Sunday, March 13, 2011

Musician in the Spotlight: Jean-Paul Prat

This post is dedicated to Jean-Paul Prat and in particular, his 1982 album Masal.

Here's the bio I wrote for Jean-Paul Prat on Prog Archives, which I adapted from the booklet of the album being featured here:

Jean-Paul Prat is a multi-instrumentalist and composer born in Grenoble, France on 27/9/1953. He began his musical path early on due to his mother's love of music. At the age of 9 he began taking private classical piano lessons. At age 14 he had already learned to play guitar by himself and then the drums by age 15. 

He would then be enthusiastic about English rock groups - The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and also with RnB bands for their rhythmic virtues and their use of brass instruments (which was presumably an influence for him for his recordings later on, as can be heard on Masal). At the age of 15, in 1968, he formed with a friend of his a dance orchestra. Prat was playing then the guitar and doing the vocals. As they expanded, he took on playing the organ and later on at the age of 18 switched to drumming and singing. This was an octet that was called Blackbirds, which played then-contemporary music. 18 years old, Prat decided then to study percussion at the conservatoire, but had gotten tired from it soon enough to return to playing music. This period finds him being thrilled with Chicago and Deep Purple. 

His next step would be starting to compose by himself in 1971, something that was driven by listening to Magma's unique music. He wanted to form a band that would perform those compositions, and asked some of his fellow dance orchestra friends. 
Joining him on his band in 1973, were his brother Richard Heritier on saxophone, Michel D'angelo on guitar and bass, Denis Borras on bass all of whom came from their previous dance orchestra. To complete this lineup, Prat recruited Georges Rolland on saxophone and Alain Tourral on piano. The chosen name for the band was Masal - Hebrew for luck, fortune or chance (and not as the booklet mistakenly says, it is not "star" which is Kochav). 
The music of Masal at that time is described in the cd booklet like this: "Jean-Paul led the new band, handling vocals and wrote the bulk of the band's material in a frenetic vein akin to that popularised by MAGMA. propelled by drums and bass, accentuated by riffs from the brass instruments that exchanged solo roles with the keyboards."

The band suffered from a changing lineup. August 1973 sees the departure of guitarist Michel D'angelo, but he is not replaced as Prat is content with the band switching to a brass dominated lineup without guitar. Denis Borras decided to be the band's lighting technician and quit his playing. New bassist Gerard Betemps and keyboard player and vocalist Yves Ottino join Masal. And though he was content with no guitars, guitarist Philippe Christophe joined as well. Alain Tourral then left as well. 
The band rehearsed quite a lot in places such as Isere and Les Avenieres and also performed in front of small audiences at places like Ruy, Lyon (with Magma and Spheroe and another one with Gong), Ecully (with Urantia, which was the precursor to Vortex and with Astarte which was later to become Eider Stellaire), Paris and Orleans (opening for Soft Machine) and other places as well; this extensive touring went on for quite some time. The music then was wholly instrumental and the vocals were used, similarly to Magma as another instrument in the lineup. 

In 1976, the band took on a temporary break-up for each one to ponder about their musical paths and projects. This period sees Prat exploring other possibilities - playing in a dance band and traveling abroad for over a year. When he started playing music again, he went through playing with 4 different bands (punk and new wave). Prat continued to play and record (not under his name) during this time and for a more detailed version, you can read the liner notes in the Masal cd. 

Moving on to 1981, Prat was approached by a concert agent with a proposal to reform Masal and play their music at a concert he was organizing. Prat got excited about this and went on to recruit musicians and form the band, which he wanted to be as big as possible. The lineup he got was made up of Herve Gourru on Bass; Jean-Jacques Willig on keyboards; Richard Heritier on saxophone; Georges Rolland on saxophone; Carlo Grassi on guitar; Norbert Galo on guitar; Viviane Galo on keyboards; Jacques Dessert on cello; Richard Negro on trumpet; Gilles Morard on trombone; Gerard Geoffroy on flutes. 
The cd liner notes describe the current incarnation of Masal's sound like this:
"Jean-Paul's music had undergone changes. Instead of the frenetic wildness of before, it distilled its power into a music of profound serenity and sensitivity. It had now become entirely instrumental, with dense interweaving of themes and counterpoint led by brass and guitar."
The first show on December 5th 1981 at La Cote-Saint Andre was followed by another one in Isere on July 19th 1982 in which Jacques Dessert was absent and Eric Duval played on percussion. At this point, Prat wanted to record this material as an album. With the help of his family, he financed the project - he hired Venus studio at Longueville (50 km from Paris) for a month. For this album, Norbert Galo and he decided to use one 40 minute long suite for this album. This piece started its life as the song Aubergine, dating from the conservatoire days of Prat in 1972. This piece was later expanded, reworked, linked and integrated with other pieces, all done in various stages and was finally re-named to Masal, like the band name itself. 
14 musicians were in the lineup that recorded Masal for the album in July 1982. the double tracking enabled the orchestral sound that the album has. On the vinyl record the piece was forced to be cut into two pieces, but on the cd version the piece can be listened in its entirety without any alterations. 

In 1983, Prat finds a small label, Ere Force, who belongs to a larger company called Stand By, which agrees to distribute Masal. In 1986, Musea took charge of the distribution of the album, and in 1995, re-issued it on cd. 

Despite a thinning lineup, the band kept on performing. During 1984, the band became the backup band for the Christian singer Alan Nol, for whom Prat was working as manager. Several of the musicians in the band decided to, as the liner notes in the cd say: "declared themselves converts to Christianity and henceforward decided to pledge the band to the glory of God."
However, two members, Herve Gourru and Georges Rolland did not share those feelings and left the band. They were later on followed (as Prat's faith and devotion increased) by Carlo Grassi and Jean-Jacques Willig. Now the band had veered into Christian oriented songs as written by Prat. In 1985 they recorded a cassette called "Sans Peur De T'appartenir". Three other tapes followed in the coming years, all with songs about praise of God and Christian nature. Prat, along with Richard Heritier, Alain Escure and Denis Borras have become members of a Christian community. 

The scope of Masal is as extensive as Prat's instruments he plays on. 
The album Masal with its 42 minute long suite covers a lot of grounds - there are elements from zeuhl, symphonic-rock, jazz-rock, avant-rock; and while it is debatable which is the leading characteristic, each has an emphasized role in this orchestral piece and all are well represented throughout its run. It is this broad range of sound to be found here that has lead to this project being included in PA under the Eclectic tag, as this is truly an amalgam of styles, a fabulous mélange of genres and sounds. 
While this blending of styles might sound forced, you'll be surprised just how smoothly and naturally the mix sound and the shifting between parts are. The inclusion of brass instruments alongside the rock instrumentation gives this album, along with the composition style of Prat, its uniqueness, volume and rich sound. 
This album will find its audience in the fans of all aforementioned genres. Its richness and compelling sound, its structure and instrumentation, all culminate in a wonderfully built and composed piece of varied music. 

Adapted from the extensive biography to be found on the Masal cd re-issues by Musea in 1995 (FGBG 4155.AR). 

His 1982 album, Masal is a masterpiece (and I don't use that word lightly or frequently) of progressive rock/fusion/zeuhl. The title track is a continuous 42 minute epic piece with gorgeous passages and exhilarating segments. You can read more reviews here and here.

In 2009 after the aforementioned experimentations and new-age music, Jean-Paul Prat assembled a new lineup including his son, Jean Prat on drums, under the name Masal and together they released the album Galgal through Musea (which also distributes the original Masal album). This is quite different than the Masal album from 1982, being a jazz-rock album, but a very good one at that.

You can listen to both album streaming up to three times at Mindawn, where you can purchase FLAC formats of both albums.

Otherwise both cd's are available at Wayside:
Masal - Galgal
Prat, Jean-Paul - Masal (for 16$ this is a bragain).

Amazon has Masal as well in MP3 and cd format:
Download MP3 Album

This is one of the bonus tracks on the reissued Masal album called Maran Atha-Sélah. It isn't really representative of the title track, but still a good listen:

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