Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes—

Released 1972 on Philips
The Seth Man, January 2008ce
The strength of Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes’ exceptional debut album, “No. 2” caught the attention of Philips Records, who quickly signed the group in 1971. For the next nine years Catherine Ribeiro+Alpes would wind up producing a total seven albums for the label, with an additional two solo albums by Ribeiro essaying the songs of Edith Piaf and Jacques Prevert. Out of this prodigious output, it would be their second Philips LP “Paix” where their potential reached its highest level of realisation. Like nearly all of their albums, it featured a photo sleeve of the group outdoors somewhere in the Alpes de Haute Provence region of southern France, here situated in front of a great tree bearing their group name and album title as though carved directly into its trunk. Ribeiro and Moullet sit together as a pair in the foreground simply dressed, Ribeiro cradling a long-stemmed flower looking directly ahead with great purpose as the Lemoine brothers Patrice and newcomer Jean-Sebastien flank either side of the tree looking respectively pleased and anxious while clad in attire more suitable for free festivals than divinations in a forest.

Despite the clashing wardrobes, this lineup caught hanging out al fresco also hung together with an equal amount of unity and breathing space throughout the proceedings captured on “Paix.” Instead of partitioning the folk ballads away from the progressive instrumentals to hang separately as leaden entities as they did on their preceding album “Ame Debout,” the musical moves on “Paix” were far more integrated into lithe constructions that for all their sporadically fluttery graces were swept together to unflinchingly contrast Ribeiro’s passionate and severe vocalisations. Moullet’s thematic arrangements were collectively refracted through the talents of organist Patrice Lemoine who, retained from the “Ame Debout” sessions, was now allowed to shine throughout the proceedings with a depth of feeling and sense of the appropriate that verged on the telepathic. Rounding out the group as veritable one-man rhythm section was Jean-Sebastien Lemoine, bassist and newly-appointed operator of Moullet’s self-made percussive device, the percuphone. Despite its simple title, what Ribeiro+Alpes conceived together on “Paix” was neither simple nor peaceful with the majority of the record consisting of two expansive suites that insinuated out from the very shadowy realms whose depths were being plumbed so deeply.

Prior to this great channelling of dark majestic eddies came two tracks that offered no glimpse of the opaque complexities to follow. The most orthodox-sounding moment of the album comes with the introductory instrumental of “Roc Alpin.” An energetic and sunny fanfare, Ribeiro’s voice soars harmoniously throughout in wordless banners of “la-la-la-la-la-la”s that daisy chain the song while whipping optimistically under the bluest of skies. Moullet’s chiming cosmophone backs Lemoine’s organ until switching to squall throughout the bridge like a gust of fresh alpine air. The guest drumming of Michel Santangelli appears here alone on an album otherwise lacking in batterie and soon the sparse, arid and drum-less terrain Alpes had been recently traversing arrives with the concise “Jusqu'à Ce Que La Force Me Manqué.” A brimming heartful of balladeering, it laments and toils through both love’s many losses and triumphs. Where Ribeiro’s previous sequence of highly echoed “la-la-la-la-la-la”s had previously fluttered in the breeze, they now flap distressed under blustery psychic conditions while acoustic guitar and organ weave together in tight formation behind Ribeiro’s impassioned choral flights as though to keep her from ascending into the stratosphere.

Whereas the first two songs of the album contract and quickly pass, the remaining two expand into far more deliberate paces and hypnotic spaces as they veer into territory that can only be called progressive because it’s so entirely unique. The remainder of side one unfolds out into the first of two substantial epics in the form of the fifteen minute title track, “Paix.” One of Alpes’ all-time breathless moments of accomplishment, it combines lyrics of deep conscience into a drama of unending layers of twilight keyboards that repeat an ever-descending hymnal theme as consistent and cyclical as the tides. Percuphone agitates rhythmically in the distance to continually grow in prominence as linear swaths of Patrice Lemoine’s soothing Farfisa organ unfurl like mist into an opening theme echoed in brother Jean-Sebastien’s bass line. Oppressive, overcast clouds hang claustrophobically low while a second organ line scans for glimpses of possible, brighter futures. Moullet plucks notes out from his cradled cosmophone skeletally surf-like until a sudden shift upwards in tempo cause the rhythms of palpitating heartbeats to modulate into a full-tilt gallop. The bass doubles up to buttress the ensuing hyperspaced conical helix when Patrice Lemoine steps out with a veering wasp swarm of an organ solo not unlike Michael Ratledge’s coda on Kevin Ayers’ “Song For Insane Times.” The bass keeps steadily at it while the percuphone percolates, the cosmophone undulates and the once snarling organ degenerates back into the layered background pillow of winds and clouds. A spellbinding dream-zone ensues from this calm, an ever-building evolution while the percuphone’s telegraphic repetition runs unabated in the background in sombre reticulation. The motorised reports continue to click off steadily on its predetermined path of percolations, allowing all the space in the world for the rest of the ensemble to build through the volition of their own momentum. Suddenly, Ribeiro cuts in with violent declamations that demand peace to ‘he who screams because he sees clearly,’ to the ‘great confusions of misery’ and to ‘he who searches/striking his head against the wall.’ The swelling organ sustains quietly behind her stabbing and defiant pronouncements like water surging fluently all around the rocky outcroppings of her husky vocals. A clutch of cosmophone notes pluck strategically twixt the loping, staggered bass lines that dance like mystery shadows behind Ribeiro until she terminates her recitation with consecutive protracted invocations of “PAAAAAIIIIIX!!!” It’s as though she’s just released a flock of doves at the edge of a dark ocean of uncertainty hoping against hope at least one will endure its tenuous flight to the other side. This signals the musicians to plunge once more into a whirlpool where an unexpected second fuzz/Leslie rotating speaker-steeped organ attack re-enters with labyrinthine careening to swamp the proceedings with another cantankerous and super-nasally solo. Some time later, it will dissipate into the ether to allow the recurring bass line to gain in strength and corral everything to pour back into the opening theme to unite with Ribeiro, who operatically and wordlessly wails a series of “OOOOOOOHH” and “AAAAAAHHH”s with the colouration of dashed hopes pulsing in those hearts long dulled but newly reawakened, breaking the waves of the layered keyboards that surround and propel her lamentations. A crescendo takes the track down to an exhaustive conclusion.

Side two song -- but only if you could call a multi-tiered, quarter of an hour supernatural odyssey that swirls in the mystery zone between life and death a ‘song.’ Ribeiro+Alpes called it “Un Jour...La Mort” which translates into English as “One Day...Death” and this death opus swallows up all of side two before it’s even begun. Nudging out from the silence, gentle cosmophone notes strike and drop weightless as feathers while ethereal organ wafts in to anesthetise everything, swelling like the winds of time. A second organ enters buoyantly as resounding bass plonks reverberate from speaker to speaker, echoing in the portal crossing between life and death while the dense organ notes pervade like soft dust settling in the quiet finality of life’s aftermath. Ribeiro begins detailing the contents of the ballroom she’s currently circumnavigating with Death, her partner in this private danse macabre. Suddenly, a rise of acoustic strumming breaks the spell as Ribeiro parts the curtain on the great mysteries to come with a cluster of her wordlessly purging “AAAAAHHH...OOOOOOHH...”s that soar into the stratosphere. The acoustic trades off with the organ for a brief jaunty dance with the wee folk as a final dash before all is smothered with the ensuing dominance of wraith-like organ. It drops in pitch to dissipate mournfully and swell in the background like curling smoke when Ribeiro breaks the silence calmly with her first sung lines that detail her acceptance of Grand Dame Death’s invitation into her fantastic realm. Ribeiro accepts, cutting her cords of life and the pace switches with aggressively strummed acoustic guitar to back Ribeiro’s strident tones which describe the beginning “whirlwind of decadence” which ensues only after a reiteration of the previous jaunty vignette and...silence.

Breaking that silence, percuphone cuts in with insistent and percussive rattling like mechanised bongo player locked into an unswerving amphetamine groove. Keeping up and exceeding the tempo comes Ribeiro’s observations from the Underworld on this world and nothing’s changed: children are still caught in the crossfire of war, there is tumult, napalm, suffering and yet the “government-killers were still in place” as are the comforting caramel and chocolate creams. Her silhouetted vocals spike the low ceiling of musical clouds that amass directly overhead as Moullet’s bows his cosmophone high-pitched into the scrim of surrounding keyboards. An organ solo starts and never seems to end, wending its way between further cosmophone skittering and screeching, multi-overlaid piano placement pitching to and fro as if it’s the previous whirlwind of decadence Ribeiro sang of -- the same one of the land that bore her. Arriving to sweeten the proceedings, twinkling and trebly electric piano lines hoist everything upwards with great uplifting power. There is now nothing to fear, the white light of love beyond the physical world approaches, causing even Ribeiro’s usually harsh tones to soften. This is one of the most beautiful passages of the entire album when Ribeiro’s voice echoes in halls of eternity the street-wise/wiseass retort:

“Vous me serrez d'un peu trop près, trop fort...
Je ne suis pas vraiment lesbienne, savez-vous?”

(‘You squeeze me a little too close, too strong...
I am not really a lesbian, you know?’)

What the fuck: she’s currently in the Underworld, incensed that life on earth hasn’t changed one iota and here she is cracking wise in Death’s embrace that is currently hampering her breath; the smell is making her nauseous and still Catherine the strong-hearted hasn’t lost neither her conscience nor sense of humour. The clot thickens as bowed cosmophone still solos continuously like a viola held to a high-pitched sustain while bass organ chords resound like surrounding phantasms. Meanwhile, the percuphone has not let up for one minute, still galloping like wild pale horses drawing Ribeiro’s voyage towards eternity and continue to rap out well beyond the fade until all is silence. Silence...

Suddenly, a solo acoustic guitar emerges to pluck out a series of uncertain notes and with two errant strums, signal a sense of rebirth which bursts out triumphantly with amassed acoustic guitar strumming draped with Farfisa overlays radiating a sense of liberation. The track continues with roaming bass and after Ribeiro has finished her peace, the extended coda is punctuated with crow caws as if from the maw of Grand Dame Mort herself. Recoiling aghast at Ribeiro suggestion to make her, Death, a child in exchange for her life is just too much to take. She’s throttled by the suggestion, as Ribeiro keeps on pestering her, repeating in a variety of pleading and goading tones: “Return me my life, Death, beautiful Death...And I will make you a child...” Ending on a note of weirdly unfulfilled optimism, it draws to a close with constant jarring caws, thematic organ positions and patiently plonking bass that amass into Ribeiro’s intertwining, drawn-out vocalising as a celebration to vex Death and uphold love and life forever.