1. Supernova (8:28)
2. Rêves Prémonitoires (6:46)
3. D’Hêtre À Être (9:47)
4. Singes (8:31)
5. Le Bas Art de l’Épouvante (8:11)
6. Berceuse Moderne (7:06)
7. Renaissances (9:51)
Mathieu Torres – guitar
Tadzio Gottberg – drums
Stéphanie Artaud – piano
Maxime Jaslier – saxophone (2), bass guitar (6)
With a name taken from theoretical physics, which in English translates as “string theory” (particularly suited to a musical venture), French band La Théorie des Cordes started out as a trio in 2010. Their debut album, Premières Vibrations, released in 2011 on Musea Records, was recorded with a fourth musician, Maxime Jaslier, guesting on two tracks. In the summer of 2012, the band’s core members – guitarist Mathieu Torres and pianist Stéphanie Artaud – were joined by drummer Ophélie Luminati (who replaced original member Tadzio Gottberg), reedist/percussionist Julien Langlois and bassist George Storey, so that the trio has now become a quintet. In the meantime, La Théorie des Cordes have started recording their second album, titled Singes Electriques, and have also been busy on the live front. Their schedule for 2013 includes a slot at the prestigious Crescendo festival in the month of August.
La Théorie des Cordes call themselves “a creative family”, and theirs is a multifaceted concept, involving the use of elaborate stage costumes, the realization of videoclips, and a lavishly illustrated CD booklet in which a set of high-sounding “lyrics” explains each of the completely instrumental tracks. Indeed, Premières Vibrations comes across as a very ambitious project. In spite of their obvious youth, the band members are extremely accomplished, and their music – an elegant, deeply melodic form of jazz-rock with an appealingly warm Latin tinge, and occasional forays into edgier territory – relies on a rather idiosyncratic configuration that rules out the bass guitar (here only present in one out of seven tracks), and hinges on the scintillating interplay of Stéphanie Artaud’s piano and Mathieu Torres’ guitar.
Clocking in at around 58 minutes, and featuring 7 tracks with an average running time of 8 minutes, Premières Vibrations is not excessively long for today’s standards, and does not outstay its welcome. On the other hand, while the music is overall very pleasing to the ear, with a smooth, natural flow, it sometimes gives the same impression as those stories whose author likes to use a lot of words to express a relatively straightforward concept. The tracks all share a similar structure, alternating slower and faster sections in which guitar and piano take turns into the spotlight, with drums providing a dynamic and often inventive rhythmic accompaniment – sometimes resulting in a loose, almost rambling feel.
Opener “Supernova” aptly exemplifies the album’s general direction, introducing the instruments almost tentatively, and then gradually building up, with Mathieu Torres’ brilliant guitar neatly meshing with fluid piano. The Latin-flavoured “Rêves Premonitoires” is enhanced by the presence of Maxime Jaslier’s saxophone, which duets with the two main instruments adding depth of expression to the sound. At almost 10 minutes, the sedate, vaguely somber “D’Hêtre À Être”, is perhaps a tad overlong and somewhat monotonous, though picking up towards the end; while “Singes”, enhanced by electric piano and echoing effects that oddly reminded me of Pink Floyd, blends a haunting atmosphere with some harder-edged moments.
“Le Bas Art de l’Épouvante” marks a sharp change of mood, with its almost cinematic sweep and dramatic tempo shifts, pauses of respite followed by piercing guitar and cascading piano. As its title (“modern lullaby”) implies, the jazzy “Berceuse Moderne” is stately and soothing, with discreet drumming and bass adding some bottom end to the airy exertions of the guitar and piano. Finally, “Renaissance” pushes the heavier elements to the fore – especially those guitar riffs that had been lurking in the background in some of the previous tracks – evoking comparisons with King Crimson circa Thrak and The Power to Believe.
In spite of the misgivings previously expressed on some aspects of the composition, Premières Vibrations contains some fine music that is likely to please fans of classic jazz-rock, especially those who prize melody as well as technical skill. Thankfully the album is devoid of that deplorable tendency to show off that sometimes mars other releases in the same vein, though La Théorie des Cordes should keep a tighter rein on the compositional aspect. In any case, the album is a rewarding listen, and a promising debut from a group of excellent musicians.