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Posts Tagged ‘Camembert’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Infinicheese (1:35)
2. Clacos Zero (0:35)
3.Untung Untungan 2.0 (11:13)
4. Clacos 1 : Notre Mère à Tous (1:58)
5. El Ruotuav Ed Sram (8:16)
6. Clacos 2 : Die Experimente von Dr Frankenschnörgl (0:48)
7. Le Meurtrier Volant (9:01)
8. La Danse du Chameau:
a) Batifolade  (5:29)
b) Soif! (1:17)
c) La Tempête De Sable (4:51)
d) Rêveries Lubriques Sous une Dune (1:09)
e) The Final Run  (5:01)

LINEUP:
Fabrice Toussaint – tenor trombone, xybraphone, congas, tam-tam, triangle, other percussionBernard Eber – trumpet, didgeridoo, cowbell, whistle, voices
Pierre Wawrzyniak – bass, acoustic guitar, voices
Philémon Walter – drums
Guillaume Gravelin – harp
Vincent Sexauer – electric guitar

 With:
Julien Travelletti – bass trombone (3, 5, 7, 8), tuba (7)
Francesco Zago – electric guitar (3)

When coming across a French band named Camembert, and an album title featuring the word “Attahk”, most progressive rock fans will inevitably think of two illustrious outfits such as Magma and Gong – both of whom have also ties with France. Add to that a rather left-field story about the Earth being invaded by small, gelatin-like beings from outer space called Schnörgl, led by a mad scientist researching weapons of mass destruction, and involving a giant spaceship made of intergalactic cheese – and the resemblance will steadily grow, so that a first-time listener might wonder if they are being confronted with the new frontier of “retro-prog”. However, there is very little “retro-anything” about Camembert, whose thoroughly modern brand of jazz-rock proudly sports that strongly absurdist streak that is one of the distinctive traits of French prog.

Camembert are a six-piece hailing from the city of Strasbourg in north-eastern France, where they formed in 2005.  Schnörgl Attahk, their first full-length CD, which marks the beginning of the band’s collaboration with Milan-based label AltrOck Productions, was preceded in 2009 by the release of the 6-track EP Clacosmique. Most of the material that had originally appeared on the EP has been included on the album, though in almost completely rearranged form. Camembert members Fabrice Toussaint and Pierre Wawrzyniak had also appeared on another noteworthy 2011 release, Ske’s 1000 Autunni – and Ske mainman Paolo Botta (who also plays keyboards with Yugen, and is a gifted graphic artist) returned the favour by providing suitably wacky artwork for Camembert’s debut.

As previously hinted, Schnörgl Attahk manages the remarkable feat of combining an amazing level of complexity with an upbeat, ebullient mood that will provide the perfect antidote to the excess of earnestness of far too much prog. The outrageous tale of Dr Frankenschnörgl and his dastardly plans for a global takeover is told through the artwork and detailed liner notes, as the album is completely instrumental. On the other hand, while no actual singing is involved, the music suggests the events in strikingly effective manner, appealing to the listener’s powers of imagination.

Like the best examples of progressive rock (modern or otherwise), Schnörgl Attahk is a quintessentially eclectic effort. The band’s handling of their main sources of inspiration eschews derivativeness, moving rather along the lines of incorporating those sources into the fabric of their own original sound – whose foundation is a sinuously intricate brand of jazz-rock with roots in Frank Zappa’s output circa Apostrophe, as well as Shamal/Gazeuse!-era Gong (incidentally, both Pierre Moerlen and Mireille Bauer were originally from the Strasbourg area – perhaps something in the water?). However, the many pieces of Camembert’s musical mosaic are extremely variegated, supported by a very distinctive instrumentation that rules out keyboards, but hinges primarily on an unusual combination of horns, mallet percussion and harp. The gentle, liquid voice of the latter, blending harmoniously with the rippling tinkle of Fabrice Toussaint’s xybraphone and the warm, organic sound of various percussion instruments, gives Camembert’s sound a unique imprint.

While the two short, consecutive openers, “Infinicheese” and “Clacos Zero”, set the scene in textbook-spacey fashion, with swishing electronics and occasional guitar touches, the 11-minute “Untung Untungan 2.0” makes a bold entrance with its lively avant-fusion allure, then unfolds in a myriad of dazzling twists and turns, to which Francesco Zago’s guitar lends some extra bite. The easy, natural flow of the music, whose melodic flair almost belies its inherent complexity, brings to mind Canterbury acts like Hatfield and the North, and the energetic presence of the horns, coupled with Pierre Wawrzyniak’s solid bass lines, lend a funky swagger to tracks like “El Ruotuav ed Sram” (“Le Vautour de Mars” spelled backwards). Shades of Magma and Univers Zéro lurk in the imperious, martial pace of  the intense “Le Meurtrier Volant”, while in the 5-part suite, “La Danse du Chameau”, sprightly Latin-tinged rhythms in the style of early Santana, weird voices and dense, faintly dissonant passages coexist, held together by the lush yet unconventional instrumentation.

An exciting slice of sparkling eclecticism, combining melody, complexity and zany humour in an irresistible mixture, Schnörgl Attahk is almost mandatory listening for fans of modern jazz-rock and RIO/Avant prog, and will particularly appeal to fans of genre-straddling bands such as Frogg Café, miRthkon or Miriodor, as well as newer outfits like Calomito or Slivovitz. With all-round outstanding performances, excellent production values (courtesy of Udi Koomran and Eric Gauthier-Lafaye), and a genuinely positive attitude that will put a smile on your face (as well as a very restrained running time, which allows the music to be absorbed without weariness setting in), Schnörgl Attahk  proves that it is fully possible to pay homage to the trailblazers of the past without turning into a nostalgia act.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/camembert67

http://production.altrock.it/home.asp?lang=ita_&id=9&id2=9

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Even though it comes slightly late in comparison to other blogs and websites, this retrospective of the past year has been in the pipeline for a while. It is a first time for me, though obviously I have participated in quite a few surveys of this kind in my time as a collaborator of various music sites. However, the year 2011 has been uncommonly rich in excellent releases covering the whole of the progressive rock spectrum – similar in this to 2009 rather than the somewhat lackluster 2010.

My activity as a reviewer has also reached an unprecedented level in the past 12 months, and this (as well as other factors) have allowed me to listen to a wider range and number of new albums than in previous years – though not all of the albums I will be mentioning in the following paragraphs have been the object of a review. I have also been actively involved on the prog scene, attending festivals and gigs and keeping up a steady network of contacts with artists, label owners and fellow reviewers and fans. As the end-of-year statistics point out, the total number of views received by this blog in 2011 exceeded any of the expectations I had at the start of this venture, one and a half years ago.

Obviously, I cannot claim to have heard each and every prog (and related) album released in 2011, and quite of few of the big-name releases of the past year will be conspicuously absent from this overview. I will also refrain from using the usual list format, let alone a “Top 10/20/100” one, in spite of its undeniable popularity with music fans. While I am sure that everyone will be very curious to learn about my # 1 album of 2011,  this curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied, because I hardly ever think in terms of “absolute favourites”, and would be hard put to name my favourite band or artist (or literary author, for that matter). Although most “year in review” pieces do contain a measure of narcissism, the main aim of this post is to stimulate people’s curiosity, as well as debate, rather than turning it into a pointless competition of the “my list is better than yours” sort. We are all adult enough to be aware of the mostly subjective nature of lists, overviews, retrospectives and the like, and hopefully no one here is out to change other people’s minds.

In 2011, the prog “revival” reached unparalleled proportions, bolstered by the many opportunities offered by the Internet. In spite of the loud cries of woe about a supposed “death of the CD”, the number of acts that keep releasing their material in physical format is still quite high, and many of them still choose to put extra care in the artwork and liner notes, with often remarkable results. While the oversaturation of what remains very much a niche market cannot be denied, it is also true that high-quality productions are far from scarce, and the advent of legal streaming sites like the excellent Progstreaming has made it possible for everyone to sample an album before taking the plunge. Unfortunately, the wealth of music available either in digital or physical form does not correspond to higher availability of performing opportunities for those acts who still believe in the power of live performances. The shocking announcement of NEARfest 2011’s cancellation, at the end of March, rocked the prog fandom for months, and even the subsequent announcement of NEARfest Apocalypse for June 2012 did not allay many people’s fears concerning the dwindling range of gigging opportunities, especially here in the US (Europe, in spite of the economic crisis, seems to be doing much better in this respect). The prog community is also splintering in a way that, coupled with a worryingly nostalgic attitude and increasing reluctance to leave one’s own comfort zone, might spell disaster for the future.

2011 marked not only the return of a number of high-profile acts, but also some outstanding recording debuts. If I was forced at gunpoint to choose a favourite, this award would probably go to Texas-based trio Herd of Instinct’s self-titled debut, the first album released on Firepool Records, legendary Californian band Djam Karet’s own label. An almost entirely instrumental effort with the exception of one (gorgeous) song, the Herd’s debut shares this format with another of the year’s milestones, Accordo dei Contrari’s Kublai (whose only song features the incomparable vocals of Canterbury legend Richard Sinclair). These two albums, as well as Marbin’s classy Breaking the Cycle and Dialeto’s intriguing Chromatic Freedom, illustrate how the song form can be reinvented in such a way as not to disrupt the flow of the music, incorporating the vocals into a fabric that hinges on complex instrumental interplay.

In the realm of the purely instrumental releases, top marks go to Gösta Berlings Saga’s stunning third album, Glue Works (“Island” alone is worth the price of admission), alongside a trio of AltrOck Productions releases – Ske’s elegant 1000 Autunni (the first solo project by Yugen keyboardist Paolo Botta), Calomito’s intense Cane di Schiena and Camembert’s ebullient Schnörgl Attack – and a couple of outstanding offers from the ever-reliable MoonJune Records, the world-jazz of Slivovitz’s Bani Ahead and the superb testimony of Moraine’s NEARfest 2010 set, Metamorphic Rock. Lovers of creative percussion will surely enjoy Knitting By Twilight’s enchanting Weathering (and possibly check out the Providence collective’s previous releases); while Lunatic Soul’s Impressions (the third solo album by Riverside’s Mariusz Duda) will satisfy those addicted to haunting, ethnic-tinged soundscapes. On a more traditional note, Derek Sherinian’s Oceana presents a solid example of guitar- and keyboard-based progressive fusion, which spotlights ensemble playing rather than individual displays of technical fireworks.

The 2011 releases that feature vocals as an essential part run the gamut from experimental to melody- and song-oriented. Big Block 454’s quirky Bells and Proclamations, and another couple of AltrOck releases – The Nerve Institute’s multifaceted Architect of Flesh-Density, and Dave Willey and Friends’ moving homage to Willey’s father, the beautiful Immeasurable Currents (review forthcoming) – are outstanding instances of the first category. More in a jazz than a rock vein, Boris Savoldelli’s Biocosmopolitan showcases the Italian artist’s superlative vocal technique, all the while offering music that is eminently listenable and upbeat. The ultra-eclectic Zappa homage that is Electric Sorcery’s Believe in Your Own Best Friend throws a lot of diverse influences into its heady mix of outrageous storyline and constantly challenging music. On the other hand, Man On Fire’s Chrysalis is a blueprint for modern “crossover prog”, seamlessly blending the accessibility of Eighties-style quality pop with some seriously intricate instrumental work; while fellow 10T Records band Mars Hollow make a true quantum leap with their second album, World in Front of Me, which follows in the footsteps of early Yes in terms of successfully marrying gorgeous pop melodies with instrumental flights of fancy. However, the crown for 2011 in the realm of “mainstream” progressive rock goes to Phideaux’s magnificent Snowtorch, an incredibly dense concentrate of haunting vocals, memorable tunes and thought-provoking lyrical content.

Some landmark albums released during the past year are at least tangentially related to progressive rock. In all probability, my personal award of most played album of the year should go to Black Country Communion’s 2, a more mature, well-rounded effort than its barnstorming predecessor. Thanks to the Glenn Hughes-led quartet, classic hard rock is undergoing a renaissance, with a recognizable yet subtly updated sound. BCC guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s latest opus, Dust Bowl, while not revolutionary in any sense, features scintillating guitar and soulful vocals in its modern treatment of time-honoured blues modes. In a completely different vein, Kate Bush’s ninth studio album (not counting the rather controversial Director’s Cut, released a few months earlier), 50 Words for Snow, shows an artist that still possesses the ability and the power to surprise her followers. English contemporary classical ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra’s I A Moon (one of the year’s biggest discoveries for me, thanks to a friend’s recommendation) offer a mesmerizing blend of Old-World folk, avant-garde and academic chamber music that is, in many ways, much more progressive than the slew of cookie-cutter acts so revered in prog circles.

Some other albums, while not quite making the cut, have attracted enough of my interest, and are very much worth checking out: AltrOck releases Sanhedrin’s Ever After, Abrete Gandul’s Enjambre Sismico, Humble Grumble’s Flanders Fields, Factor Burzaco’s II and October EquusSaturnal, Ozric TentaclesPaper Monkeys, CopernicusCipher and Decipher, and From.uz’s Quartus Artifactus; for the more conservatively-minded listeners, The AnabasisBack From Being Gone, La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut, and TCP’s Fantastic Dreamer also deserve a mention. There have also been a number of albums that, even though heard superficially, and mainly in the final weeks of the year, have left enough of an impression to make me want to write about them at some point – chief among those, Discipline’s To Shatter All Accord.

As I anticipated at the opening of this essay, my readers will be sure to notice some glaring omissions from this overview. The most noticeable ones  are probably Jakszyk Fripp CollinsA Scarcity of Miracles and Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning – undoubtedly two of the most highly rated releases of the year. Unfortunately, in spite of repeated listens, neither album has yet clicked with me, even if I clearly perceive their very high standard of quality. Though I hesitate to use the term “disappointment”, The DecemberistsThe King Is Dead did not resonate with me in the same way as its predecessors; its songs, however, acquired a new dimension when performed live.

Some other high-profile 2011 releases have failed to register on my personal meter. Such is the case of Opeth’s Heritage, Karmakanic’s In a Perfect World, and White Willow’s Terminal Twilight – all excellent albums, but lacking in that undefinable “something” that would kindle my enthusiasm. Others (such as Wobbler’s acclaimed Rites at Dawn or Glass Hammer’s Cor Cordium), though in no way displeasing to the ear, are too staunchly, unabashedly retro to truly impress,. As to YesFly from Here (possibly the year’s most eagerly awaited release), I am not ashamed to admit that I have refused to listen to it – even though I own most of the band’s back catalogue, and their earlier albums get regular spins in my player. With up-and-coming acts struggling to get their music across, I believe that spending too much time on the interpersonal dynamics of a band that do not particularly need to be supported is quite detrimental to the scene as a whole.

Some other albums that have been very positively received (at least by part of the fandom) have escaped my attention completely, in some cases for lack of interest (Dream Theater’s A Dramatic Turn of Events), or simply for lack of listening opportunities (Agents of Mercy’s The Black Forest, Mastodon’s The Hunter, Van Der Graaf Generator’s A Grounding in Numbers, The Tangent’s COMM, among others). Hopefully I will manage to hear at least some of those discs in the near future, and possibly write reviews of them. With the overwhelming quantity of music released in the past year, the very concrete danger of getting burned out (and therefore becoming unable to appreciate anything at all) is always lurking around the corner.

2011 has also been an outstanding year for concerts, as witnessed by the live reviews I have published in these pages. Besides seeing my beloved Blue Oyster Cult not once but twice (after a 25-year wait), I was treated to an outstanding edition of ProgDay, a stunning “goodbye” performance by Phideaux at the Orion Studios, the electrifying Two of a Perfect Trio tour, and the highly successful one-off CuneiFest (to name but a few). While the NEARfest cancellation cast a pall on the prog scene for some time, bands and artists are still doing their best to bring their music on stage for the benefits of those fans who still love to attend live shows.

Unlike other sites, I will refrain from mentioning “prog personalities”, or awarding any other such dubious prizes. As I previously stated, the whole point of this piece is to encourage people to delve into the abundant musical output of the past year, especially in regard to those lesser-known acts that deserve more exposure. With a few highly-awaited releases already in the pipeline for the coming months, it remains to be seen if 2012 will be able to keep up with its predecessor. On behalf of the survival of non-mainstream music, we all hope this will be the case.

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