Voltarol - related music

Friday, 27 August 2010


Well – true to current form I’ve let an even longer amount of time elapse between postings, despite having promised to be back on course. What’s my excuse this time? To quote the late Harold Macmillan – “Events, dear boy, events…” The first of these events was a couple of weeks spent in France. This was planned. What was not planned was that the place where Mrs Voltarol and I were staying was devoid of Wi-Fi connections. As a consequence I was unable to check my emails, let alone update my blog!

The next event to undermine my good intentions was the arrival at Chez Voltarol of my son, daughter-in-law and 18 month old granddaughter from Brazil, for a stay that encompassed my 65th birthday and its concomitant celebrations (as any right-thinking person would, I spent the first week’s pension money on a family knees-up). Anyway, I’m back on the case again and thought that an assortment of French music would be the way to go with this posting. Well, it was that or ‘Happy Birthday to You’ and I know which I think is the most interesting…

It is a widely held opinion that French popular music is fairly dire, and I’m not about to disavow that – I cannot abide the histrionic bleatings of Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour and the like, nor Johnny Halliday, Francoise Hardy and similar icons (and don’t bother to comment unless you’ve got something interesting to say: mere outrage at the fact that my prejudice is not your prejudice won’t make it on to these pages. If you feel so strongly about it then write your own blog). However, the French do have an appetite for good music generally, and outside of the world of pop have produced many great composers and musicians, as well as giving cultural ‘sanctuary’ to many more. But I don’t propose to try and analyse this subject here, but rather to give my own personal selection of examples.

My first French heroes were of course Django Reinhardt and St├ęphane Grappelli. (Django was in fact born in Belgium but spent most of his life in France and made most of his famous recordings with ‘The Quintette of the Hot Club of France’, so I think he qualifies.) I still rate Django in particular as one of my all-time favourite musicians, and If ever I’m feeling a bit depressed I have only to put on a Hot Club CD to instantly raise my spirits. There is a quality of joy about his playing that is impossible for me to resist. Many have imitated him since – and some have equalled his technical facility – but none have had the same originality and innovativeness about their playing. This fact was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Django only had the use of two of the fingers on his left hand, as can be seen in this clip –

And here's a great rendition of 'Limehouse Blues' - 

One of my more recent finds has been the accordionist Marc Berthoumieux. I don’t know a lot about him except that he is an exceptionally fine musician, but I first was alerted to his work on a Richard Bona DVD and have since sought out more recordings by him. Indeed, he got his first mention in these pages quite early on, in a posting called ‘Accordion Crimes’ which set out my feelings about the accordion generally. Here are a few examples of his work, including a clip with Richard Bona that I also posted on the aforementioned page.

Of course, the popular concept of typical French music is of Musette accordion, and this a sound that, I suspect, contributes in no small way to the general prejudice against accordions amongst music lovers, but I think that you will agree with me that M. Berthoumiex does not fall into this category, anymore than does Richard Galliano – a French/Italian musician who I also mentioned on that accordion posting. He is another person whose music transcends genre – there are elements of jazz, of South American music, of gypsy music, of klezmer even, all to be found within his playing but never actually defining it, and his latest recording is a venture into the world of J. S. Bach! Here are two examples of his work - one a solo rendition of Astor Piazzolla’s composition, ‘Libertango’ and the other a performance of one of his own compositions – ‘Sanfona’ (a sanfona is a Brazilian accordion) – with Tangaria (two Venezuelans and a Dutchman) and the great Brazilian bandolim (the Brazilian mandolin) player, Hamilton De Holanda.

Another great musician of French/Italian stock was the late Michel Petrucciani an incredibly talented and inventive pianist who suffered from a genetic bone disorder that dramatically restricted his growth. He died at the age of 36 from a pulmonary disorder that was linked to his inherited condition. Petrucciani was influenced by both Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett and yet was very much his own man. He worked with many of Jazz’s finest, including Jim Hall and Wayne Shorter, with whom he made a great album (also available on DVD) called ‘The Power of Three’. Here he is playing with Steve Gadd and Miroslav Vitous in 1998.

And here he plays a tune called ‘September 2nd’ with Gadd and bassist Anthony Jackson.

My final choice for this first French collection is another pianist, composer and arranger Michel Colombier A study of his website will tell you (a) that he is no longer with us and (b) that he had a huge involvement in the world of French pop music at one time, so this choice would seem somewhat at odds with my earlier comments. However, he recorded one album of his compositions in 1979 – simply called ‘Michel Colombier’ – which is one of my favourite albums of all time. The music defies classification, being an unlikely amalgam of funk and classical components with a jazz overtone. The musicians include Michael Brecker, Larry Carlton, Steve Gadd, Herbie Hancock, Lee Ritenour, Tom Scott, Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine, and members of the London Symphony Orchestra – oh, and Airto Moreira, Michael Boddicker, Jerry Knight and Ray Parker Junior! Here are two tracks from this great album.

And that's it until the next post, when I'll cover some of my favourite French classical music - hopefully in a few days time rather than a few weeks!