Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review & Spotlight: Komintern - Le Bal du Rat Mort (1971)


This French band was founded by Francis Lemonnier (sax and vocals) and Serge Catalano (drums and percussions) in May 1970 after they left Red Noise due to musical and political disagreements. The name chosen gives you a clear indication as to their political views. The band released one album called "Le Bal Du Rat Mort" in 1971 and one single "Fou, roi, pantin" and were active until 1975. The musicians that joined them were Michel Musac (guitar), Olivier Zdrzalik (bass, vocals, organ and piano) and Pascal Chassin (guitar). At first they were less focused on composing only music but more on mixing it along with satiric theater - a sort of "cabaret satirique", in order to express their extreme left views. They used their music to enhance their message, and they did it in a manner that mixed several styles of music that would fit their show and the message to be passed on to the crowd/listeners. They were related to extreme left movements such as the "Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire" and they toured in the summer of 1970 in, among other places, universities and factories that were in strike.

In July 1971 they manage to get into a recording studio of Pathé Marconi with the help and influence of Philippe Constantin et Etienne Rodagil. They are joined by guests musicians such as the Quintette de Cuivres lead by trombonist Raymond Katarzynski, trumpet players Pierre Thibaud et Fred Gérard, Joss Baselli on accordion and vocalist Jeanne de Valène. The producer Philippe Constantin does some editing of their texts and leaves out two texts that were recited without any music and replaces the booklet which featured originally a painting by Diego Ribeira.

Le Bal Du Rat Mort (The Dead Rat's Ball) is released in December 1971 and 2000 copies are sold. This release did not exhibit the true face of the band, but it did however show their talent as musicians and as composers and ability to combine different influences. This album is a mixture of rock, free-jazz, fusion, folk, oldies tunes, chanson Francaise and a general theatrical and quirky approach to composing. The overall result is a well-done mixture of styles and atmospheres. This may not be groundbreaking but it is different than the average output of French bands at that time and can be seen as avant-garde in their musical approach in this album.

In 1972 Komintern forms "Front de Libération de la Rock-Music" along with
Lard Free, Barricade I and Barricade II, Herbe Rouge, Robert Wood's Tarot and Alpha du Centaure. This movement published a manifest in a journal and their general message was that of anti-bourgeois culture. They tried to spread their word through journals, leaflets, concerts, all arranged by Gilles Yéprémian which was the manager and producer of Lard Free and Komintern. However this movement eventually dissolved.

In 1975 Serge Catalano et Pascal Chassin left Kominern. Catalano is replaced by two drummers: Gilbert Artman de Lard Free and Michel Bourgheix. The group goes on a bit with some shows but eventually breaks up. Catalano continues with his activity in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Francis Lemonnier becomes a music teacher. Richard Aubert would play with Atoll and Kool Gool. Olivier Zdrzalik would play with Malicorne and along with Michel Muzac in the Lapins bleus des îles. 

Review of the album, Le Bal Du Rat Mort

How would like an hour to fool around, forget yourself and be guided by a myriad of humoristic sounds? You are bound to get entertained with this release. Its eclectic nature and funny parts, sounds and some noises will guarantee ~32 minutes of comic relief from your everyday life troubles. All in all, this is a wacky release which explores the amusing side of music and is also an experimental composition that goes for a stroll all around the block for musical ideas and structures while bringing in their own luggage. 

Goofiness. They like to play around, be funny and humorous and at the same time carry on a serious message (look at their bio for background). Their way is maybe a different approach to seriousness? 

“Bal pour rat Mort” is a very dynamic, and ever changing album that develops, changes main themes, explores and goes on and on in its search for new sounds, new avenues in which the music can develop. And all, it seems, with good sense of humour. 

As we start off, already within one minute you get several styles of music – March, Tango, 60’s movie soundtrack and plain oddities. If this is what you get in less than one minute, you can imagine what the whole track of more than 16 minutes delivers… The main instruments here are the sax, trumpets and accordion. They lead this “strange” interplay between styles and moods and lead from a cheerful music to a more wild one (you can imagine how a sax might do this) to a more relaxed tune and even to a formal sounding one as is heard right at the beginning with the march like part. Around the 4th minute we get a jazz-rock interlude with occasional violins and nice bass background and rhythms provided by the organ. Towards 6 minutes we get a more smooth sensation as we gear a more rock lead part with the guitar making its wah- wah appearance. But it is not long before we “deteriorate” back into the demented abyss in which the oddity takes over again and guides us through what appears at first listens as a maze, but once you listen to this enough times, you learn to appreciate the intricacies of composing such a piece and the how subtle are the changes from each style to the other between the different parts. I will not drag you with me in describing the various parts and changes portrayed here and will only conclude that the term boring does not apply here. 

Most of the album is instrumental, and the instruments do the talking (mainly the sax and trumpets but the others get a fair representation as well). There are however songs, one of which with lyrics fitting the Komintern name and which are also funny. 

While you might argue that it’s not original, as they borrow from other sounds and simply put them in one song, I can say there’s more to it than that. First of all, the merging is done very well in a way that does not only not sound forced, it actually sounds as if it is supposed to be that way. Second, there is more than just bringing several styles together. Yes, they borrow from several other genres, but they take what they feel needed and create a new sound using those ingredients and make up a special odd sound, since they add their own quirky style to it. 

You might argue that this band wanted to include too much and did not focus enough on a particular style and path. But then you are ignoring that it is what they set out to do from the beginning, fuse several styles, merge between what you might not normally associate with one another. Create a new sound that is made up from the merging of sounds. If this notion sounds bad to you, then you should avoid this. If you like eclectic (both in general in an album and within one track), then you should try this one. Sadly finding this will prove to be a daunting task as it is only available in used vinyl record shops and sadly it has not been reissued. 

This album should appeal to people who like what I refer to as the Samla Mammas Manna School (humouristic style with a general cheerful mood in the music. There are more attributes, but those are the ones who appear in this album); fusion fans; people who like quirkiness and oddities fitting the avant-garde tag; and people who like a mélange of styles (that is done in a good way). 

4 stars for a too short but with great content album.

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