HELLEBORE: “Il y a des jours” *****

Recorded 1983-84

 

 

Hellebore were initially a quartet of Jean Caël (bass), Antoine Gindt (guitar), Daniel Koskowitz (drums) and Denis Tagu (keyboards).  Initially equipped with Rhodes piano, the band expanded the sound considerably by co-opting Alain Casari on saxophones and clarinet and purchasing a popular crumar synthesizer.  This is the line-up on their only LP, decorated with art work prepared by Colorado’s Mnemonists/Biota.

 

By the early 1980s, these young French musicians were among the most talented epigones of Rock in Opposition style.  Certainly, they were too young to compete with the British luminaries of the movement.  And yet, the ex-post criticism of their output, often meted out by some of the members themselves, was probably a mite too harsh.  Even today, three decades after Henry Cow’s demise, the musical world is still receiving the dividends from that artistic investment.  There was clearly nothing wrong with this 25 years ago.

 

Soon after Hellebore folded, Jean Caël launched Szentendre, a short-lived band guided by similar searchlights.  Koskowitz and Tagu initially joined, but soon left.  Four musicians of the quintet also appeared on Look de Bouk’s first LP.  Koskowitz soon rejoined Gindt and Casari in Neo Museum – a logical continuation of Hellebore, if a little more saxophone-fronted.  But that incarnation did not last either.  Koskowitz disavowed the entire scene and made a radical stylistic move towards more pugnacious forms of modern French rock, most prominently with Soixante étages.  Denis Tagu and Jean Caël have continued to charm old and new audiences in the surviving DIY projects Toupidek and Look de Bouk. 

 

 

Introduction végétarienne

“There are those days, there are such hours”, proclaims a Reichian voice loop.  Rather than cutting up formants, Hellebore allows the entire phrases to be reproduced, and repeated.  And so, we learn about “the weight of responsibility” and the concerns regarding the financial future.  Still, “vegetarian” it is not.  The tape material is prodded by an emulsion of drums, assorted noise and vinyl crackle.  Slowly harmonic hints are being diffused by Denis Tagu’s electric organ, stiff cowbells, a Cartesian rhythm box, triste piano and leaden-footed electro-beat.  Against this pile-up of orchestration, the melody had to come in higher notes, and come it does, in the form of Antoine Gindt’s surf guitar.  He marinates the emergent theme with delicate, broadly optimistic gestures.  It all happens with a velocity of tired hoofs, allowing Alain Casari’s clarinet to entwine within the constraints of the inelastic tempo and densifying texture, rather than ad libitum.  Jingling cowbells free their partials, carried with non-descript electrified veneer.  A variation on this theme is then performed on piano, clarinet and organ.  Unimpressed, Daniel Koskowitz’s cymbals announce a new movement for a solo guitar, punctured by the axle of a piano playing exactly the same notes.  The effect is warm, and softening, which could be surprising given the difference in prefix characteristics between these two instruments.  The 25-note theme returns with avuncular clarinet.  It is up to the pianist to bring it all down to the stop line. 

 

Tetraktys

Two, lengthy ‘harmonium’ tones are quickly tamed by the cymbals and a guitar introducing another slo-mo, lazy, numbing theme borrowed from late summer.  Jean Caël’s bass is unobtrusive in its solidifying role.  When it speeds up, alto saxophone alternates with (almost forgotten) crumar synthesizer.  An electronic drapery lunges forward in short chunks, allowing the drummer to lose the metronomic precision of the opening.  Stylistically, Casari’s sax merely shadows the synthi-led staccato, even after an obligatory change of time signature.  The harmonic agreement between the saxophone and the keyboard is finally broken by prominence-reordering whispers and dry skin drumming from Koskowitz.  The final subsection is aperiodic, with a clean resolution from the synthesizer, bass and clangorous cymbals. 

 

Artefact

A bleak, plaintive intro temporizes through the plasticity of bass-organ-saxophone triad.  The eventual conflagration is sparked by the drums, a capriciously low-tuned guitar and a sandblasting alto sax.  The band zigzags through multi-guitar progressions and saxophone-led interrogations.  But this trendline soon collapses, giving way to keyboard-led blanket morosity.  It is here that an in-your-face box rattling hijacks the spotlight from the predictably a-metric drumming, lumbering bass and a mid-flight saxophone line.  Denis Tagu accelerates on his piano, faithfully traced by Gindt’s guitar mutualism. 

 

Film di Ripratoria

Fast, if commonsensical saxophone melody interrelates here with a fatalistically joyful guitar.  By comparison, satirical piano arpeggios sound as if collected from another dimension.  When heraldical drums and cymbals join in, the band can no longer fend off the accusation of Henry Cow fanaticism.  A jangly guitar gains prominence over the academically pointillist band, destabilized by arbitrary repression from saxophone blow-outs.  This is almost as good as the Muffins’ take on the British original.  Clapping, skitter, dilapidated drumming, intrusions into piano’s underbelly…  Strings are hammered, powders shaken, hands clapped, surfaces scraped until the guitar and saxophone return with a neutral variant of the opening head. 

 

Warme Wasser mit Grass

Drum and bass drive in, seemingly with little idea where the theme would lead them.  When Caël’s bass and an entire balustrade of glassy and metallic flickering finally embark on a rhythmic journey, a This Heat-type hairpin takes them down the slope through a blackened, well-oiled connubium of guitar and drums.  At each life-saving turn, a fair amount of repetition resurfaces.  The guitar meows on its own account.  Then it gets dirty, cocky, squawky, occasionally punctured by the reeds.  A drum salvo will close this rockiest of Hellebore’s cuts.

 

Umanak – Marquis de Saint Circq

Despite Koskowitz’s intelligent space drum presence, this is little more than a smoky piano solo, a lyrical nocturne, a contemplative poem.  A smiling guitar line looks on, a box ticks with soldierly regularity, and Casari’s clarinet knits its windy napkins with inscriptions from 1001 nights.  The structure tends to shift – piano and bass exchange their respective roles with the guitar.  But then a drastic wake-up call clarions: a mountain howl from the Northern Carpathians, powered by an organ squeak.  This apparent tribute to Plastic People of the Universe acts like a shock therapy to overconfident listeners.  The chunks of organ scatter around, oblivious to the saxophone and crumar in overdrive.  Only Caël’s bass still retains the ominous beat calqued from the Jan Hus’ worshippers.  The saxophone, synthesizer and multiplex percussion drizzle off till the very end.

 

Debout

Anachronistic electro-beat and acoustic piano slowly lurk out to witness perky hiking hum.  A romantic juxtaposition of piano and clarinet injects a static ornament.  A keyboard duo of organ and crumar sizzles aimlessly, with bass overdrive piercing through with abstract splashes of color.  The organization around some eternally renewable energy pays off.  When piano chords die out, the rhythm box and keyboard march out on the stepping stones to dynamic resolution.  The drum machine, synthesizer and cowbells re-anchor on the closing theme.  Tagu improvises on the modal piano, compressing the range focus.  But the moods revert.  On the back of a fatuous nursery rhyme clanked out by the piano and clarinet, a martial rhythm of drums, piano and guitar trundles through, prompted by Casari’s war calls on alto.  It is precisely the lone saxophone that survives on the battlefield. 

 

Ce sont des choses qui arrivent

What happens when a pianist, a saxophone player and a percussion virtuoso meet?  Nothing.  You need a guitarist to lead them from their abstract maze.  When that happens, the saxophone runs may be brief, epigrammatic and self-limiting but they remain structurally decisive nonetheless.  The track concludes with a sumptuous piano fragment captured in a space whose acoustics brings back the childhood memories of intimidating concert halls.

 

Eclaté / 3ème / après

Saxophones second an infantile, rhyming beat.  The organ slices chunk after chunk.  For a logical solution to the set, the ‘chalk against the whiteboard’ scrape is coming a little late.  Hoofsteps clock along.  And then, at long last, a Grande Finale is ushered by the band in full glory and in a rather melodious mood: the saxophones, mandolin, bass, and piano. 

 

(On side B, the track description on the insert differs from the one provided on the label; consequently, the comments above may not adequately correspond to musicians’ original intentions).

 

***

 

 

HELLEBORE: “Il y a des jours” (1983-84)

SZENTENDRE: “Un tour gratuit” (1985)

NEO MUSEUM: “Volume 1. Nouvelles ethnologiques de l’obscure museum” (1985-86)

 

Hellebore’s tracks also appeared on compilations: “Douze pour un” (1982), “Voices Notes and Noise” (1983).  Szentendre can be found on “Douze pour un vol.2” (1986), and Neo Museum on “Rencontres du premier type.  Strasbourg, Vandoeuvre, Reims” (1985) as well as “Douze pour un vol.2” (1986).

 

Fans of Hellebore should also seek out Look de Bouk’s debut LP:

 

LOOK DE BOUK: “Lacrimae rerum” (1985)

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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LAS OREJAS Y LA LENGUA: “Error” ****

 

 

Recorded 2000

 

Las orejas y la lengua are an Argentine band created around the core formed by Diego Kazmierski (keyboards), Nicolàs Diab (bass, guitar) and Fernando de la Vega (drums, percussion).  On their two recordings they showed a penchant for unconventional marriage of underdeveloped melodic themes embedded in richly orchestrated but highly sequential arrangements.  The succession of pleasantly interwoven topics betrays their hankering toward approachable aesthetics, which sometimes clashes with the more defiant fragments anchored in avant-prog tradition. 

 

High-quality production and wealth of original ideas have so far protected the band from become a derivative of this international genre.  One can hope that further successful recordings will see the light of the day.

 

 

Eufòrico Tribilìn

A powerful flute’n’rhythm section attack instantly awakens our musical taste buds.  In two short sections, the stop-go regularity fades away before monotony sets in.  This is when a retroactive, meaty guitar introduces a starkly nonlinear fragment with highly selective cymbal playing and a thunderous, almost inert electric bass.  Diego Suàrez’s flute penetration is supreme, particularly in the middle range.  Diego Kazmierski adds some bandoneon samples, but they are barely recognizable owing to speed treatment.  Several olas of dilating flute, bass and percussion will close our first encounter with the band.

 

Suricata

Carried triumphantly by the excitable duo of piccolo and acoustic piano, the circus-like intro is stripped down to Cartoon-style basics.  Inevitably, the piano penetrates the free jazz land while the Fernando de la Vega’s drumming pre-figures the manual inventiveness of Bad Plus’s David King.  Soon after, the piano and bass figure bring back the memories of Steely Dan’s “Ricky Don’t Lose that Number”, sans the actual theme.  The flute playing, warm and mostly legato is somewhat reminiscent of J.D. Parran immortalized on Anthony Davis’s classic recordings.  Halfway through, another free section kicks in, this time entirely dependent on dampening piano pedals and a snaking flute.  Melodic, high-pitched electric bass and easily legible drumset rescue the track from the morass.  Sharper flute tonguings appear in a-rhythmic combination with the volatile rhythm section.  When the dynamics commences to glow again, the synthesizer turns the hitherto ribboned texture into a more evenly planar arrangement. 

 

Leandra

This begins with a clanking, almost ‘North American folk’ acoustic guitar.  But this will not be John Fahey’s tribute.  The drummer and organist join in a now-you-hear-now-you-don’t pattern.  Nicolàs Diab’s bows his acoustic bass martelé style until the incipient melodic figure recurs.

 

Norma

Here we are confronted with an exceedingly lazy, Ry Coodish electric guitar and bells.  By way of contrast, the samples thrown into this idleness could be sourced from an operating room.  But it is dangerous to listen in closely because sudden eruption of guitar pounds forward, Steve Tibbetts’ style (limited grit, measured sustain).  After another intersection with low-key samples, a more ‘doom metallic’ guitar section crashes into an electronic echo.  In a swift progression of astonishing moods, we quickly move over to a bass & rim shot sequence.  In a pivotal moment reminiscent of Metabolist’s LP “Hansten klork”, the tempo accelerates illicitly, though time will run out for another guitar eruption.

 

Verònica G.

The groove is burrowed here by a stable cooperation of the electric bass, guitar, measured rim shots and hi-hat.  Will the groove erode?  Or will it flick over its momentum onto another structural lattice?  We have already learned the lesson not to trust the quieter passages.  However, this time, the dynamic progression is gradual, almost imperceptible.  A synthesized harmonic glissando expands behind, without affecting the core groove.  The flute swivels with just enough echo, a little like in Dom’s unforgettable “Edge of Time”.  Goofy samples – female backward singing – perfectly wound into the harmony and fall neatly within the beat. 

 

Ahora sì, chau

Another track which begins with the flavored acoustic guitar.  Its zither-like jangle is almost “pretty”.  Droll ping pong samples and radio static sounds could make it a tongue-in-cheek interlude penned by Albert Marcoeur.

 

Hermanas colgantes

We first hear car-less street noise samples – multiple human steps, playing children, voices.  This is Nicolas Diab’s tour de force and he appears in three roles at once – on a juicy bass guitar, a melodious Rhodes piano, and the acoustic bass played confusingly high, sul tasto on G-string.  The flute flutters over and above the piano and drum frames.  Dias mistreats his electric bass, testing its low-end capabilities by squeezing the far end of the neck.  Then the Hammond steps in, but its threat is distilled by the flute’s softening presence.  The mood darkens as this 12-note section repeats a dozen times.  Finally, a classicist coda with flute and piano terminates this honest, unpretentious piece. 

 

Disposable Blood Oxigenator

Hearing a dolorous glockenspiel with bass and a flute, one could be excused for recollecting Nino Rota’s poignant “Casanova” soundtrack.  Here, the band will not dwell on such throwbacks.  Instead, it engages the Hammond organ and acoustic bass con legno, where the strings are tapped with the wood side of the bow.  But the tension is quickly released by the flute and organ theme, saucily contacted by the bent (fretless?) bass guitar.  Rattling xylophone (Fernando de la Vega) will be a belated invitee to this concoction. 

 

La autopsia de Sandoval

This slow-metered composition first demands a construction of a full-range hexahedron supported by the bass and covered with the flute.  But they no sooner build the structure than it is stripped down to the hi-hat and very quiet bass.  Even this calm is premature.  The Hammond organ adopts a role well known from Italian movie scores by Piero Piccioni or Armando Trovajoli.  The flute now has a lot of space to improvise on top.  Sudden accelerations of the Hammond/flute duo constitute an interesting update on Supersister’s classic sound.  But Diego Suarez is more intrusive than Sacha van Geest ever was and the rhythm section really lives in the 21st century.  The last section is a painstaking rock hymn with piccolo doing its best to live up to the Italian tradition. 

 

Còrdoba, Oscar

Another heated, crawling entrée, spiced with static à la Fennesz.  This is soon interrupted by a rhythm section and multi-tracked voices of the musicians pronouncing the name of the Argentina’s second largest city.  Quick guitar arpeggios with a military drum roll invite even more diverse vocal versions of “Còrdoba”, each closed by a brief synthesizer section.  In quick succession, Spanish voices cut in, disorienting the listener.  Men and women, old and young appear in dozens of cameo roles, pushing the instruments into the distance. 

 

***

 

The band has published two CDs and nothing new has reached the broader audience for almost a decade.  They are, apparently, still active and have augmented their line-up with a violinist. 

 

LAS OREJAS Y LA LENGUA: “La eminencia inobjetable” (1996)

LAS OREJAS Y LA LENGUA: “Error” (2000)

Published in: on June 18, 2008 at 3:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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