Un Envoûtement (4:52), Rift Valley (2:59), Mer (8:35), Combat Démesuré (6:39), Résilience (7:38), Chemin (13:17), Le Secret De La Musique Des Sphères (11:10), Rêverie Sauvage (9:10), Funambule (4:24)
The Musea Records label have released six connected CDs of music composed by the acoustic-classical-prog guitarist Philippe Cauvin. He features as a player on five of them, with the sixth CD containing arrangements of Philippe's compositions by his son Jordan Cauvin.
The first CD is a recent live recording of Philippe Cauvin solo. The following four CDs collect together work that Philippe recorded both solo and with various line-ups, from the early 1980s through to the early 1990s. These have not seen the light of day until now. They fill in the gap in his solo recording history between 1984's Memento and 2014's Voie Nacrée. The six CDs have nicely designed packaging that have a pattern that leads on from one CD to the next. They come with comprehensive liner notes and lyrics, all in French.
Philippe Cauvin was initially known as a member of the band Uppsala, a trio who produced well-regarded music that fell firmly in the Zeuhl sub-genre. Uppsala released their sole, eponymously-titled album in 1984.
In recent years Philippe Cauvin has been suffering from dystonia, which produces involuntary muscle contractions that cause repetitive or twisting movements. Learning to work with this problem, has led to him developing further his distinctive style.
Musea Records have organised these releases in a particular order, so I will review them in that order, starting with the live recording Nu. Recorded over two nights in October 2014, at a pair of solo gigs at Cenon. This is just Philippe Cauvin with his nylon-stringed classical guitar and his voice.
So my expectations were set for an album of classical guitar work in the style of Steve Hackett, only to find myself adrift in a bewildering and extraordinary set of sounds. Could all this really come from one man, his classical guitar and his voice? The answer to that rhetorical flourish is, well obviously, yes. The album sounds like the work of a one-man acoustic Magma. Consequently, this is far from an easy listen, and requires a great deal of patience on behalf of the listener just to meet Philippe Cauvin a quarter of the way on this particular journey. In some respects he seems to be the John Coltrane of the classical guitar.
Right from the off you get chiming but disjointed acoustic guitar, sometimes picked, sometimes strummed, where bold harmonic structures take precedence over conventional melodic ones. Then there is Philippe Cauvin's voice, an instrument that is by turns fragile, then piercing and arresting, in its resonant falsetto. Add to that, his battering of his guitar with both hands to provide an array of percussive effects to these strange, non-linear songs, that owe more to free jazz and avant-garde, modernist classical music, than to anything else. The strangeness is increased by the venue's cathedral-like, resonant acoustic.
On the longer songs, such as Chemin and Le Secret De La Musique Des Sphères, you get more of a conventional melody from the guitar, but as you begin to get comfortable, Philippe Cauvin throws in harsh, distorted chords that make his acoustic sound as brutal as anything in death metal. You can hear the physical effort he makes in creating this strange, unexpected music, as he punishes his guitar in all kinds of unexpected ways.
So Nu has certainly been a listening experience. Some of it feels improvised and Philippe Cauvin does seem to be enjoying himself. An artist with a singular purpose, he achieves that purpose. However, in its disjointed modernism, it is a difficult listen and, for me, works best in small doses. Philippe Cauvin's Nu is an album one can greatly admire for its extraordinary artistry and focus, but it is a difficult album to like. Approach with caution.
Nuée (1:38), Vertiges (8:12), Sounéla (2:05), Chanson Facile D'Amour (4:12), Mémento (8:19), Jeune Femme (2:09), La Machination (1:37), Ton Himalaya (4:22), Obsession (2:59), Jeu D'Enfant (1:27), Break Rouge (2:36), Automne (14:53)
This is the second CD in this set of archive releases and is called Philippe Cauvin Groupe, and it was recorded in the mid 1980s
So after the demise of his previous group Uppsala, Philippe Cauvin formed The Philippe Cauvin Groupe with Olivier Grall (guitar synthesiser, classical guitar), Laurent Millepied (keyboards), and Marc Zerguine (drums and percussion). They recorded their rehearsals together but they have not released any of the music until now. The full band tracks are in the main the longer tracks, whilst the shorter ones are solo pieces by Philippe Cauvin, culled from his soundtrack work.
Beginning with the short pieces, entirely performed by Philippe, these are a bit scattershot, as you might expect originating from differing film projects. Though they are generally under three minutes in length, they can be intensely repetitious, and Sounéla even manages to outstay its two-minute welcome. Some tracks feel like choruses for longer works and one wonders how they might have been developed. This especially applies to the best of the short works, such as the intense chant of Nuée, the circular structure and Alex Lifeson-like guitar on Obsession, and the chiming, minimalist repetition of Break Rouge.
The full band songs bring together virtuosity and imagination, in what is a series of superior quality demos. They have a Magma-like quality to them, mixing neo-classicism, avant-rock and some jazz fusion to their prog.
A chiming jazz-prog guitar shuffle opens Vertiges, with synths adding strange sonorities. It has an air of being a precursor to post-rock, with its rolling guitar motifs. There is almost a normal song in Chanson Facile D'Amour, where Philippe Cuavin's voice comes to the fore. He has a high-pitched tone that is less warm and more strident than, say, Geddy Lee's. My favourite track here is Mémento, where Magma seem to be jamming with Gentle Giant, before then Roger Powell pops up on synths for good measure. Also, the epic song Automne, fully displays the potential of the band had they continued.
All in all, Philippe Cauvin's Philippe Cauvin Groupe, is an interesting if not wholly successful album. A must for fans of Philippe Cauvin and possibly for those of an adventurous spirit, there are many things here to enjoy.
Le Paradis Est Tombé Du Ciel (4:16), Sans Préméditation (4:03), Peau Rouge (3:53), Bain De Champagne (4:09), Fantôme D'Amour (4:28), Attention A Toi (3:49), Où S'En Vont Les Sirènes (4:12), Avant Même (4:51), Promenez-Moi (4:07), Corps A Coeur (3:59), J'Ouvre Mes Bras (4:03), La Spirale Des Fous (4:16), Le Mauvais Sort (3:48)
This is the third CD in the set and it is called Des Mots Sur Des Notes and consists of songs written by Philippe Cauvin to his regular collaborator Maité Dallet's lyrics. They were recorded between 1988 and 1990 but not released until now. This is Philippe Cauvin trying to produce a more accessible repertoire than his previous work. Here he produces tightly arranged and structured chansons, whilst still managing to retain some of his idiosyncrasies. It is however hindered, as so many late 80s albums are, by the weedy electronic drum sounds. But if you can change your mind-set back into that era, then it seems less irritating on repeat plays.
This is most definitely a pop-prog album, with the emphasis on the pop in the main. It is full of the tropes of 80s pop and synth pop. There is the obligatory sax solo on the opening track, and one is soon struck by how strong a voice Philippe Cauvin has when he is staying away from the falsetto he uses in his more prog outings. There are some very good pop songs on here, see the jangle pop of Promenez-Moi, and The Cure-style Corps A Coeur as examples. There is blandness to, even the cheesiest of 80s pop artists would have balked at recording J'Ouvre Mes Bras.
The more interesting work here is on the electronica of Attention A Toi and Avant Même, where Cauvin's strong singing is offset by some rock guitar, courtesy of Basile Leroux. And there is some lovely Talk Talk trumpet and piano on Peau Rouge.
There are no tricky time signatures here, but interesting arrangements keep one's attention in the main. An artistic, if not commercially, successful attempt to crossover into the mainstream.
Vertiges (5:25), Approche (3:04), Mélopées Langoureuses (2:45), Gratitude (1:44), Tranche De Vie (3:37), Frôlements (2:37), Sérénade Chimérique (6:55), A Distance (2:40), L'Arc Du Temps (3:54), Pièce n°7 (4:43), Ballade Nébuleuse: Echo De La Ballade (7:10), Bloozarrement: Petite Etude n°5 (2:44), Coste Et Jukka (4:30), Renaissance Eternelle (3:22), Eclats D'Automne (4:34)
This is the fourth CD in the set and it is called Frôlement. It consists of songs and instrumentals from throughout Philippe Cuavin's career, from 1980 up to 1993. It has material recorded at the time of his first solo album, plus odds and ends of live recordings and some demos. This means the album has less of an overall identity than some of the others but, on the plus side, you don't have to wait long for the music to change, if it's not to your taste.
The album opens with Vertiges, Philippe Cauvin's best melody recorded in 1980 with melodic, rippling classical guitar lines and his best ethereal vocals. A blinder. There are a number of other good compositions here. Those with Serge Korjanevki on keyboards, such as the delightful miniature jazz piece A Distance and, from 1989, Approche, which has a minimalist, early Genesis instrumental feel to it and lovely saxophone work from Guillaume Julien. Approche is a gem.
Three pieces with Guillaume Thevenin on percussion move between the unfinished feel of Mélopées Langoureuses and The Cardiacs weirdness of Sérénade Chimérique with its mutating vocal experiments, which improve with every listen. The best though is Ballade Nébuleuse: Echo De La Ballade a song with a circular, picked guitar motif that builds dynamically until you wonder how an acoustic guitar can sound so powerful. Add to this, its multi-track vocal lines and again you have an acoustic Magma track.
There are things that do not work quite as well. These tend to be the live tracks, where reverberant acoustics and tape-hiss mask the details of what is being played. Though on L'Arc Du Temps the quality of the song does manage to shine through. But the least interesting of all are the two studio tracks (Gratitude and Frôlements) that channel 20th century expressionist classical music (I'm looking at you, Schoenberg), where discordant harmonies keep the listener at a chilly distance.
Overall, there are more hits than misses on this album of outtakes and live rarities. I can imagine this being top of the pile for Philippe Cauvin completists. For others though, a judicious use of the CD player's skip function will make this a good listen.
Claire Obscure (5:45), Au Bonheur Du Palais (5:52), Tourberies (9:16), Muzamuzi (7:09), Oremus Pour Toi (7:50), Transfert (6:21), Détour (2:42), Tabarka (7:30), Voyage Au Bord De L'Infini (7:43)
This is the fifth CD in the set and it is called Philippe Cauvin Except, which was also the name used by the trio of musicians who play on this CD. They are Philippe Cauvin (acoustic-electric guitar, vocals and percussion), Pascale Martinez (vibraphone, marimba, bass marimba and percussion) and Lulu Bret (drums). Bar one track, this is a live album recorded in Bordeaux in 2008.
The album opens with a superb 2015 studio track, Claire Obscure, a Philippe Cauvin composition played solely by Pascale Martinez and her tuned percussion. It is a hypnotic, gentle and inherently tuneful slice of prog, and it is almost worth the price of admission on its own.
However, the live material that makes up the other eight tracks here suffer from the problem of the ambience of the recording itself. The microphones seem to have been placed in the centre of the venue and so the band are masked by a very reverberant acoustic. So you get crystal clear, in-between song applause whilst the three instrumentalists tend to bleed into the echo of each other's playing. It takes your ear more than a few plays to figure out what is occurring on stage.
When your ears finally get acclimatised to the sound, well as much as they can, you find an interesting blend of tones and colours between the guitar and voice, the vibes and the drums. These are put to use over this set of jazz songs. Au Bonheur Du Palais sets the template with its unsettling, hesitant melody flowing between guitar, vibes and flute. Other tracks throw in mixtures of jazz, zuehl-rock and expressionist classical music. The better tracks, to my ears, sound like an avant-garde Weather Report (Transfert and Voyage Au Bord De L'Infini).
Some tracks, partially due to the acoustic, partially due to the material, really do not engage me with their challenging avant-jazz (Muzamuzi and Tabarka). But a plus point for the whole enterprise is how strong Philippe Cauvin's singing is throughout the live material.
Overall, though, I find the sound problem to be, well, a problem. Its lack of clarity interferes with my enjoyment of the album and makes listening a bit of a chore (especially after having fallen for the brilliant opening track). Another for fans and completists, I feel, and for everyone else a cautious approach is advised.
Guitarvision (8:24), Aux Tourbières (10:21), Muzamuzi (6:09), Azar de Azahar: Ruta de Tambor y del Bombo (6:29), Azar de Azahar: Plaza de Vista Alegre (2:47), Azar de Azahar: Espejo de Sueños (7:23), Nepenthes (5:19), Suite à JC (8:31), Memento (8:41)
This is the sixth and last album in the Musea releases of compositions by Philippe Cauvin. The music on it has been arranged and played by his son Jordan Cauvin. Jordan is an award-winning classical guitarist, but on this studio recording he also plays electric guitar, piano and bass. This is the younger generation of Cauvins, taking the older generation's legacy forward.
With the opening chords of the title track you know that the legacy is in safe hands. Jordan's solo classical guitar picks and weaves its way through Cauvin senior's melody. The warm sonorities of the crisply-recorded guitar producess the feel of a warm, beautiful Sunday afternoon. An extended meeting of the prog and classical worlds that Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips or Gordon Giltrap would have been proud to have recorded.
But it's not all classically-inflected on Guitarvision. There is a jazz element to the wonderful Aux Tourbières. Opening with the vibraphone of Antoine Layere that is joined by Jordan's subtle acoustic and his Pastorious-style bass. It develops a stop-start melody that keeps you guessing, as it evolves before climaxing with a passionate electric guitar that brings to mind John Martyn's guitar work on Martyn's album One World.
The version of Muzamuzi here differs greatly from the one on Philippe Cauvin's Except. Here Jordan has arranged the composition as to make it seem entirely new. Giving it a terrific sub-Saharan, Malian griot makeover with swinging guitar and percussion by Jonathan Lemarque (son of Uppsala's drummer Didier Lemarque).
Next is a suite, Azar de Azahar. This was commissioned from Philippe Cauvin to celebrate the Costa Del Azahar in Spain. It is a kaleidoscopic work that can be played by up to six guitarists. Here Jordan is joined by his older brother Thibault, who is also a classical guitarist recording in the classical music field. They play an extended classical guitar duet on the three-part suite. Though brilliantly played, it tends to lose my attention as its melodic line keeps evaporating into modernist harmonics, but I suspect that I'm just failing to grasp the work's complexities.
The remainder of the tracks on this album more than compensate for the suite's longueurs. The absolutely delightful Nepenthes, where Jordan's acoustic is overlaid with Steve Rothery-toned electric guitar, is a beautiful melody arranged with just the right pinch of weirdness to prevent it from cloying. Suite à JC is another great solo classical guitar work, and the closer Memento adds a jazz-prog touch to proceedings, like a chilled out Alan Holdsworth.
This is a great album. There is enough left-field stuff going on to keep one guessing and it has made me appreciate more fully the compositions of Philippe Cuavin. This is the best of the six CDs in Musea's delve into Philippe Cauvin's vaults