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2014 : VOLUME 22
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ROUND TABLE REVIEW


Lazuli

Lazuli - Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse
Lazuli - Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:BZZ037
Year of Release:2014
Time:42:31
Info:Lazuli
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Déraille (4:36), Une Pente Qu'on Dévale (5:11), Homo Sapiens (3:55), Prisonnière d'Une Cellule Mâle (4:56), Tristes Moitiés (3:20), L'Essence Des Odyssées (4:34), Multicolère (3:30), J'ai Trouvé Ta Faille (6:21), Les Courants Ascendants (6:07)

Marcel Hartenberg's Review

Can it be possible that we've got to 2014 without me ever having heard a studio album by Lazuli? Yes, ladies and gents, that is possible, I can assure you. Whilst I vividly remember Lazuli live in Tilburg some years ago in 2007 at the Symforce Festival and actually finding them making a huge impression with their live performance, I simply never got around to either buying nor listening to their studio albums. Shame on me for not doing so. More so as I now fully realise what I have been missing in music for quite some years. What a joy it was to hear the Lazuli sound again and now on a new album as well.

For days Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse has been spinning its rounds in many CD players, be it in the car, at work or on my home system. Opener Déraille with its environmentally engaged lyrics gets on its way with a fine rhythm and very varied sounds and immediately draws you deep, deep into the world that is Lazuli's. I must add that Dominique Leonetti's passionate singing and the way his vocal lines, to these ears, are almost an instrument in their own right set them apart from many other bands. It may just be that you get drawn to listening to the lyrics even more and try to understand them that much better.

Une Pente Qu'On Devale has the slightest bit of a Marillion vibe that reminds me a wee bit of the feel of their semi-acoustic tracks like Man Of A Thousand Faces, yet this is more modern and Lazuli rock out towards the end. There's also some fine, fine soloing in there too.

Homo Sapiens just grabs you. It's more ballsy and reminds a bit of Riverside whereas the second half of the song tips its hat to latter day Fish, that is before the band start again and we get a fine Léode solo. The Fish vibe also appears to shine through on Tristes Moitiés and L'Essence Des Odyssées, yet it is not that these songs make Lazuli sound a 100% like everyone's favourite Scotsman; not at all, yet there is a comparison in sound that, to me, flows back to the Raingods with Zippos days. Fish himself features on J'Ai Trouvé Ta Faille where he gets to sing in the second part of the song. Another fine song on this very fine album, but there is plenty more to hear before we actually get to that one, the eighth song on the album.

What Lazuli have delivered here is an album rich in sound and where all band members get to shine, be it individually yet moreover in how much this album is a band effort. On first listen you might find that the songs are just songs, but their build has more to them than appears on first listen. This is an album that grows each and every time you hear it. There are parts that are prog, world music, folk rock, storming out and out rocking moments and they are all brought together in this album. As I once more listen to Tristes Moitiés Lazuli again fully draw me into their realm. What is it that makes albums present themselves as ever growing in beauty? The textures, the soloing, the intricate drum and percussion parts that get to you more and more with each and every listening session. I dare say that this album has all that and, as already mentioned, there is the great singing!

Multicolèlere, a play on the words "multicoloured anger", speeds things up once more and shows a heavier Lazuli. This whole song very much gets to me and perhaps there's another bit of Riverside, but let's just cut to the chase; this band sounds every inch like Lazuli should. And there is only one way to find that out for the not yet initiated and that is to just go and listen to this fine gem of an album. Don't think you can do like me and miss out on one of the finest prog bands around - why should you? You'd be missing out on real beauty. And yes, listen to this album all the way through, you won’t find that hard at all as J'Ai Trouvé Ta Faille is another beauty as is the closing song, Les Courants Ascendants, the only song to reach beyond the 6 minute mark. But count that as an asset that Lazuli have to their songwriting; they succeed in writing compact songs that are all very varied throughout the album.

[Editor's Note: I can't find any videos to support Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse so here, with thanks to Didier from www.builtbyfrance.com, is a recent live performance...]

Roger Trenwith's Review

Every now and again I like to review something outside my comfort zone, and this dubious honour now befalls Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse, the new album from hirsute Gallic prog pinups Lazuli.

French to the core, this band look like medieval superheroes in their publicity shots, all wild hair, swagger, swash and buckle; you can imagine them riding off into the sunset, the fair maiden slung nonchalantly over one of their shoulders. They make no concessions to us linguistically challenged Anglos, and why should they? All I have to go on is the pre-release download, no press release, nothing. It may be that they offer some English translations of the almost exclusively French lyrics in the CD booklet, but I expect, and indeed, hope not.

The album title translates as "As long as the grass is lush" and it is the kind of ambiguous metaphoric statement that can be taken to have more than one meaning. This is reflected in the music, which covers a number of bases, never staying in one place too long. Thankfully not sticking to the trad-prog rule book, which seems to have "Make a bow to Genesis or Yes" as Rule No.1, Lazuli cook up an individualistic sonic menu that while not necessarily always to my taste, shows a flair for anthemic good rockin', and occasional over the top bombast contrasted with spacious atmospherics, skilled arranging and good old-fashioned songwriting.

Opener Déraille ("Losing your mind") strains a bit too much for my liking and is unnecessarily over-dramatic, and it seems that the theatrical vocal flourishes of Dominique Leonetti may take some getting used to for yours truly. Much to my surprise I found myself really getting into Joe Payne's similar thespian vocal stylings with The Enid last year, so Dominique's tonsil vibrating could grow on me. For all that, I much prefer the more restrained Peter Gabriel-like Prisonnière d'Une Cellule Mâle (you don't need a translation for that!), a song that makes me wish I knew more than the most rudimentary French so I could follow the lyric.

This song's and Lazuli's trademark sonic atmospherics throughout the album are generated by Claude Leonetti's Léode, which it seems carves similar aural sculptures to the touch guitar. Claude, brother of singer Dominique, developed the instrument himself after losing an arm in a motorcycle accident, so it can be played with one hand. Also responsible for co-recording this album and for its mixing, Claude is obviously a highly talented and driven individual.

Homo Sapiens has an anthemic swagger and comes across like a fusion of a heavier U2 and Bellowhead. That latter comparison points towards the folk influence that plays an important part in forging Lazuli's uniquely recognisable sound, in their case obviously with a strong Gallic flavour. This song has "live anthem" written all over it, and it would make a great single, if such things still exist these days!

In the main, as the album develops the emphasis is largely away from the strident bombast of the opening track, and a cinematic theme develops. This may be the result of a concept running through the album, but again, without knowing what the lyrics are describing, it is difficult to say.

Tristes Moitiés ("Sad halves") could so easily be a Kate Bush song, and continues on with the world music feel from Prisonnière... and I am starting to really like the laid back atmospherics that dominate the middle of this album. When Lazuli do not try too hard, something they seem to be intermittently guilty of, the music begins to breathe and open out, allowing the band's consummate arranging skills to shine through.

The intensity very slowly returns through L'Essence Des Odyssées, and by the seventh track Multicolère, which is a pun on "multicolore" ("multi-coloured"), and translates literally as "multi-anger", the music has taken a turn for classic heavy prog moves, all quiet/loud sections and fat licks and riffs. Unfortunately on my review copy Multicolère cuts out abruptly, in a manner that if it is deliberate is the only production move on the record that does not work, but in any event this song is definitely the heaviest thing on the album.

The atmospherics return big time on what for me is the album highlight J'ai Trouvé Ta Faille ("I found your flaw"), the second part of which is sung in his inimitable style by none other than Fish. He sings in English too, which helps this embarrassingly linguistically challenged Anglo no end. The song is a slow burner with bags of atmosphere, building in drama as it develops, but thankfully stopping short of becoming fraught.

Guitarist Gédéric Byar and Claude Leonetti have a penchant for a good riff, and between them carve out a good one to end the album. The riff is the fulcrum on which the album closer, Les Courants Ascendants (no need to translate that, either) sits. Again, the way the song is structured recalls early solo Peter Gabriel, gone heavy, with added dramatics that don't really do anything for me, particularly as it seems to get stuck in an uninteresting groove at the end.

In conclusion, while Tant Que L'Herbe Est Grasse is not my usual bowl of larks' tongues, it is nonetheless an obviously well put together record and it is a must for those who lean towards traditional prog amongst our readership, which is most of you, I guess! I have never been a fan of our marking system, for it can only serve as a subjective full stop after some hopefully objective text, but mark it I must. Is the mark meant as a reflection of my personal preference, or as an objective recommendation? The former would be a 6, the latter 8, so I'll go for the average.

[P.S. - Thanks to my DPRP colleague Raffaella for assistance with the translations due to my
embarrassingly bad French!]

Gert Hulshof's Review

Finally the wait for new material by French proggers Lazuli is over. 3 years is a long time to wait for new material, it also lifts expectations up high. S, was it worth the wait?

I'll barge in with the answer straight away; in my opinion absolutely not. I am disappointed as this album does not even come near to the other material that Lazuli have released over the past decades.

Lazuli have never been in the highly productive league. Founded in 1998 this is their sixth album release to date. 2011's (4603 Battements) got me excited and their following appearance at the Night of the Prog festival at Loreley in 2012 made me even more convinced. I'd found myself a new band to look out for and follow closely for any new release.

After the first spin of new album Tant Que L'Herbe est Grasse I was reluctant - could this ever become an album that I was going to like as much as its predecessor? Now After a fortnight I hear only stuff that makes me thing "haven't I heard this already?".

This has no doubt much to do with the vocal lines and structures of the various songs as they are too much alike in my opinion. The guest vocals from Fish on J'ai Trouve Ta Faile (or 'Under the Gun') was a highlight for me on this otherwise mediocre album from a band that I think can do a whole lot better than this.

I do not want to go into too many details; I do like the music absolutely but I believe that it does not add anything to my musical collection and I was hoping for - expecting - more than I have received. Luckily the album is just over 40 minutes and not a massive 80 minutes or so which would have made things worse.

Lazuli won me over at Loreley and I still like what they do but Tant Que L'Herbe est Grasse is just not as good or refreshing as I expected it would be.

Alison Henderson's Review

It has been a veritable rollercoaster ride since I first encountered the Gallic Five at the Summer's End Festival in 2011 and then again when they made a triumphant return last October. In between those two dates, their last album (4603 battements) made a huge impression, its unique dynamics, musical twists and turns, laced with searing melodies and close harmonies was an extraordinary adventure into Lazuliland.

The DVD live @ l'Abeille rôde last year again showed why they are indeed one of the hottest tickets in European prog, their live performances like nothing and nobody else currently on the concert/festival circuits.

The build-up to the release of Tante Que L'Herbe Est Grasse has been gradual but footage of the band rehearsing and playing made it all look like a lot of fun so when the personal signed copy arrived, it was time to get serious. But it's really strange when your mind is programmed to expect one thing and something completely different emerges instead. Having seemingly set a different course with ...battements, they have changed direction once again but in such a subtle way, you can only take a step back to admire their guile and invention.

There are none of the previous aural fireworks this time: instead the landscape they paint is a lush and verdant scene, the emphasis being on the quality of the playing and production, both of which are exemplary. As far as can be understood, the main themes are about the human condition and the effect mankind is having on the state of the world. The nine compositions are all excellent demonstrations of their innate musical strengths and talents, most of which centre around developing the most beguiling melodies and then embellishing with their panoply of wonderful instruments, among them, Dominique Leonetti's remarkable voice, which is capable of evoking so many nuances of emotion.

My fellow DPRP reviewers will no doubt single out specific tracks on which to comment. But for my part, it is the combination of Leonetti's rise and fall voice and Romain Thorel's delicate piano work which makes the spine-tingling Tristes Moitiés an absolute gem. The masterstroke however comes with J'ai Trouvé Ta Faille, in which Vincent Barnavol's marimba and Claude Leonetti's Léode play a significant part in the deceptively elaborate instrumentation and on which Fish takes the lead vocal in the second part, singing in English. It all works beautifully, especially when Dominique's voice comes in as a counterpart to Fish's songlines.

Other 'Wow' moments come when Léode meets Gédéric Byar's ringing guitar at the denouement of Les Courants Ascendants and the almost Viennese waltz-like Une Pente Qu'On Dévale which swoops and swirls in the most majestic and mannered fashion.

As with other great albums, more and more seems to start emerging from the mix during every play and much of that is due to the peerless production by Claude Leonetti and Ali Laouamen. Treat this album like a box of chocolates because you really do never know what you are going to get. But rest assured, each one of the treats inside is deliciously different.

Conclusions:

MARCEL HARTENBERG : 9 out of 10
ROGER TRENWITH : 7 out of 10
GERT HULSHOF : 6.5 out of 10
ALISON HENDERSON : 8 out of 10


From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Lazuli CD & DVD Reviews:-
En Avant Doute
(2007)
"For me Lazuli is the greatest new discovery of this year and En Avant Doute is a strong contender for best album of 2007."
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 9/10)
Six Frenchmen In Amsterdam -
Live at Paradiso [DVD]

(2002)
"What makes Lazuli so unique in prog land is the instrumentation used. Marimba, Warr guitar, a drummer who stands behind his kit playing the bass drum with his left hand, and of course La Léode, the self-made instrument of Dominique Leonetti. The result is very intense yet organic sounding music, which can not really be compared to any other band."
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8/10)
(4603 Battements)
(2011)
"Not many albums can keep you guessing and marvelling the way (4603 Battements) does throughout. The production is absolutely crystal clear and there is practically nothing to fault in it from start to finish."
(Alison Henderson, 9.5/10)
Live @ l'Abeille Rôde
(2013)
"So this is a refreshingly different take on the "Live DVD" which really suits this unique French progressive band. For any Lazuli fan it's an essential purchase."
(Andy Read, 9/10)
Previous Lazuli Live Reviews:-
2006:-Progpassion 2, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
2007:-Symforce Festival, Tilburg, The Netherlands
2010:-Progressive Promotion Festival, Hüsselheim, Germany
2011:-Summer's End Festival, Lydney, U.K.
2012:-Night of the Prog VI, Germany
2013:-Summer's End Festival, Lydney, U.K.
Previous Lazuli Interviews:-
Speaking to Dave Baird (2011)


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Published 12th April 2014

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