‘They look like sonic scientists, ready to take music to its outer limits.’
I’m still rescuing the blog from the catastrophic mis-alphabetisation that I identified in post #8, but hopefully after this one we’ll be back on track.
The artists on the NWW List tend to fall into one of two categories: those with great longevity and expansive back catalogues, and those who had a brief burst of productivity (sometimes only a sole album) before either branching out into other avenues or fading into obscurity. The last post was heavy on the longevity / expansiveness end of things; this one has a bit more balance, featuring the lengthy careers of Philippe Besombes and Raymond Boni but also some artists whose moment in the sun (such as it was) was all too brief…
Born in 1946 in Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, Besombes was a post-graduate researcher in chemistry whose early experiments in electronic music were undertaken on equipment he borrowed from a neighbouring physics lab in the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. In 1972, he became the technical director of the La Rochelle Contemporary Music Festival, which led to him working with Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Ennio Morricone.
In 1974, he recorded a soundtrack for the movie Libra, which was released in 1975. Shot in 1973 by a group of French filmmakers called The Pattern Group, Libra was ‘a 90-minute film with no dialogue, depict[ing] the story of four youngsters living in communion with nature, an idyllic life that is drastically changed when a U.S. satellite crashes in the area’. Originally, they had used tracks from Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother for the soundtrack, but wanted some original music in order to be able to release the film officially. They were turned down by Jean-Michel Jarre, who instead recommended Bescombe, whom he had met in 1972.
Bescombe was tasked with creating music similar in approach to Pink Floyd, a brief which he fulfilled admirably. ‘Rugby’, for example deploys thunderous drumming reminiscent of ‘Astronomy Domine‘; the portentous, haunting organ chords of ‘Ceremonie‘ also have a distinctly Floydian tone. Libra is far more than a Pink Floyd tribute album, however. It’s bursting with sonic invention, an eclectic cocktail of tape-loops, meandering sitars, haunting drones and synth squiggles, with the occasional spot of psych-rock and free jazz thrown in for good measure.
‘La Plage‘ is a bleak, Tangerine Dream-esque soundscape overlaid with a disturbingly distraught wordless vocal; ‘Les Diapos‘ and ‘Avecandista‘ are ominous, atonal horror-soundtrack drones; ‘Jaune’ is an exhilarating blend of exuberant psychedelia and throbbing electronica.
As this Pitchfork review rightly identifies, the four (out of seventeen) tracks that weren’t written by Besombes are weaker and more derivative (‘Boogimmick’ is a rather bog-standard 12-bar blues, for example; ‘Hache 06’ is a somewhat obvious piece of spacey jazz-rock). Nonetheless, Libra is highly recommended collection of dazzlingly inventive and disparate tunes.
Also released in 1975, double LP Pôle was a collaboration between Besombes and Jean-Louis Rizet. A review of a 2015 reissue by the Quietus identifies how well the cover matches the LP’s contents:
‘Just one furtive glance at the evocative cover art for Pôle… and you can almost smell what it sounds like. Besombes and Rizet converge under the sepia-tinged psychedelia of the facade, one wooly-haired in rollneck sweater smoking a fag, the other bespectacled with pipe in chops, sporting fur trim, cravat and turquoise chemise. It’s a conducive meeting of minds, visages and tobacco choices in soft focus walnut brown, while in the distance, the pair wander through bucolic pastures, perhaps on the qui vive for champignons magiques. They look like sonic scientists, ready to take music to its outer limits.’
And that is exactly what the duo do. Pôle is fantastic, a sweeping, epic collection of undulating, oscillating and constantly intriguing pieces. Opener ‘Haute Pression‘ is eleven minutes of dreamy, hypnotic synth-psych-krautrock (underpinned by Jacky Vander Elstraete’s lithe but restrained drumming) that sounds like Gong and Tangerine Dream re-imagining the theme to Dr Who. ‘Armature Double‘, which, at 18 minutes, took up the entirety of side two, is an austere, reflective track, a curiously effective collision of mechanistic and pastoral elements. ‘Rock À Montauban‘ is just plain weird, a dislocated, lurching mix of choppy, guitar-driven pop, burbling synth and a chorus of disparately unhinged vocals.
Side four is taken up by the twenty-minute epic ‘Synthi Soit-Il’, a relentlessly driving, phased and flanged wig-out cosmic psych jam. A contributor to Julian Cope’s Head Heritage site provides a detailed appreciation of the album here.
In 1976, Besombes formed Hydravion (‘Seaplane’) with guitarist Cooky Rhinoceros (Serge Sordoillet) and bassist Christ Saint Roch. Their eponymous 1977 album is a pleasant enough but unremarkable lightweight synth-prog affair. Follow up Stratos Airlines (1979) featured quirky funk/electro-pop influences and has not aged well.
Ceci Est Celà (1979) was a collection of music Besombe created for ballet, stage, and theatrical performances, recorded between 1972-1979. It’s an odd mix. ‘Geant’ is a curiously overblown combination of Jarre-esque synth and Western soundtrack; ‘Seul’ is an abstract, fractured meander; ‘Princess Lolita’ is a frankly disturbing j-Pop/funk hybrid; ‘Pawa 1‘ throws together what sounds like a random assortment of studio out-takes to create a ragged, disjointed cacophony. The highlight is the expansive title track, a pulsating mix of swirling synth, mutant jazz-funk, ethereal vocals and full-on space-rock freak-out.
La Guerre Des Animaux (“Animal’s War”), released in 1982, is a collection of brisk but bland synth-rock tunes. In the 80s and 90s, Besombes concentrated on studio management. In the early 00s (and I’m not making this up) he focused on making albums for babies, such as Bébé Noël and Bébé Nature.
Another Frenchman, Boni was born in 1947 in Toulon. He first studied the piano, and then moved to the harmonica, but is best known as an improvising guitarist. His first release was L’oiseau L’arbre Le Béton (‘The Bird, The Tree, The Concrete’) in 1971.
A collection of three lengthy, fidgety guitar improvisations (such as the side-long ‘L’oiseau L’Arbre‘), it’s only moderately engaging. Boni’s guitar work is often fluid and imaginative, but not always sufficiently so to carry the considerable length of the pieces on its own.
Rêve En Couleurs (1976) takes a similar approach, although the sound is more layered and less stark. ‘Chanson Pour Indio’, for example, features a range of scratchy, brittle effects that underpin the main, meandering guitar part. There’s also more variety: ‘Les Clowns’ almost entirely abandons traditional guitar soloing in favour of abrasive, abstract experimentation; ‘Tu Viens Bastien’ is a concise flourish of romantic classicism. The 20-minute title track starts out in a similar vein to ‘Tu Viens Bastien’ before dissolving into waves of fractured reverberation.
Also released in 1976, Nommo – Dans Le Caprice Amer Des Sables saw Boni collaborate with saxophonist André Jaume and percussionist Gérard Siracusa. Comprised of two 23-minute improvisations, it’s a free-jazz workout that never stays with one tempo or mood for more than a couple of minutes. There are several affecting passages – 18 minutes into ‘Avant Propos De L’Écrevisse À Reculons, À Reculons’, for example, there’s a nicely measured piece of thoughtful interplay between bluesy sax, randomly recurring snare rolls and spidery guitar – but overall it feels like it falls between two stools. It needs either some underlying theme(s) to bring coherence or a bit more of an explosively improvisational spark. It’s still worth a listen though.
Boni recorded Pot-Pourri Pour Parce Que (1978) with saxophonist Claude Bernard. Like its predecessor, it’s made up of lengthy improvisations, but it’s far more satisfactory. Although it’s just as disparate and random as Nommo, it all hangs together much more coherently. Despite the fact that there are only two musicians this time, there’s somehow a fuller, more fleshed-out sound, and it sounds genuinely, joyfully and fluidly inventive as opposed to the slightly forced feel of the previous LP.
1981 was a busy year for Boni, one in which he appeared on four different collaborative albums with the likes of André Jaume, English saxophonist Lol Coxhill and Joe McPhee. Chantenay 80 is a live recording from the Chantenay-Villedieu Jazz Festival, featuring Coxhill and Dutch violinist Maurice Horsthuis. The extended, skittering improvisations are not an easy listen: there’s a thin, bleak astringency about them, and whilst the three musicians often head off on interesting tangents, there are only brief passages where there seems to be much communication or understanding between them.
Tales And Prophecies was a double album recorded with Jaume and McPhee. It takes a similar approach to Chantenay, but the first half is even thinner and bleaker; some passages dissolve into little more than brief snatches of shrill squeaks and ghostly rattles. Boni only appears on the second half of the LP, which has more warmth about it. The title track and ‘Song For The Gypsy’ both include some gentle, understated interplay between sax, trombone and guitar, although they occasional break out into bursts of aggressively atonal free jazz.
L’Homme Étoilé was released in 1983. I haven’t been able to track it down anywhere, so all I can tell you is that it is comprised of eleven solo guitar pieces recorded live in May 1981 at Musée d’Angouléme. In 1985, he again collaborated with André Jaume, this time on a tribute album to Django Reinhardt. Pour Django is considerably more accessible than much of Boni’s previous material, featuring nine (relatively concise) smokey, laid-back jazz meanders. The CD version concludes with a lovely reading of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’.
It’s an entertainingly bizarre and random mix, taking in wry, flamenco-tinged café-bar jazz (‘Art Moderna Cha Cha Cha’), warped scat abstraction (‘Niglou’), aggressive, trebly shout-punk (‘Coco Hache Le Show’), ominous dark ambience (‘Il Signore Fregoli’, ‘Paysage En Or’) and inebriated psychedelia (‘It’s Romantique’). Definitely worth a listen.
Boni has continued to be prolific, releasing over 30 albums since the mid-80s, including collaborations with a wide range of jazz artists. I can’t hope to cover them all fully, so the remainder of this section is no more than a sample.
Songs And Dances (1987) was recorded at the Le Mans Europa Jazz Festival, and saw Boni playing once again with André Jaume and Joë McPhee. It opens with a wonderfully odd cosmic jam take on ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’. Ornette Coleman’s ‘Blues Connotation‘ gets a similarly Gong/Hawkwind-jazz treatment; Boni’s own ‘L’Homme Etoile’ is delicately nuanced, Jaume’s sax soaring elegantly over Boni’s frantic chords; Benny Goodman’s ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy‘ is fed acid and magic mushrooms and left in the woods to babble to itself.
Boni recorded 2005’s Next To You with McPhee, saxophonist Daunik Lazro and double bass player Claude Tchamitchian. It’s rather shrill and frantic, and often feels like like the musicians are focused on competition rather than collaboration. The highlight is the concise, brittle drone of ‘Softitude’.
Joe McPhee appeared once again with Boni on The Paris Concert (2016) – this time accompanied by Jean Marc Foussat on synth – which was recorded in May 2015 in a 5th floor Paris apartment. Foussat adds an interestingly cosmic tone in places, and at times there’s a rewarding collision between measured sax, frantic guitar and burbling synth. In general, there’s an instinctive understanding between the musicians, although they drift away from each other occasionally to plough their own furrow.
Soft Eyes (also released in 2016) featured French percussionist Didier Lasserre, who was only three when Boni recorded Libra. Boni’s familiar style – frantically strummed flamenco-ish chords that veer in and out of frenetic runs up and down the fret board, interwoven with hesitant, delicate solos – is well matched by Lasserre’s sparse, austere percussion. Boni also contributes harmonica, for example on the hauntingly barren ‘And Mysteries‘; ‘Soubresauts‘ sees the duo dip into dark ambient territory. In addition, they pull off an imaginative and surprisingly tender cover of ‘Nature Boy’, made famous by Nat King Cole.
Boni’s latest releases include 2017’s Improvisations: 8 Pièces Pour Guitares et Percussions, a collaboration with French percussionist Gilles Dalbis (there are 30-second samples of the tracks here) and Visions Of Sound (2018), about which I can tell you no more than it was recorded with guitarist Jean Claude (JC) Jones.
There are several artists on the List whose recording careers are the epitome of obscurity and mystery, but few more so than this one.
Don Bradshaw-Leather released only one album, Distance Between Us, in 1972. The cover and label contain virtually no information. To add to the confusion, as can be seen above, the front cover actually credits the album to Don Bradsham-Leather. It’s also not clear whether the demented-looking, demonic black-faced character (who also appears in several disturbing photos on the inner sleeve) is Don himself. Moreover, nobody seemed to know who DBL actually was. It has been rumoured that he was a member of Barclay-James Harvest or that he was a pseudonym of Robert John Godfrey of 70s prog outfit The Enid.
Some information was eventually provided by his sister, according this blog post from 2011 (although the link to the blog where her email was allegedly posted is now dead). She said:
‘Don Bradshaw-Leather was born in 1948 and raised within a respectable Jewish family – he grew with and into music more by genetic destiny than environmental consequence. He became a classically trained musician of the highest level… [He] approached a major record label (CBS) circa 1970 with basic recordings of his own playing and was awarded the financial means to develop an album – at this point he was staying in Essex (his hometown) but soon used the funds to create a large studio in Sussex with many instruments including an actual church organ. Here, on his own without the use of any electronic sequencing equipment he recorded “Distance Between Us” using simple multi-track tape by layering each part of the composition to form the completed piece.’
If it is true that some forward-thinking A&R man at CBS saw fit to give Bradshaw-Leather a substantial advance, then it seems likely that the label would have quickly developed cold feet upon hearing the recordings. In the end, it was released on the Distance label, which appears to be have been set up solely for the purpose of releasing Distance Between Us. It’s not clear exactly how many were pressed, but a mint copy of the album will set you back around £500 these days.
The album comprises four tracks of around twenty minutes each, which this review describes accurately as ‘dense, swirling, and hellish tapestries of blurred instrumentation, squawking voices buried in the mix, and seemingly no layout of progression from point A to point B in various movements (i.e. it’s all a giant progression, but almost like a dog chasing its tail in a mad frenzy).’ Another sees it as a ‘peyote-induced Gothic fever dream’.
It’s a uniquely unhinged epic, a delusional masterpiece of warped grandiosity, and one of my favourite albums from the list so far.
Brave New World
A short-lived krautrock outfit from Hamburg made up of Reinhart Firchow, Lucas Lindholm, Dicky Tarrach, Herb Geller and Esther Daniels and Irishman John O’Brien-Docker. Their only release was 1972’s Impressions On Reading Aldous Huxley. It’s another rare one: a copy of the original vinyl will set you back around £350.
Inspired by Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel, Impressions is a hazy, summery blend of krautrock, jazz, blues and folk. ‘Soma’ (named after the ‘happiness drug’ in the novel) is a delicious, gently dizzying psychedelic-folk whirl.
‘Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon…Ford’ and ‘Lenina‘ are similarly woozy psychedelic pieces, both featuring prominent flute work from Firchow and Geller. The centrepiece of the LP is the seventeen-minute epic ‘The End’, a complex, extravagant yet understated pastoral electronic jazz-prog symphony.
I love this album for its beautifully considered elegance and ingenuity; like Distance Between Us, it’s a particular favourite.
‘Brühwarm’ – which means ‘red hot’ (hot as in ‘hot off the press’) – were a German theatre group who teamed up with political krautrock band Ton Steine Scherben for two albums in the late 70s, Mannstoll (1977) and Entartet! (1979). (Ton Steine Scherben were also included on the List, so more on them later.)
Both LPs were apparently concept albums about homosexuality (‘Mannstoll’ translates as ‘man mad’; ‘Entartet’ as ‘degenerate’) although my lack of German prevents me from making any comment about the lyrical content. Musically, it’s hard to pin down, but it’s probably best described as cabaret-krautrock.
Both albums make for an interesting enough listen, but the lyrics are clearly the main focus, and if you don’t speak German then it’s hard not to feel that you’re missing the point.
NWWL Mix #09
I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does.
Philippe Besombes / Jean-Louis Rizet – Haute Pression (Pôle, 1975)
Brühwarm Theater & Ton Steine Scherben – Fummelrock (Mannstoll, 1977)
Boni / Eastley / Day – Visions Fugitives (Les Mistrals, 1986)
Brave New World – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon… Ford (Impressions On Reading Aldous Huxley, 1972)
Don Bradshaw-Leather – Dance of the Goblins (edit) (Distance Between Us, 1972)