NWWL#7: Bir – Bra

“Strummed and struck! Slicing and gently sliding!”

A multinational mix this time: France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Japan. It also includes a release that is obscure even by NWWL standards…

Jean-Jacques Birgé, 1979 (from drame.org)

Birgé Gorgé Shiroc
Jean-Jacques Birgé and Francis Gorgé were both born in Paris in the early 50s. They became best known for their work with Un Drame Musical Instantané, which they formed in 1976 with fellow Parisian Bernard Vitet. Before this, they recorded one album as Birgé Gorgé Shiroc – Shiroc being a French percussionist (his full name seems to be a mystery) who had previously played in Jazz-prog fusion outfit Speed Limit, who released a couple of albums in 1974 and 1975.

Shiroc

The trio’s sole album was released in 1975 on Birgé’s own GRRR label. Défense De opens with ‘Crever‘, a brief, whirling mix of scampering guitar, sci-fi sequencer, random sound effects and skronky sax supplied by Antoine Duvernet of Urban Sax (see Gilbert Artman, post #5).

Défense De, back cover

Most of the of the album is taken up by two lengthy pieces, ‘La Bulle Opprimante’ and ‘Le Réveil’. Both take a similar approach to ‘Crever’, and are extended electronic-free-jazz improvisations that give more than a passing nod to Herbie Hancock’s early 70s work, although with a more fractured, avant-garde tone. ‘Le Réveil’ sounds like Gong and Tangerine Dream collaborating on the soundtrack of a mid-70s episode of Dr Who.

A 2003 reissue of the album included nearly six hours’ worth of out-takes and live recordings.

Un Drame Musical Instantané recorded prolifically from 1976 onwards. Since 2010, they have released over 140 hours of freely-downloadable music via their website. The most recent recording, Omni-Vermille, was released in April 2020.

 

 

Blue Sun

Blue Sun
Our travels take us to Denmark for the first time. Formed in 1969 in Copenhagen, Blue Sun were a jazz-rock group heavily influenced by free jazz, American blues and African music. Their debut album, Peace Be Unto You (1970) consisted of four lengthy pieces recorded live at Tagskægget, a jazz venue sited in an old chocolate factory in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.

Much of the album consists of loose, slow-building, swirling free-jazz improvisations such as ‘Aum’ and the title track. ‘Lyset’, composed by saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen, sees the group tip into full freak-out skronk mode.

‘John Henry’ is a bit of an outlier, a rattling, exhilarating piece of funky, sax/harmonica-driven blues based on the eponymous African American folk hero (a theme that has been explored by a wide range of artists including Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen).

Blue Son’s eponymous second album, studio-recorded and released in 1971, had one of the grooviest covers you’ll ever see.

Opening track ‘Working Man‘ follows the approach of ‘John Henry’, a joyfully exuberant ten-minute jazz-blues-funk shuffle. Most of the other songs are relatively concise: ‘Velkomst’ is a delicate piece of psychedelic pop; ‘Kære Irene’ is an intense slice of hectic, Doors-ish blues-rock; ‘På Fjeldet’ ventures into shrill folk; ‘Afro Blue’ is a piece of Latin-tinged jazz swing.

After 1971, the group split and reformed several times. They released It’s All Money Johnny in 1976, which is, sadly, even weaker than the title suggests, a clunky and ham-fisted attempt at radio-friendly funky blues rock featuring Jytte Pilloni on vocals. The low point is possibly ‘Afraid’, which makes ‘Deadringer For Love‘ feel like a masterclass in subtle understatement.

Information about ’73, which was released in 1992, is scarce. It would appear to be a collection of unreleased studio recordings. It’s certainly an improvement on Johnny, but is still a rather flat and uninspiring collection of straight jazz-rock tunes.

At some point (nobody seems to know when), a live album called Live 70 was released. Recorded in Aarhus and Copenhagen, it captures the group on good form, mixing slow, free-form jazz (‘Tokalash’) with lively work-outs such as ‘Suset’.

Blue Sun split permanently in 1981. Several members went on to play in Latin jazz / world music ensemble NADA, although if you can find any evidence of their work online then you’re a better man than I…

 

 

Brainstorm
Back to Germany. Brainstorm formed in Baden-Baden in the early 70s and were originally called Fashion Pricks and then Fashion Pink. Their debut album, Smile A While (1972) had an interesting cover…

Smile A While is Canterbury/Krautrock fusion with a dash of Zappa that’s dense and complex, but is underpinned throughout by a sense of humour . The title track is a lengthy, complicated prog-jazz suite, full of manic flute and sax; ‘You Are What’s Gonna Make It Last‘ is a more straightforward piece of funky psych-blues; ‘Bosco Biati Weib Alles’ is an exemplary freak-jazz-prog workout.

A 2009 reissue of the album included a handful of tracks recorded under the name Fashion Pink, including ‘Einzug Der Elefanten’, a lithe, flute-driven number that erupts into a frenetic ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ style finale.

Second Smile (1973) ploughs a similar furrow, albeit with a slightly folkier and more spacy tone. ‘There Was A Time…‘ ventures into free jazz territory; ‘Marilyn Monroe’ opens in a smooth-jazz style, bursts into urgent rock ‘n’ roll, settles into a loose, spoken-word jazz groove, then erupts into a joyfully complicated jazz-rock workout.

Last Smile, released in 2001, is a high-quality live recording from 1974. Bremen 1973, another live recording, was released in 2002. It includes an excellent 20-minute rendition of ‘Himwind’, a mad whirlwind of intense yet playful psych-prog.

 

 

 

Brainticket
Brainticket were founded by Belgian pianist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Vandroogenbroeck was a bit of a prodigy: classically trained, he soon turned to jazz and performed with the Quincy Jones Orchestra when he was only fifteen.

Joel Vandroogenbroeck

Inspired by krautrock acts such as Amon Düül II and Tangerine Dream, he recruited a multinational line-up (percussionist Wolfgang Paap and bassist Werner Frohlich were German; drummer Cosimo Lampis and keyboard player Hellmuth Kolbe were Swiss; guitarist Ron Bryer and vocalist Dawn Muir were British) that released their debut album, Cottonwoodhill, in 1971.

The album is a weird and wonderful barrage of hypnotic psychedelia. Thick, jazzy Hammond organ chords and choppy funk guitar lock onto extended grooves that are embellished by random sound effects and Muir’s ghostly, dispassionate vocals. It’s outstanding.

Brainticket’s second album, Psychonaut (also released in 1971) featured a radically different line-up, with only Vandroogenbroeck remaining. It is much more gentle and relaxed; Vandroogenbroeck’s flute is more prominent, and there’s a greater emphasis on folk and Eastern influences. Whilst opener ‘Radagacuca’ culminates in a freak-prog workout and ‘Watchin’ You’ is a heavy psych-rock shuffle, ‘One Morning’ is a delicate, fractured piece of ambient jazz-folk and ‘Feel The Wind Blow‘ is sparsely melodic. ‘Coc’o Mary’ marries the two approaches effectively, combining thunderous drums, bluesy organ and guitar and brittle percussion.

Celestial Ocean (1973) was a trippier affair, taking its inspiration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has an experimental, abstract tone, for example in ‘The Space Between’, which features layers of disjointed vocals, warped synth and rumbling percussion.

It would be another seven years before Brainticket released another album.

Adventure (1980) consists of two side-length pieces that attempt to merge Tangerine Dream-style sequencers with loose, meandering jazz. It doesn’t quite work somehow, feeling rather forced and awkward and tending towards new age blandness. Voyage (1982) follows a similar pattern, often sounding like an unholy alliance of Mike Oldfield and Jean-Michel Jarre.

Vandroogenbroeck resurrected the Brainticket name for the 2000 album Alchemic Universe, a rather tame and uneventful piece of cosmic trance. He spent the last thirty years of his life in Mexico, and died in December 2019.

Joel VDB gives a concert in the woods in the mile-high community where he lived in Jalisco.

 

 

Brast Burn
Despite their Germanic-sounding name, the last artist in this batch sees us add Japan to our list of destinations. There are several brief descriptions of the group available online, but what they all agree on is that nobody really knows anything about them.

Only one album was ever released under the Brast Burn name, Debon, and even then sources disagree about whether it came out in 1974 or 1975. The sleeve and label provide virtually no information. Progarchives suggest that the album was the work of one Michiro Sakurai, but if this is true, even Google doesn’t know who he is/was.

Debon front cover

The album consists of two side-long pieces, simply called ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ that, like the name, sound more German then Japanese. The closest reference points are Faust and Damo-era Can. The album, despite (or perhaps because of) its obscurity, has attracted more than its fair share of extravagant, enthusiastic and breathless description.

Rateyourmusic:

 ‘A mandala of jingling loops, multitracked and harmonized lamasery chants, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki-styled declamations, electronic glimmers, gongs, sacred bells, and fuzzed-out synthesizers. Brast Burn further plaits Debon with breathless flutes and recorders, subtle musique concrète embellishments, percussive shudders, and guitars, guitars, guitars – electric and acoustic! clean and lavishly effects-laden! strummed and struck! slicing and gently sliding!’

Dangerous Minds:

‘An intricate con catenation of cascading sleigh bells and hand drums, windswept Himalayan acid atmospherics, bottleneck acoustic-guitar twiddle and Damo Suzuki-like mantric babble. All of the above is held aloft by a synthesist with a terminal case of pitch wheel woozies and is strategically embellished with outbursts of tumbling bass drums, spiralling flutes and recorders, and some exquisitely hallucinogenic electric guitar. Coming on like an eternal cosmic caravan, the whole damn thing is soaked in a higher-key music of the spheres vibe.’

Unsurprisingly, Julian Cope is also a fan:

‘This virtually unknown free chant’n’ritual ensemble made one brilliant LP DEBON for Voice Records in 1974, before disappearing back whence they came. Often compared to Faust, they actually come across more like some Cajun inbreds at a cannibal sacrifice, the chanting exhibiting an apocalyptic bluesy quality somewhat akin to Exuma the Obeah Man, or Captain Beefheart circa STRICTLY PERSONAL and MIRROR MAN. Hand drums, sleigh bells, tambourines, blues harp, and many many vocals go into the sonic stew that makes the sound of Brast Burn.’

Several sources suggest that Alomoni 1985 by Karuna Khyal, released around the same time as Debon (on the same obscure Japanese label, Voice Records) was performed by the same set of musicians.

The Brast Burn and Karuna Khyal albums were both reissued on CD in 1998; original vinyl copies will set you back around £300 each.

NWWL Mix #07

Birge, Gorge, Shiroc – La Bulle Opprimante (excerpt) (Defense De, 1975)
Brainstorm – Zwick Zwick (Smile A While, 1972)
Brainticket – Brainticket Pt2 (excerpt) (Cottonwoodhill, 1971)
Blue Sun – John Henry (Peace Be Unto You, 1970)
Brast Burn – Debon Part 2 (excerpt) (Debon, 1974/5)

 

 

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