electric bass); Nicolas Chachignot, Jean-Luc Landsweerdt and Peter Orins (drums); Lune Grazilly (voice) and Olivier Benoit (conduction)