PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Paris Combo: Motifs

Michael Mikesell

Its fourth album finds the multiracial French quintet bursting with confidence, catchy melodies, taut arrangements, and unmitigated fun.


Paris Combo

Motifs

Label: DRG
US Release Date: 2005-01-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

An album as suitable for listeners seeking respite from worldly troubles as it is for those craving adventure, Paris Combo's lively Motifs is a giddy rush of music that begs repeated listening at ever higher volumes. While based in France and playing music founded in 20th-century chanson, the Combo's members hail not merely from France (singer/accordion player Belle du Berry, drummer François Jeannin) but also from the Mediterranean (the Django-esque guitarist known only as Potzi), Madagascar (double-bass player and second singer Mano Razanajato), and Australia (pianist and trumpet player David Lewis). The Combo writes its own material and -- led by du Berry's velvety alto -- imbues its songs with elements of gypsy, flamenco, and North African music, North and South American jazz, and hints of French bal-musette.

However readily apparent its influences, however, the music is free from any hint of gimmick; there are no ostentatious shows of virtuosity or dramatic shifts in character to suggest a coarse attempt to rub our faces in the group's multiculturalism. What's surprising is how incredibly natural the group sounds when it melds, as in "Ennemis Siamois" ("Siamese Enemies"), Django-style washboard rhythm guitar, classical-tinged piano, reggae-like reverberant utterances, and modern-jazz trumpet while snappy, Latin-inflected bass and percussion guide the ensemble through the song's shifting time signatures. At all turns, this is fun music played by people who sound like they're having fun.

Motifs is the band's fourth studio album since the formation of the Combo in 1995. It follows the group's self-titled 1997 debut, 1999's Living Room, and 2001's Attraction. (Live came out in 2002.) On Motifs, Oz Fritz's production reflects the band's status as a contemporary ensemble rather than a mere nostalgia act, breaking with traditional "tell it like it is" jazz production to present a punchy, almost pop sound with Razanajato's aggressive acoustic bass quite forward in the mix -- a feature that also serves the dynamic thrust of the music.

The arrangements are perfection itself, conveying a nuanced appreciation for the importance -- melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic -- of each element, leaving ample space for the vocals but allowing any given instrument to grab center stage the moment it's appropriate to do so. Potzi's instrumental "Reflet" ("Reflection") showcases an exquisite performance by the Romanian violinist Florin Niculescu.

If I can safely extrapolate from my own experience, it will be clear to anyone with even the most cursory appreciation of French that du Berry sings with a great relish of diction and syntax, bearing out frequent comparisons to Edith Piaf (though du Berry's voice is silkier -- not as husky and not as powerful). In the few passages directly comprehensible to me, du Berry's delivery shows a great attention to the meaning of her lyrics, and listeners with even a passing knowledge of French will have an even easier time than I did appreciating her terse and playful lines, which tend to explore the relationship between the personal and the universal.

According to a source close to the band, "Motus" is about "the importance of opening one's mouth, whether it be in politics or just to talk to one's lover" ("Silence is the same thing / In every language / Words are like seeds that aren't sown / Wherever silence reigns"); the sublime "Etoile pâle" is about "losing someone very dear" ("My eyes are vacant / So my mind connects with other things / And during the night / Without me noticing / You reappear / On my horizon / And I'm astonished"); and the opening "High, Low, In" describes a feeling of being "disconnected from a world that is both impersonally technological and violent" ("I'm heads, I'm tails / Tender beneath my carapace / I turn my back on turbulence / And retreat when faced with violence").

The Oxford Companion to Music quotes the following definition of chanson from Rousseau's Dictionary of Music (1767): "A sort of very short lyric poem, generally upon some pleasant subject, to which an air is added so that it can be sung on intimate occasions, as at table, with one's friends, with one's sweetheart, or even when one is alone, in order for a few moments to drive away boredom if one is rich, and to help one to bear misery and labour if one is poor."

Reading this, it's easy to see why the term "chanson", which arose in the 15th Century, also (and now more commonly) refers to 20th-Century French cabaret music. Further, this definition provides context for a pleasingly ironic aspect of du Berry's lyrics, which are anything but toss-offs "upon some pleasant subject". Motifs proves a beautiful title for the record, since the general notion of "recurring themes" seems to fit du Berry's inescapable concern for contemporary life as nicely as it applies to the group's intention to fashion new and meaningful music founded on styles of old.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.