Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Lard Free
Gilbert Artman's Lard Free

Released 1973 on Vamp
Reviewed by achuma, 27/06/2006ce

Why this French band isn’t better known I have no idea. They had all the makings of a cult experimental ‘rock’ band but remain known only to a relative few. A creation of visionary drummer/keyboardist/saxophonist Gilbert Artman, this was their first proper album, though they had already existed for a while beforehand, and had made recordings that later surfaced on CD as ‘Unnamed’ [Spalax/Temple, 1997]. Recorded in 1971 and 1972, the music on that disc is in a quite different style to what would be found on their following albums, being largely progressive avant-jazz-rock that’s actually pretty good if you’re into that sort of thing. Compared to the later Lard Free, however, it’s fairly conventional, even if not conventional alone by normal people’s standards. ‘Gilbert Artman’s Lard Free’, with it’s big glistening knife piercing the clouds on the front cover painting, is a different and more (experi)mental kettle of fish.
Handling not only drums but also vibes and piano, Artman is accompanied here by Hervé Eyhani on bass and ARP synth, Philippe Bolliet on saxes and psycho guitarist François Mativet. Their faces are arranged on the inside cover, but with empty pink voids where their eyes should be. These guys are clearly on a different frequency and this album sounds overall like nothing else.

‘Warinobaril’ [3:52] begins subtly with a sluggish jazz bass riff creeping out of the silence, quickly joined by a simple drum beat and kinda ominous sax drone-blurts. It all builds slowly, slowly, setting up a noirish scene of the New York mean streets at night circa 1955 or thereabouts, before around the 2 minute mark totally demented free-noise skronk electric guitar splatters onto the scene like a punk on PCP crashing a classy ball, screaming and squawling with the sax and almost making Sonny Sharrock seem restrained(!). I haven’t heard all that much John Zorn, but this reminds me of some of that stuff, although way cooler in my book.
‘12 Ou 13 Juillet Que Je Sais D’Elle’ [8:54] could just as well be an out-take from the Besombes-Rizet ‘Pôle’ album, oozing forth like a beautiful cyborg caterpillar, blobs of sequenced synth laying down the body as understated, slightly mournful but serene and balanced sax pastes out more human melodies in the misty air hovering above. After a few minutes where another synth line goes a bit nuts, it all breaks down halfway through and changes tack completely, now to a frenetic but restrained avant-jazz, the acoustic rhythm section sounding like that of Soft Machine circa ‘4’ with Sharrock fracture splinters scattering on guitar and a free-soaring sax improv that takes flight a little later; I’m also reminded of some of Patto’s free jazz rock moments.
‘Honfleur Écarlate’ [4:53] begins with another moody bass riff bringing to mind private eyes creeping around in a black & white fantasy world of shadows and double-crossers, as does the bass riff in ‘Warinobaril’ but more so. Perfect drumming backs it up as bare-bones avant-garde sax raps in occasional muted punches, and we’re treated to some more of Mativet’s tasty distorted guitar mangling over much of the track, though this is more focussed and grinding than the guitar parts we’ve heard so far.
‘Acide Framboise’ [6:43] sounds like another Besombes-Rizet out-take with its deep inner-space organic synth globules, this time backed with drums and guitar that’s more approachable than Mativet’s previous playing, at least for a little while, though no less innovative, as he’s constantly avoiding clichés in a successful quest to play in service to the music and still play outside the dotted lines. This all plods on for a while, boring to some but engrossing to others (like me!), before the guitar comes to the fore in order to display some chaotic psychic disintegration, then receding as the synths slide it out to the end.
‘Livarot Respiration’ [7:45] starts off and continues very mellow with a crystalline, downbeat atmosphere created by vibes and an inside-out slow bass riff, joined shortly by tasteful sax mourning and melodic guitar shards that combine to spindle out an entrancing flow of relaxed but serious modern jazz a little reminiscent of Nucleus circa ‘Elastic Rock’ and parts of Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’.
‘Culturez-Vous Vous-Mêmes’ [4:21] begins with unsettling wavering synth drones that sound kinda like a gothic church organ gone wrong, and wouldn’t be out of place on Philippe Besombes’ ‘Libra’ soundtrack album, although it’d be one of the more low-key atmospheric moments. Just as you’re starting to think the whole track will be like this (not a bad thing, mind...), some ever-so-subtle pleasant piano tinkering starts to emerge from the gloom, taking over as the droning fades out, and closing the album on an extremely subdued and unpretentious note.

Following this it was time for another quantum leap forward, with the second Lard Free album ‘I’m Around About Midnight’, reviewed separately.

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