Gilles Deleuze

Omar Blondin Diop in La Chinoise

Richard Pinhas and Patrick Gauthier

Patrick Vian

Mahogany Brain

Patrick Geoffrois

Patrick Geoffrois - Photo by Clayton Patterson

Bernard Vitet

Horde Catalytique Pour La Fin

Jean-Jacques Birgé and Francis Gorgé

Barney Wilen

Anne-Marie Coffinet

Jean-Louis Lefebvre

Aguigui Mouna

Emmanuelle Parrenin

Gaby Bizien

Jean-Francois Pauvros

Jac Berrocal

by Byron Coley

Souffle Continu (“A Continuous Explosion”) is a record store in Paris, known for its selection of insane music as well as superb in-store appearances. A few years ago, the two heroes who run the place — Bernard Ducayron & Theo Jarrier — decided to try and get some reissue/archival releases going. They were wildly successful. Here's a survey of the fruits of their labor thus far.


Le Voyager / Torcol (released in 2014)

Debut label release was the second 7” issued in 1972 by Richard Pinhas's group, Schizo, who would later change their name to Heldon. Unlike the early Heldon we know, Schizo (founded while Pinhas was working on his PhD in Philosophy at the Sorbonne) created music that was in a distinctly rockist vein. The guitar, synth and pulse all seem to be running parallel to Hawkwind, leavened with a certain lightness of tone that feels mighty French (although there's no real precedent for the guest vocalist, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who reads a text by Nietzche on the A-side). Deleuze was one of Pinhas's teachers and heroes. They were close until Deleuze's death in 1995 and Gilles does readings for tracks of later Heldon LPs. “Le Voyager” itself appeared on Heldon's debut LP, Electronic Guerilla, under the name “Ouais, Marchais, Mieux Qu'en 68.” The instrumental flip is closer to traditional French prog of the era, although the noisier elements are always a surprise treat. When this was originally released (as the first record on Pinhas's Disjuncta label) all 3000 copies were distributed for free. You just had to send a couple of stamps to Pinhas's apartment and you'd be set.


Soutien á la RAF (released in 2014)

The first single credited to Heldon is this '75 release, recorded shortly after Heldon Third: It's Always Rock & Roll. The instruments (guitar and synth) are credited to Moogi-Le-Moog and Les Paul 1954, but it's a Pinhas solo session. With churning synths and electric guitar combining elements of Non-Pussyfooting statis as well as blaring psychedelicism, the single is quite amazing. Entitled Support to the Red Army Faction, the two tracks are “Baader-Meinhof Blues” and “O.D.B.” The first track's title is a comment on Jean Paul Sartre's visit to visit some of the core members of the RAF in prison around the time of their first hunger strikes. The second is not a tribute to Old Dirty Bastard, but to Omar Blondin Diop, a Nigerian born revolutionary who spent time in France (and appears in Godard's La Chinoise), before dying in a Senegalese jail. A different version of this tune appears on Heldon II: Allex Téia. Although these tracks might be viewed as an ode to violence in the name of social change, Pinhas takes pain to explain that it is more about the injustice of imprisonment than anything else. The music is classic Heldon, and very raw in the context of the band's overall flow. Like the Schizo single, this was also originally issued by Disjuncta to be distributed freely, specifically not for sale.


Perspectives (released in 2014)

The second and last Heldon single was originally released on Urus Records, the label that replaced Disjuncta in 1976. The first side, “Perspectives 1bis compliment” is Pinhas solo. On the flip, “Perspectives 4bis,” he is joined by bass guitarist Alain Bellaiche, drummer Coco Roussel and synthesizer player Patrick Gauthier. These players were all part of Pinhas's regular stable of collaborators, and they came together as a unit for 1976's game-changing Heldon IV: Agnetha Nilsson LP. Whether these are edited version of the album tracks or not isn't abundantly clear, but they sound excellent shorn of their context. Heldon was definitely developing a more darkly-throated (sometimes even raunchy) voice around this period, and it's a pleasure to hear it in bite sized chunks. On the first side, the feel is murky deep space genius. The flip is a more explosive and a noise-driven demonstration of the very outer fringes of what you might call fusion. And if more fusion sounded like this, it would get a whole lot more respect. From you and your mother, both.


Sarcelles-Lochères (released in 2014)

One of my personal favorites from the French underground, Red Noise's sole LP was released as part of the amazing Rock series (RED 001) on Gérard Terronès's Futura label (which also had a superb Experimental series and a great Jazz one as well). The band was formed by Patrick Vian. (son of the French writer/musician, Boris Vian) in 1968, and was a legendary presence in the Parisian turmoil of that year. As sometimes happened in those days, the band actually split in two in 1970. Red Noise's socialist faction continued under their original banner, and the new Trotskyite offshoot band became Komintern (whose two records are also worth checking out.) Anyway, Sarcelles-Lochères has always killed me. The cover art (a crudely Dali-esque psychedelic painting of a screaming man trapped inside Frank Zappa's head, a goat playing the cello, and a naked woman either avoiding or posing for floating eyeballs) pretty much lets you know what you're in for. Post-Mothers freak rock with lots of scatalogical content, mixed with free jazz elements, loud guitar riffs and sounds recorded in ways and places you can't quite get a handle on. It reminds me a more than a bit of Uncle Meat in totality, but there also feels to be more overt political content, even if it's abstract. The only other place the band ever appeared is backing the actress, Marie-Blanche Verge on a crazy single called “La Veuve du Hibou” (“The Widow of the Owl”). It's also definitely worth your while. Patrick Vian's 1976 LP, Bruits et Temps Analogues, is a pretty cool pile of cosmo-synth-machine-music. He also appeared on that great 30 Ans d'Agitation Musicale en France box, along with some members of Fille Qui Mouse, as part of a group called Dagon. Dagon's tune is great, but I don't know much about 'em. I've also read that Patrick was associated with the astounding Metal Urbain for a while in '76/77, but more than that I cannot say.


With (Junk-Saucepan) When (Spoon-Trigger) (released in 2014)

The first album by Mahogany Brain was originally issued as the second item in Futura's Rock series (RED 002) and it is as sweet a drift of sideways jams as Amon Düül's Disaster, the Cromagnon album on ESP, the Underground Failure LP, or others of that late night drug slack ilk. In short, a beautiful album. The band was led by poet Michel Bulteau and guitarist Patrick Geoffrois, and those two provide the core of the Mahogany Brain experience — dreamily surreal word images and circularly bustling psych guitar aktion, set against various clots of instrumental whatsis. The structure is pretty loose, but there's so much weirdness, depth and smoke in the details it's a really wonderful record to drift through in the hours just before dawn. For whatever reason, the band only played one live gig ever, and then recorded this album semi-live at the Gill's Club in Paris, which was a venue run by label head, Gérard Terronès. Some people get real excited and call these guys the French Velvet Underground, but that's an illusion, brought on perhaps by the imagery of the album's title and the fact that Bulteau moved to NYC in the '70s and hung out with Burroughs. Regardless, it's a super cool album and I never regretted the money I spent on an original back in the '80s. Their second album, Smooth Sick Lights, is extremely hep as well. But cursed. Recorded in '72, it wasn't released 'til 1976 when Pôle did a horrible sounding press of it (anybody got a clean one?). Then in '77 it was reissued on Tapioca, but every copy I've ever had is a mispress with the B-side of Melody's Come Fly with Me LP instead of Mahogany Brain (anyone ever see a non-mispress?). Then in 2005 Bulteau put together a third LP for Fractal, Some Cocktail Suggestions, which seems to blend sounds lifted from the first two LPs with new recordings and whatever else. It's a beautiful confoundment. The original cover for this LP was supposed to be a photograph of someone shooting up. When that idea was canned, the band opted to have a blank black cover in mourning for the original idea. If you like that logic you'll dig the sounds too. Bulteau, by the by, is still active. Patrick Geoffrois hooked up with James Chance & the Contortions, moved to NYC, got involved in black magic and died of misadventure.


Essais (released in 2015)

The sole album by Semool was originally issued in '71 as the second album in Futura's Experimental series (SON 2) (following l'Oiseau l'Arbre le Béton by guitarist Raymond Boni). Not a whole lot is known about the band. They were a Parisian trio and recorded the album over two years. The 11 tracks appear as numbered “Essays,” and feature various lo-fi approaches to assemblage, improvisation and even outright plagiarism (don't tell Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath), featuring guitar, percussion, bass, piano, mouth and thunks. I've seen comparisons made to No Neck Blues Band and Blumens des Exotischen Eises, and those both ring true in part. But the way these guys put things together (or, rather, don't put things together) makes me think of the deep acid logic that flows at times on that LSD Underground 12 LP Lysergia reissued, or something along those same boggled lines. Really really tripped the fuck out. And they don't care who knows it.


Live in Paris 1975 (released in 2015)

Previously released by the Japanese Captain Trip label as part of their Live Electronik Guerilla box (which itself reissued part of the Electronic Guerillas boot LP), this documents a rare concert appearance by Heldon on June 26, 1975 in Paris, performing as a duo, with Pinhas and Alain Renaud both doubling on guitars and keys. Renaud's approach to the instruments is similar to Pinhas's (albeit with less overt menace, and maybe more implicit melodicism) so the four pieces here are tidal ebbs of guitar/key flow. You can tell who's doing what (at least some of the time) because Pinhas is on synth and Renaud is playing organ. The fidelity is not the greatest, but it sounds better than the Japanese CD version to my ear. There's a harsher psychedelic edge to the playing here, perhaps best noted on the new take of “Omar Diop Blondin,” which is the most aggressive version on record.


Live in Paris 1976 (released in 2015)

Beautiful thug-psych workouts by a trio version of Heldon with Pinhas joined by synthesizer player Patrick Gauthier and drummer Francois Augier. These tracks were also part of the Captain Trip set, but the fidelity sounds much improved. The show was recorded at le Palace in Paris, right around the time Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale was being recorded, and it displays a fuller grasp of the more rockist (post-Fripp) approach to riffs the band took. The crazy way they blend heavy psych elements and the blare of machine music is a wonder to behear.


Tacet (released in 2015)

Originally issued by Futura in 1971 as part of its Experimental series (SON 04), Tacet is almost like a whacked-out collage of all that is fantastic about the French underground of this period. While it lacks much in the way of specific rock content (even though Guérin got his start with the Zeuhl-related prog band, Ergo Sum), the blend of avant garde jazz, musique concret and general weirdness will assure that you don't miss rock-qua-rock for an instant. The material began life as the soundtrack for Bof!, a subversive 1971 film by Claude Faraldo (best known for his crazy '73 grunt-opus Thermoc). Bof! is an odd paean to liberation and the music done for it is quite lopsided and slippery — bass, percussion, electronics and vocals in various abstract (and rather moist sounding) forms. For Tacet, Jean added other players — saxophonist Phillip Maté from the Acting Trio, legendary psychiatrist/trumpeter Jean Paul Rondepierre, wildman/water trumpeter Bernard Vitet (a key component of many crucial French sessions), cellist Dieter Guévissler (who'd briefly been in Gong in '70) and vocalist Françoise Achard (who would later be part of Vitet's Un Drame Musical Instanté). The ultimate results have a certain filmic quality, by which I mean it doesn't do much to actually intrude, but damn... it is a very nuts ensemble piece. Not quite like anything else I can think of.


La Guêpe (released in 2015)

The first solo album by French trumpeter/polymath, Bernard Vitet, La Guêpe (“The Cheek”) was originally issued in 1972 as the fifth entry in Futura's Experimental series (SON 005). Vitet's history goes back to the founding of the French free jazz scene, having worked with George Arvantas and Jef Gilson, before joining François Tusques's revolutionary sextet for the recording of the Free Jazz LP in '65. He recorded with Alan Silva, Sunny Murray and others before undertaking this, his first date as a leader. The band is great — Beb Guérin (another vet of the Free Jazz session) on bass, Jean Guérin on percussion & alto sax, Tusques (France's greatest keyboard revolutionary) on piano, Jouck Minor (a frequent Alan Silva collaborator) on baritone sax & violin, Jean-Paul Rondepierre on trumpet, Françoise Achard on vocals, filmmaker/composer Dominique Dalmasso on “tape,” and Vitet on various other things. This usually gets called a jazz LP, but I've always thought it was closer to an imaginary soundtrack album, not dissimilar in tone to Tacet (not unusual considering half the players were on that date too). There are lots of wild string sections and massed percussion sequences. Achard's vocals also have a certain Cathy Berberian lilt here, and it's an album one could easily imagine being part of Wergo's New Music series. Regardless, it's a wonderful chunk of sound. Also, despite what the label says, it plays at 45 RPM.


On N'As Pas Fini D'Avoir Tout Vu (released in 2015)

The sole album by this prog quartet (entitled “We Have Yet to See It All”) was released in 1971 by Futura as part of their Rock series (RED 03). One of the rare prog bands without a keyboard, Triode were led by flautist Michel Edelin (whose jazz career has flourished since the Triode days), with guitarist Pierre Chérèze (who went on to play with YS, Jacques Higelin, Bernard Szajner and many others), bassists Pierre-Yves Sorin (a subsequent jazzbo who has even recorded with Joe McPhee) and drummer Didier Hauck (later with the Zeuhl-related band Nadavati). There's also a guest percussionist named Olav Estienne, about whom little is known. The album is balanced between bluesy and jazzy numbers (all instrumental) demonstrating a rather sophisticated approach to the music. And there are some fairly extreme tone shifts inside the music, but nothing too nuts. The feel is not unlike some of the German proto-freak fusionists of the era. Almost every review I've read of this makes comparisons to Jethro Tull, but Edelin shows little of Ian Anderson's particular brand of Kirk-damage. There's very not much freak register blowing or tonguing. The large moves are left to the guitar, which is plenty biting. But it definitely sounds like what it is — four disciplined young jazz guys trying their hand at prog. Imagine a jazzier instrumental version of the original Traffic and you're on the right path. I'm still in the market for an original of this, if you're looking to divest.


Voici la Nuit Tombée (released in 2015)

Sole release by this French prog trio, recorded in February 1973 and released later that year as part of Futura's Rock series (RED 006). All the material is written and sung by the keyboard player Yves Hasselmann. He is joined by electric bassist, Jacques Gouré, and drummer Roger Gremillot, both of whom had been in the psych band, Introversion. Hasselmann had a long jazz history after this, but his bandmates a bit less so. Most often, one sees Travelling referred to in terms of the UK Canterbury scene. Sometimes I've even seen them called the French Caravan, although to my ear the sound is closer to Dave Stewart's than Dave Sinclair's. The first side is a long, lovely title suite (“Here Is Nightfall”) mixing Eggy organ lines with a complex, propulsive rhythm base, and vocals that have a certain Wyatt-esque quality. The second side has five shorter pieces that add alternately jazzy and modernist piano chunks to the mix. And really, parts of this sound almost more like stripped down version of Holland's best-known Canterbury parallelists, Supersister. Gotta love this stuff.


Gestation Sonore (released in 2015)

Originally issued by Futura in 1971 as part of their Experimental series (SON 03), the sole LP by Nice's Horde Catalytique is one of the most eccentric and demanding LPs released by that (or any) label in the third year of Nixon. The band (which I understand was a quintet although the amazing builder of unknown instruments, Georges Alloro, aka “Goa,” does not appear on it anywhere) was formed in 1967. The idea was to create music (or just sounds) that existed outside of easy cultural contexts. Some of their instruments were technically of African or Asian origin, but they didn't want the sound to hemmed in by traditional historical usage. Same with the European instruments employed. Free music for free heads. Or something. There are operational similarities to early AMM, the Sperm and even some of the European New Music ensembles put together by jazz musicians, composers and the like. But there's also a gnarly primitivist urge lurking here that makes me think more of the '90s era of cave explorers from No Neck Blues Band to Noise-Maker's Fifes and so on. This has the same sort of approach to aggressively channeling the organic flow of noise-birth-events here. Really a great listen.


Avant Toute (released in 2016)

Previously unreleased material recorded by synthesizer player Jean-Jacques Birgé and guitarist Francis Gorgé, some of it recorded just a week before the first session for Defense De, the 1975 album with which they founded GRRR Records. This label would go on to be the home for their long-running musical project, Un Drame Musical Instantané (with Bernard Vitet), and be one of the French underground's most reliable imprints. But, as the album's title says, this is before all that. The pair had been playing together since the '60s. Their first band, Epimananondas, played their debut concert at the pair's high school, opening for two bands they had booked — Dagon and Red Noise. Yikes. Anyway, these recordings were done five years later, and represent some of the most wailing synth/guitar duet aktion that has ever been waxed. Birgé plays the synth in a very unhinged way, following none of the known musicianly approaches. In this sense, there's a bit of an early Eno vibe to his machine torquing (think Roxy Music BBC sessions), but Gorgé's playing is pretty far from Phil Manzanera's or Robert Fripp's. In the liner notes Francis mentions how much he liked early John McLaughlin and his playing has some of the MASS McLaughlin managed at times, but Gorgé also digs pedals and effects, which allows him access to tones that would make Mahavishnu's scalp shrivel. And Devadip's too. Beautiful stuff.


Moshi (released in 2017)

Insanely great reissue of one of the most perplexing of all French freak jazz albums. In 1969 tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen and actress Caroline De Bendern (who I think was his wife at the time) took off for what was supposed to be a six month trip across Northern Africa, from Algiers to Zanzibar. Wilen had begun his career doing notable post-bop soundtrack sessions with a series of American greats — Miles Davis, Art Blakey, etc. He went on to do some of the earliest free jazz in France, and then moved into electric fusion for a while. De Bendern had a backer to film the journey, and it all sounded pretty cool. Well, it ended up taking a lot longer and being a lot more complicated. The DVD included in this set is the (maybe previously unreleased?) film, A L'Intention de Mademoiselle Issoufou a Bilma, and the two LPs reissue the album that emerged from the trip. Near as I can tell, Wilen and De Bendern took the tapes into the Saravah studios, along with a bunch of musicians (including a couple of Gong associates) and created this amazing musical collage. It includes piece of field recordings, presented either plainly or altered. There are “bush recordings” of Wilen and (one presumes) local musicians. There are eruptions of “spirit” jazz at its highest apex, and spaced-out acid rock sequences, and whatever the heck else might make your head spin. There's nothing else quite like Moshi. And as the original is damn costly, and the CD reissue was severely edited, so this package (with DVD and a big lovely booklet) is one of the most welcome items to hit my player in several long moons. Just stellar.


Bebe Godzilla (released in 2016)

Originally issued by the Cy label in 1981, Patrick Gauthier's debut LP has a front cover art, text and coloring very typical of the era. Real attractive, it is not. Still, it's a damn interesting album, not least for the fact that Patrick has corralled a massive number of his old bandmates into appearing. Since his old bands at this point were Heldon, Magma and Weidorje, it should be enough to make any Francophile sit up straight and reach for another Gauloise. As expected, the keys are mostly right up front, which might put some people off from the get-go. But Pinhas's production has a nice Heldon-style edge, and anyone who likes Magma will be well pleased by the Zeuhl base on which most everything's set. There are a lot of different ways to view the whole post-Magma scene in France. But the common thread seems to be an attempt to produce jazz-rock fusion that's less duppy than most. Because this is an instrumental Zeuhl album from '81, it's the kind of thing that would probably just make me sad if I heard it shorn from its context. For this reason it might have been preferable if Souffle had reissued the first GRR LP (with a couple of Speed Limit guys on it) before this. It's cool to have a new clean copy and all, but most of the first side still doesn't move me.


Le Vampire (released in 2016)

It's possible the very first Futura release was this 1970 single by the actress Anne Marie-Coffinet. Coffinet was pianist Siegfried Kessler's wife (or girlfriend) at the time, and it seems like he put together a band especially for this session. People claim it's Bernard Lubat on bass (he and Kessler had just done a single session together with Jef Gilson), Pierre Cullez on guitar (he and Lubat were playing with Ivan Julien then). No word who's blowing air, apart from Anne Marie. The title track is a modish swinger with some very odd production touches at the end. The other tunes are fairly standard (almost not-abnormally breathy) swabs of French production chanson. A rarity, sure, but not essential.


Cyborg Sally (released in 2016)

Livengood played organ on the Red Noise LP, then teamed up with Ivan Coaquette for the Spacecraft album, before joining Pinhas for this great session. It is also said he was in a version of Heldon prior to this, but details are scant. Originally issued on a Tangram CD in '94, Cyborg Sally is quite nice to have on vinyl. Pinhas had largely been concentrating on his teaching career for a decade prior to this, recording very little as a result. So expectations were pretty high when this came out, and lots of people were really bummed out by how much it seems to embrace the sounds of the then-current industrial scene. I recall an interview from the era where Pinhas declared his respect for Nine Inch Nails, and old fans were as bummed out as they were when Fahey declared his affinity for No Neck Blues Band. But these guys don't really care much about what their old fans think. They wanna keep moving. While I've never been completely cozy with the overall sound of this album, there are still lots of great Pinhas guitar parts, and Livengood's finger-holds are real nice too. There are vocals in spots by Norman Spinrad (the sci fi writer whose book, The Iron Dream, supplied the name Heldon). They seem to be vocoder things based on texts related to his 1987 novel, Little Heroes, in which the character, Cyborg Sally, is featured. Dancey in spots? Perhaps. But suck it up. You'll be happy you did.


Hippotigris Zebra Zebra (released in 2017)

Next (released in 2017)

5 Octobre 1974 (released in 2017)

The Cohelmec Ensemble was one of the first of the second generation Free Jazz ensembles in France, and were perhaps the second (after Workshop de Lyon) to present themselves as a non-hierarchically structured collective. Their name is a composite drawn from the surnames of the four founding members: saxophonist Jean COHen, pianist Dominique ELbaz, and the MEChali brothers, bassist François and drummer Jean-Louis. They began rehearsing when they were still in (or freshly out of) their teens, after having absorbed the lessons of Europe and America's key improvisers. The 1969 debut LP by the Ensemble, Hippotigris Zebra Zebra on Saravah, would represent the recording debut for all of them, except perhaps the new fifth member, clarinet/flute player Evan Chandlee, whose BYG date with Kenneth Terroade may have predated it. Regardless, on this first album the quintet throws off a vibe that is equal parts Ornette, Tyner and Dolphy. There's ensemble dancing with the sax up front, upful piano-led spirit-jazz and several segments where the awkward-but-explosive seriousness of Dolphy's mid-60s bands is invoked. A very solid debut. Next followed in 1971, again on Saravah. Pianist Elbaz had been replaced by guitarist Joseph Dejean, fresh from Claude Delcloo's fiery Full Moon Ensemble, so the Tyner comparisons are blown right out the window. Dejean was not a Sharrock-style blaster or anything, but Next is a very different sounding record. It's obviously influenced a bit by American ex-pats like the Art Ensemble, but is as attuned to quiet and beauty as chaos. Especially with Jean-Louis paying more attention to playing vibraphone, Dejean's guitar helps to give Next a much more thoroughly European feel than their debut. The combination of proto-Euro-fusionism and small instrument wrangling makes the session beautifully un-American. No bad thing for 1971! It's a very weirdly balanced and utterly entrancing LP. By the time they recorded their third album, a live two LP set called 5 Octobre 1974 on Chevance Records (a sub-label of Le Chant Du Monde), Chandlee had been replaced by trumpeter Jean-François Canape. Canape's trumpet plays a large role shaping the sound (at least at times) and the music has a dark, disjointed feel, somewhat similar to Miles' work of the same period (if it had been done in small group form). Not that I'm inferring Dejean turns into Pete Cosey or anything, or that the Ensemble dedicates itself to evil, but there is some of the same raw emotional mastery, and riffs that are congruent. This album is obviously a lot Frencher than Miles, but some of the swoops and swipes and grunts remind me of nothing so much as that evil genius (especially on the first LP). Pretty damn nice to hear. My only gripe with this set is that each of the three Cohelmec Ensemble sets has the same insert. What the deuce?


Mahjun (1973) (released in 2016)

Mahjun (1974) (released in 2016)

These reissues of the two eponymous LPs, originally on Saravah, released by Mahjun in 1973 & 1974 are nice. Let's cross our fingers that their direct predecessors get equal treatment. A quintet called Maajun (the name is a variation on the Moroccan word, Majoun, which describes a ball of hemp, opium and datura, often mixed with chocolate — Davy Graham used the same spelling for a tune on his first Decca LP in '65) was formed in 1968 from the ashes of a band called Blues Unit by guitarists Jean-Louis and Cyril Lefebvre (Cyril would later work with Mike Cooper), drummer Jean-Pierre Arnoux, guitarist Roger Scaglia and saxophonist Alain Roux. Maajun were part of the politically radical wing of French underground bands, along with Komintern, Fille Qui Mousse, Red Noise and so on. Their sole LP, Vivre la Mort du Vieux Monde (“Long Live the Death of the Old World”) was released by Vogue in 1971 and is a fantastic blend of psych moves and proto-prog with odd folk touches and political lyrics. In 1972 Maajun mutated into a group called Mouvement Anarcho Héroïque Des Joyeux Utopistes Nébuleux, who released one very polemic 45 that was included as a freebie with an anti-militarist magazine in 1973. Later in 1973, Mahjun was created (from that anagram or not, I dunno). I've no knowledge of the line-up on the 45, but the band for the first Saravah LP retained Jean-Louis and Jean-Pierre, adding bassist Philippe Beaupoil and saxophonist Pierre Rigaud (both of whom had played with David McNeil), drummer Haira (who had done a great, weird solo LP for Saravah called Le Matin des Magiciens) with vocals by Dominique Barouh (wife of singer/actor, Pierre Barouh, who ran Saravah) and occasional agitprop by Aguigui Mouna (one of the heroes of May '68). The music on this album is more jazz-based than earlier work, and the psych element has been banished. A sort of folk-prog feel is mixed with the lovely BYG-esque skronk, traditional French readymades and blended vocals that have a soundtracky quality. This may make you think it's something of a mess, but everything works together surprisingly well. Fans of the earlier band sometime moan about the album's virtual post-rock eclecticism, but fuck 'em. For their second eponymous LP on Saravah, the line-up changed again. Lefebvre, Arnoux and Beaupoil stay on, to be joined by guitarist Daniel “Balein” Happel, American ex-pat reedman Jim Cuomo (from Mormos and Spoils of War!!!!) and what must have been a guest spot by legendary Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos (who recorded an album for Saravah right about this time). On the first side, the vocals sometimes have a feel similar to the sadder UK prog bands (early Crimson, VDGG) and Happel's guitar has a certain rockoid wankiness to it (even incorporating a Bonzos-like parody stance). Eventually this coalesces into something similar to what was going on in the Quebecois underground at that time — folk rock with traditional folk moves hauled in as a proletarian political statement. Not sure how much I like the mix of large gesture and goony filigree overall, but there are spots where it works. On the second side, Vasconcellos pops up and points things in the direction of a more overt prog/fusionist merger. The transition is aided by the fact Lefebvre switched entirely from guitar to violin, but I'm not sure it's for the best. After this, he changed his name to Jean-Louis Mahjun and things took an even “slighter” direction. Check the first album. If you like it, proceed accordingly.


Maison Rose (released in 2017)

Pérélandra (released in 2017)

Emmanuelle Parrenin is an enigmatic figure. She was fairly active on the French traditional folk scene in the 1970s, as a researcher and singer. Then in 1977, she cut a cult-certified solo LP for Ballon Noir, then joined a folk-prog band (La Confrérie des Fous) for one album, after which she disappeared from view for over 30 years. There are lazy parallels to Britain's Vashti Bunyan, but Maison Rose is a bizarre motherfucker of an album by any aesthetic yardstick. Ostensibly folk, it uses a lot of (by then outdated) prog instrumental tropes, and includes a mass of whacked ambience/overt-experimental-electronics by the session's engineer, Bruno Menny (whose own '72 LP, Cosmographie on Arion, is a fine collection of freak-moves). Parrenin was thought of as something akin to the Sandy Denny of France when Maison Rose came out, and her voice has the same kind of clarity. But the results are what you might've gotten if Sandy had hooked up with David Vorhaus rather than Trevor Lucas. Archie Patterson (from Eurock) wrote some of the notes here, so you know it's not a standard folk LP, but there are long stretches where Maison Rose is nothing but gorgeously sung French folk. Then along comes a track like “Topaze,” on which Menny laid a heavy hand, and it resonates like an out-take from the first White Noise album, An Electric Storm. This new edition sounds a bit better to me than the Lion reissue that came out a few years back. Suffice to say it's a great record and deserves a spot in any collection. Same is true of the previously unreleased Pérélandra (presumably named after the second volume of C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet trilogy). After Maison Rose Emmanuelle began working, as both a musician and dancer, with Carolyn Carlson's dance troupe. The mostly instrumental music on this LP (with lots of hurdy gurdy) was created to accompany performances, and is played Parrenin, Menny and a few others. The vibe is what most'd called prog-folk, almost in the same vein as Bert Jansch's Avocet or something, but this is weirder and more atmospheric. If not quite as masterfully guitarric, Pérélandra has an edge of avant quietude that slashes quite effectively. Both Parrenin LPs have nice inserts and are guaranteed to “wear” well. My only caveat is that Pérélandra seems to suffer from a noisy pressing.


No Man's Land (released in 2017)

Pays Noir (released in 2017)

When they cut the album for Jef Gilson's Un-Deux-Trois label in 1976, No Man's Land may well have been the first guitar/drum improv LP released in France. The performing format is — let's face it — a great one. The first recordings I can easily recall hearing in this format was the 1973 Daily Dance LP by Bob Thompson and Doug Snyder (Doug later went on to Sick Dick & the Volkwagens), but there are probably others. Certainly units such as Why You Murder Me (with Rudolph Grey and Von LMO) were playing gigs earlier than this, and it's inconceivable to me that the Euros weren't on to it as well. Regardless, No Man's Land is a dizzying spin through free-rock-informed improv at a very high level. The multi instrumentalism of Pauvros (still probably best known for his time in the amazing ensemble, Catalogue) has something to do with it. But the mass of weird chub he's able to squeeze out of his guitar is the main attraction here. The way under-documented drummer, Gaby Bizien, had come out of the Lille Jazz Action collective (who never recorded as a unit), and seems to have moved into the field of non-profit grants after a bit. But here, and on the few other records on which he appears (notably the Trans-Musques LP on Free Bird), Gaby's multi-directional trash-compacting is beautifully powerful. If Pauvros is the ham, Bizien is definitely the cheese. It's a hot session, and one that would push the boundaries for this particular duo format. Listening to No Man's Land today, it sounds utterly contemporary. The same is true for the three tracks on Pays Noir, which are something like previously unissued home recordings from the same era. The playing is a little less trans-dimensional on this one-sided LP, meaning it is perhaps more generally identifiable as jazz throughout, but it's still very free and very fucked (even during the two minute ballad that ends things). A solid afterword to a mammoth statement.


La Nuit Est au Courant: 30 Août 1989 Ivry sue Seine (released in 2017)

Jac Berrocal is a singular figure on the French underground scene, and all his records are great. La Nuit Est au Courant (“The Night Is Up to Date”) (his fifth album, originally released as a CD by In Situ in 1991) is as good a place to start as any. By this point, Berrocal was a well-known weirdo. From his crazy debut LP on Futura, through work with Catalogue and Nurse With Wound, Berrocal had become one of the era's best known avant trumpet players. One side was recorded live during a stand at Theatre de Sartrouville in France during May 1989, the other side is from scattered European dates over the following year. The quartet is comprised of Berrocal, jazz writer Francis Marmande on one bass, German bassist Hubertus Biermann on another, and the great Jacques Thollot (one of the rocks of the French avant scene, as well as the author of the massively-out Futura LP, Quand Le Son Devient Aigu, Jeter La Girafe À La Mer) on drums. Oddly, considering the idiosyncratic nature of this line-up, La Nuit is one of the most diligently jazzic of Berrocal's career. Playing exclusively trumpet, Jac's tone has an amplified bloody smear reminiscent of late '70s Miles (more than the Cherry-esque splat he sometimes favored), the bassists both dig in pretty hard, and Thollot's drumming is beautiful and balanced. There are certainly weird parts, but this is mostly post-free playing done at a very high level.

Lotsa nice stuff on Souffle Continu. Ignore it at your own very personal peril.