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(51:56, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. She Moves through the Fair 4:12 2. Avec Uppsala 6:43 3. Mauresque 5:48 4. En Terre Etrabgere 4:28 5. La Croix de Bourghi Bando 3:30 6. Le Chant de Gauthier 7:21 7. Ex Superbo 5:24 8. Capitaines 6:53 9. La Route 7:08 LINEUP: Jean-Luc Payssan – el. & class. guitars, mandolin; vocals Thierry Payssan – organ, synthesizers; zither; vocals Eric Reveyrol – basses Sonia Nedelec – vocals With: Gilles Piallat – midi-percussion (2, 5, 7, 8) Laure Mitou – harp (3)
Prolusion. I think the French band MINIMUM VITAL, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, doesn’t need any special introduction to its work. I’ll only note that, issued in November 2008, “Capitaines” is their tenth ‘program’ outing to date, meaning not counting their live albums and compilations. By the way, in the interview they gave me a few years ago the Payssan brothers assert that the group’s name has nothing to do with what it suggests in English.
Analysis. While still continuing to develop or rather modify the style they had for the first time revealed on their “La Source” album (1993) on “Capitaines”, the legendary Frenchmen appear as a very lighthearted folk rock ensemble. The music – upbeat and sweetly melodic throughout – bears an almost danceable character, from which it logically follows that it has near-nothing cerebral to it. Okay, I witness some shifts in theme and pace on all nine of the disc’s tracks, but anyway, each of those seems to cry out for more diversity in its arrangement and rhythmic departments alike. Although the primary soloing instruments are still both acoustic and electric guitars, organ, synthesizers and bass, there are noticeably fewer intense, classically bombastic, sympho-prog and related movements here than on any of the band’s previous albums, the brothers fairly often providing unison leads within those, and it’s for the first time now that I meet with – either real (congas) or midi (sounding like an ordinary drum machine) – percussion at the bottom end of their music instead of a drum kit, the latter being deployed on about a half of the tracks. Jean-Luc Payssan shows himself as a pretty skilled conga player, but nevertheless the lack of a real drummer makes the music on this recording appear to be lighter as well as straighter than ever before. Moreover, Sonia Nedelec who, thanks to her at once charming and distinctive voice, has been one of the calling cards of the group’s sound since the mid-‘90s, is not a lead singer anymore. Along with Thierry and Jean-Luc, she only provides harmony vocals here, appearing for the most part as a third voice in the choir, though on a couple of the compositions she is absent altogether. I’m surprised at the brothers’ decision to rely almost entirely on themselves this time: while truly remarkable multi-instrumentalists, they aren’t too impressive as lead vocalists. They sing strictly in their traditional manner, exclusively in harmony, so there are no pronounced vocal lines anywhere on the album whose corresponding palette, in turn, seems to consist only of backing vocals. On the positive side, Minimum Vital broadens its genre spectrum by using – really widely – Arabic and Turkic tunes, and if on such songs as She Moves through the Fair, La Croix de Bourghi Bando, Le Chant de Gauthier, Ex Superbo and the title one the moves that sonically evoke the band’s classic style – European medieval music-inspired Symphonic Progressive – prevail over the ones referring to Middle- and Near-Eastern music, then Mauresque, En Terre Etrabgere and La Route are almost entirely woven of, roughly speaking, oriental fabrics. What also gladdens the ear is the band’s devotion to originality in their work, as well as their – still first-rate – instrumental performance and in particular the ease with which they switch between the two cultural aesthetics (with your permission). The remaining track, Avec Uppsala, is another surprise, though: about two thirds of its contents bring to mind African ethnic motifs and I wonder what those have to do with the Swedish town that it seems to be dedicated to.
Conclusion. I see the overall style of the latest offering from Minimum Vital as Pop Art that’s enriched by various folk and ethnic motifs as well as acoustic instrumentation (though the term World Music doesn’t seem to be completely inappropriate to the occasion either). I realize that, from a progressive viewpoint, “Capitaines” is a rather defective creation, but I also realize that the music is unique and, to be completely fair, only the deficiency of true lead vocals here is really reprehensible in the final analysis.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: Agst 17, 2009
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