Thierry Jolif & Gregorio Bandini - Kantalon [The Eastern Front - 2009]Ah, Thierry Jolif and Gregorio Bandini's "Kantalon"... I've been putting off reviewing this disk, because honestly, it's hard to make myself listen to the whole thing. Upon noticing it was only about 45 minutes in length, I was shocked. It feels like one of those 75 minute albums.
First of all, a description of the style. This album is a combination of new arrangements of traditional folk songs from the French region of Bretagne (from which both performers apparently originated) and original compositions by said performers. In the album jacket, Thierry describes the process of creating the album as an attempt to "express the spiritual reality of these melodies and lyrics" in a more modern manner, integrating influences from such styles as free jazz, classical and, most ridiculously, 'industrial'.
If the only the final product reminded me a little more of this (admittedly already pretentious) description. If there was ever a cheesy pseudo-spiritual new age disk worthy of ridicule, well folks... this is it. No cliche is excluded, from the most awfully recorded wind chimes you'll ever hear, to rain sticks, badly played hand drums endlessly meandering flute parts, and half-assed spoken word sections.
The only 'modern' elements I can detect are a couple cheap effects done on the voice, thrown in at arbitrary moments. Having recently resided in Bretagne for a month, and having heard other performances and recordings of Breton folk music, I have to say this album ends up sounding like little more than badly played traditional music. I absolutely fail to see any 'free jazz' or 'industrial' in this recording.
Worst of all is the absolutely inept singing of main man Thierry Jolif, which happens to be the loudest and most consistently present element on the album. He literally runs out of breath before the end of every line, ruining dozens of pretty obviously beautiful ancient Breton melodies. He spends every last feeble bit of energy he has just on hitting the pitches, leaving none left for such minor details as 'expression' and 'variation'. Every last lyric on the album is sung with the same tone, range and mannerisms. What's more, he really seems to be going for a sort of 'pure', 'angelic' tone in his voice, the kind of thing that requires some actual technique. There is no charm here; after a song or two he's just obnoxious. Even worse, many of the songs seem to attempt some kind of hypnotic repetition, meaning we're subject to the same melody over and over, sometimes for 9 minutes on end. A more powerful singer (think Lisa Gerard) could have possibly done something with this material, but with Thierry singing, it's just unbearable.
The instrumental playing is slightly more tolerable, but it has a heavily overdubbed feel, as if Thierry just sang all these songs to himself (possibly without a metronome) and had the accompaniment added in later. Looking in the credits, not only is this the case, but the different parts were in many cases were done in completely different studios. The recordings do not mesh at all; the instruments seriously clash with each other, and of course the voice of Thierry, who is incapable of harmonizing with players who have some semblance of a sense of pitch. Don't even get me started about the section for organ (ordinarily a favorite instrument of mine) in "Roue Ar Romani: Part I" (which Thierry of course saw fit to sing over). This is the worst produced record I've heard in a long time.
There is little organization to be found in the parts themselves, either. I would guess that they were all improvised, but due to their overdubbed nature, the musicians are not able to successfully play off each other and there is little cohesion or sense of rhythm. The timings are often terribly off, making each song a meandering mess. The song structure of each track is as follows - As described by a previous paragraph, Thierry sings the same melody, at the same speed, repeatedly, for a long, long time. At different moments, various instruments will enter and drop out of the mix, while Thierry continues to sing. Sometimes they will leave him completely alone. Then they will re-enter with some more improvisation. There is no progression that I can detect.
The lyrics are all in French, and are in some cases taken from traditional songs and poems. In these cases, their meanings pass over me, first and foremost an English speaker, unnoticed. However, the lyrics penned by Thierry himself are so simplistic and clumsy that I am able to understand them even with my limited French. They range from repetition of simple phrases (such as in opener "Demandes moi je"... there's a lot of "I asked him" and "I asked myself" on this album) to spectacularly unpoetic storytelling, such as in "Merzhin et Arthur" when Thierry prattles on about a "mysterious secret". At best, it reminds me of a guided tour at some historic tourist attraction, complete with sound effects intended to remind you of the activities once performed at said historical site.
In a way this review is redundant, as I am confident that just about anybody who listened to even one cut from this disk would realize very quickly that there are countless better albums even within the category of watered-down new age music. The instinctive reaction of the few people who have heard me listening to this was to laugh. It's sad, because Breton folk music can be wonderful and idiosynchratic, and deserves to be heard a lot more often than it is. This is hands down the worst 'world music' recording I've ever heard.Josh Landry