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Alco Frisbass - Le Bateleur CD (album) cover

LE BATELEUR

Alco Frisbass

 

Eclectic Prog

4.01 | 131 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Alco Frisbass is classified as "eclectic prog" on Prog Archives, but at least on Le Bateleur they play a jazz-influenced brand of progressive rock which is perhaps deserving of its own category.

The first track, "Soufre et Mercure" ("Sulfur and Mercury," two of the three ancient elements of alchemy*) opens with five and a half minutes of heavy prog, somewhat disorienting synths and guitar over an odd time signature. But after a short interlude, the next twenty-four minutes - - beginning with the closing section of "Soufre et Mercure" and extending through the first two minutes of "Les Cartes Vivantes," ("the Living Cards," i.e. the Tarot deck) is what I'd call progressive jazz, largely performed on guitar, bass, and synthesizers (including some very nicely-done drum programming). Only in the final minutes of "Ombre Terre"** does the heavy prog return in the form of a woodwind vamp à la Van Der Graaf Generator or King Crimson.

The performances are very good. In particular, Frédéric Chaput's measured bass playing on "Arcane Majeur" (referring to the trump cards in a Tarot deck) and "Le Bateleur" ("the Juggler," referring to an old Tarot card) is excellent. The sound - - especially the audio mixing - - is also as fantastic as an album recorded in 2018 ought to be. The relative shortcoming of Le Bateleur is in the composition. While the first and last songs have some well-written passages, much of the rest of the album consists of improvisation over chord sequences whose averageness is difficult to counteract with even the most inspired soloing.

As you can tell, the song titles imply a diffuse theme involving the mechanisms people used in the early modern era to connect with the supernatural. The album art clarifies this a bit; "le bateleur" literally means "the juggler," but sometimes with the connotation of a swindler (the connection here is to the sleight-of-hand of a magician). In tarot the Juggler is an older form of the Magician card. In the art of Tarot de Marseille, le bateleur stands behind a table as the character does on the cover of this album. The group's name is a further hint. "Professor Alcofrisbas" was an invention, and possible alter ego, of French filmmaker Georges Méliès (1861- 1938), the director of the 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) - - the one with the iconic sequence in which the Man in the Moon uses a telescope to watch an approaching space capsule, which hits him in the eye. Méliès began his entertainment career as a stage magician. And that's the head of Méliès on the juggler's table on the cover of Le Bateleur. (I think that's also him on the cover of the band's debut album.)

Alco Frisbass doesn't use many devices on Le Bateleur which invoke magic or the supernatural. Maybe this was a good idea; composing in unusual scales or using ethereal synthesizer patches could wind up sounding campy. On the other hand, in the absence of lyrics or any online explanation I could find, the music is apparently unrelated to the song titles or artwork - - so if you're looking for an album about fortune-telling, magic, alchemy, the Tarot deck, etc., you'll have to keep looking.

In all, Le Bateleur is a good album, but not one which distinguishes itself from many other recent works which mix heavy prog and jazz while paying at least some homage to 1970s prog-rock.

*Sulfur represented the soul and mercury the spirit. What's missing here is salt, the body.

**The words "Ombre Terre" translate as "Shadow Earth;" I'm not sure how this title relates to illusion, magic, the Tarot or to the other song titles.

patrickq | 3/5 |

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