Antigravity is a trio album from legendary trumpeter Jac Berrocal and two fellow travellers in the French avant-garde, David Fenech and Vincent Epplay. A lugubrious mise-en-scène in which ice-cold outlaw jazz meets musique concrète, DIY whimsy and dubwise studio science, all watched over by the lost souls and hungry ghosts of rock ‘n roll.
Born in 1946, Berrocal is the embodiment of saturnine, nicotine-stained Parisian cool, but he is also one of a kind: indeed, “trumpeter” is hardly an adequate epithet for this musician, poet and sometime film actor who came of age in the ‘70s Paris improv scene, where the boundaries between music, art and theatre were porous and begging to be breached. Inspired by bebop, chanson, free jazz, beat poetry, early rock ‘n roll and myriad Eastern influences, and with an iconoclastic, anything-goes approach to instrumentation and technique that would later align him with post-punk sensibilities, Berrocal blazed an eccentric and unstoppable trail across the underground throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, both solo and as part of the Catalogue group he co-founded.
During this time his uproarious performances routinely wound up jazz and rock audiences alike, but earned the admiration of no small number of wised-up weirdos: Steven Stapleton invited him to perform on two Nurse With Wound albums, and other notable collaborators in his career include Sunny Murray, Lizzy Mercier-Descloux, Lol Coxhill, Yvette Horner and James Chance. In the 90s his protean achievements were celebrated on the Fatal Encounters compilation, but far from slowing down in the autumn of his life, Berrocal has maintained an extraordinary work-rate, keeping studio dates with Pascal Comelade, Telectu and Jaki Liebezeit, among others. In 2014 he released his first solo album proper in 20 years, MDLV.
Now Berrocal has found the perfect foil in David Fenech and Vincent Epplay, two fearlessly inventive improvisers, composers and catalysts who create challenging, acutely modernist yet historically aware settings – wrought out of synthesis, guitars, computer processing, field recordings and unorthodox percussions – for Berrocal’s unmistakeable voice and breathtakingly lyrical horn sound to flourish. Fenech cut his teeth in the mail-art scene of the early ‘90s, leading the Peu Importe collective in Grenoble. His 2000 solo debut was recently reissued by Felix Kubin’s Gagarin label, and he has also worked as a software developer at IRCAM, and played with Jad Fair, Tom Cora, Rhys Chatham and James Plotkin; in 2011 he formed a trio with Berrocal and Ghedalia Tazartes for the Superdisque LP. Epplay is a highly regarded sonic and visual artist with a particular interest in aleatory composition and autonomous pieces, concrète, and the puckish reappropriation of vintage sound and film material, with dozens of published works to his name on labels like Planam/Alga Marghen and PPT/Stembogen. He is also responsible for the cover imagery and video work that accompanies Antigravity.
The Berrocal/Fenech/Epplay trio’s first album together, Antigravity is a richly imagined universe combining original compositions and détourned standards. Berrocal revisits his own signature piece ‘Rock N Roll Station’, which first appeared on his ’77 LP Paralleles with chain-wielding, leather-clad wildman of British rock ‘n roll, Vince Taylor, singing the lead, and Berrocal on mic’d up bicycle; here, the Frenchman takes the vocal reins. A barely recognisable interpretation of Talking Heads’ ‘The Overload’ pushes beyond the bush of ghosts into a fourth world dread-zone of stalking drum machine rhythms, humid electronics and jagged guitar phrasing, while ‘Where Flamingos Fly’ reroutes the Gil Evans Orchestra’s classic rendition through the seamiest back-streets of the 13th arrondissement; there, as on the trio’s reading of ‘Kinder Lieder’, the mood is romantic, but stark, isolationist: imagine Chet Baker falling through the glacial sound-world of early PiL or Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter.
Originals include the agitated Iberian psychedelia of ‘Spain’, and ‘Panic In Bali’, which begins in seemingly trad-jazz fashion only to swell into a cacophony of a gurgling electronics and fevered ‘Lonely Woman’ quotations. ‘Solaris’ is a swirling, suspenseful arabesque of whiplash guitars and Black Ark FX, Berrocal’s trumpet hitting deep blue notes while his vocals are sliced and diced and tossed into a yawning void of tape-delay – like Antigravity at large, the result is oblique, dissolving, forever out of reach.
Despite the chilly, sometimes austere mood of the album, it is, ultimately, a deeply human and welcoming work, with a playfulness and sly humour pervading: see the anarchic cross-hatch of ‘Ife Layo’, or ‘L’essai des Suintes ou le bal des Futaies’, Berrocal’s poetic disquisition on the infinite variety of female genitalia. Mischief and misdirection are rife here, and fans of Officer!, Henry Cow and the ReR axis will find much to chew on. Play, as we know, is a serious business.
Put another way, and to quote Berrocal entirely out of context, Antigravity is completely crazy, completely timeless, completely out. As its title suggests, the objective is nothing less than lift-off, weightlessness, a total unshackling from earth. Sunglasses on, collar up, let’s go.
Antigravity will be released on LP, CD and digital formats on April 27, 2015. The trio launch the album with a live performance at the 2015 Rewire Festival in the Netherlands, May 2. More information here.