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Jol GRARE (b.1961)
Des pas sous la neige
Jol Grare (percussion)
Matthieu Desbordes, Yula Slipovitch (percussion & voice)
Anne Isambert (voice)
Simon Buffaud (double bass)
Alice Julien-Laferrire (violin)
rec. 2018, La Chapelle Profane, France
ALPHA CLASSICS 436 [58:38]

Percussion albums aren’t much my thing as, like opera, I think a big part of the experience is seeing the performer(s) in action. Jol Grare’s music tickled my interest however, the samples I’d heard being fascinating of timbre and often strikingly atmospheric, the emphasis on music and musicianship rather than spectacle. Part of the raison d’tre of Des pas sous la neige is Grare’s completion of his instrument, the ‘Clavicloche’, a chromatic set of tuned cowbells over three and a half octaves in range. This might seem like a reasonably straightforward project but cowbells are not made to pitch, and so finding those that happen to be tuned to ‘useful’ notes (quarter-tone composers can have the leftovers) has in this case taken two decades of searching.

By no means all of these short pieces are based around cowbells however. The title track sets up a lovely accompaniment for subtle variations played on more conventional bells. The documentation for this album doesn’t list the instruments used for each track, so we’re left guessing at times. Each piece is accompanied by a text in the booklet that offers largely subjective descriptions or references. If you like quasi-poetic tags this is fine, but I can take them or leave them alone. Some of the pieces have a ‘new-agey’ feel – the singing bowls of Battements d'ailes dans le brouillard for instance, but there is fun to be had with the swing of something like Campanula alpestris, all of these pieces having a sense of subtle joy in the sheer wonderfulness of the sound they create.

Also fascinating are Grare’s treatments of Bartk. His 1915 suite of dances are transformed here with almost unrecognisable but beautifully haunting bells Abel Torbak 1 / Brul, given a funny feel with a bouncy touch on a small positive organ for Abel Torbak 2 / Pe Loc, and given a poignant timelessness on harpsichord for Abel torbak 3 / Buciumeana.

Late Liszt meets jazz and African percussion in Cloches Vespérales, and if you want to hear the biggest cowbells in the world then try Le cou des vaches, another delightful piece that sets up a gentle rhythm over which improvisatory tunes develop on a variety of more or less well-tempered instruments. More conventional drumming issues forth from Les Grandes Jorasses Face Nord, representing ‘walls’ of sound, a narrow path which is trod by “the breath of the valiha, played with a bow,” a fragile contrast to the heavy rhythms that surround it. Debussy ou la tour des cloches is evocative of a dream in which the exotic Indonesian sounds of the Universal Exhibition disturb the young composer’s subconscious, while Sonnerie de plein champ pour faire venir la neige is a ritualistic piece that includes plainchant, summoning and illustrating the elemental forces of “thunder, rain, wind and lightening”. The final piece, Sous la neige, recalls that of the opening with the addition of a violin.

Well recorded and played with unmistakable devotion, this is an intriguing and at times beautiful collection of sounds. It has plenty to offer even to us percussion sceptics, and its music will resonate on in your brain long after the music has stopped emerging from your speakers.

Dominy Clements

Des pas sous la neige ( ma mre) [3:36]
Transhumance et transcendance ( Didier Galas) [4:02]
Battements d'ailes dans le brouillard ( Pierre Favre) [3:54]
Les rythmes fantômes ( Jacques Debs) [2:59]
Campanula alpestris ( Armand Amar) [2:25]
La noce feras-tu? ( Jean-Franois Zygel) [3:15]
La buée ( Christian Vander) [2:50]
Bla BARTK (1881-1945)
Abel Torbak 1 / Brul ( Claude Walter) [1:35]
Abel Torbak 2 / Pe Loc ( Matthieu Delpy) [1:40]
Abel torbak 3 / Buciumeana ( Yoann Moulin) [2:09]
Cloches Vespérales ( Emmanuel Guibert) [2:49]
Le cou des vaches ( mon frre Alain) [3:25]
Les Grandes Jorasses Face Nord ( Yvan Cassar) [3:38]
La cascade des perles de rosée ( Dieter Hermann) [4:25]
Debussy ou la tour des cloches ( Mal Guezel) [5:13]
Sonnerie de plein champ pour faire venir la neige ( Alban Sautour) [3:11]
Les flocons invitent la montagne à danser ( Axel Lecourt) [3:21]
Sous la neige ( Anne Rousseau) [4:02]


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