“Hera” by Le Pot

Le Pot“Try out things that are not obvious”
A simple interview with Manuel Mengis of Le Pot turned into a comedy of technology, Skype faltered, then both my landline telephones ran out of battery…twice. No one I asked knew of Le Pot and there was not much information online – it seemed the mystery of this 4-piece band would remain impenetrable. I’d been intrigued since reviewing the first instalment of their trilogy, She-Hera-Zade. It was sparse and tense; lo-fi white noise mingling with indistinguishable instruments, even the trumpet, played by Mengis, was often twisted into animalistic squeals. “We always had a big interest in sounds,” said Manuel (when we managed to speak), “Le Pot is actually a lot of improvised music. One big effect of that is ‘sounds’ – to really try out things that are not obvious, going beyond the normal sound of the instruments.”

“There were things coming together that were really pertinent”

St Roman in RaronThe church of St. Roman in the village of Raron (close to Mengis’ home in Visp) was their recording studio and helped draw out feelings. “It’s a powerful place, a space where there is a lot going on, an energy [‘kraftort’ in German]…There were things coming together that were really pertinent.” Le Pot’s music imagines landscapes that are barren or alien. They use titles such as ‘Hamada’ and ‘Badlands’ meaning dry, eroded earth which they envisage with electric guitar scrapes, lonely trumpet notes and brooding synth drones. Rock, starlight, dusk and distant moons were conjured as I heard tracks like ‘Flint’ and ‘Bubo Bubo’; they seem to hold the natural elements in their hands.

He was unsure whether to follow music or mountaineering
It turns out that mountains have been central to Manuel’s life and at one time he was unsure whether to follow music or mountaineering. The decision was almost forced after an injury, although he’s still a mountain guide. I recently heard about an old book, ‘The Living Mountain’, in which Nan Shepherd writes of her obsessive walks in the Scottish Cairngorms, “One never quite knows the mountain, or oneself in relation to it.” She speaks, not of ‘going up’ a mountain, but ‘going into’ one and in so doing, into herself. As I listened to Hera, its textures and its space drew me in, deeply.

“It’s not that pushing kind of atmosphere, it’s a strong collective”
There is a respect of subtlety and Le Pot seem to revel in holding back so that the played notes gain maximum impact, such as when Lionel Friedli tumbles into a dramatic solo in ‘Ranunkel and Viola’ or his drums eventually sound in ‘Eyrie’. At the end of this track, the quality of touch from Manuel Troller and Hanspeter Pfammatter on guitar and keyboards (respectively) is exquisite. Mengis explains, “I think everybody playing has a lot of experience in improvised music and is not really interested in showing off…everybody has enough experience to see the whole picture and able to feel when its right, it’s not that pushing kind of atmosphere, it’s a strong collective.”


This album is more profound, musically, than She. The press release quotes Benjamin Britten, ‘Music has the beauty of loneliness and pain,’ and I sensed an exposure of emotion in their playing. “If you ask about the personal, yes, there’s a lot of emotion,” said Manuel, “It’s more than just an idea, it’s emotional too.” He spoke of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a starting point. “The melodies with the harmonics are really interesting. It’s not super obstructive – these are melodies you can sing, but it turns into something unpredictable…more complex. I felt really close to that music somehow.”

‘Meanwhile’…resembles a quick Cubist sketch
There are top moments of sequencing, breaking the worthy moodiness, for instance, with the whimsey of ‘Meanwhile’ which resembles a quick Cubist sketch. Mengis explained, “It was a spontaneous improvisation. Something light, no weight, a little bit innocent. The point is, in that recording is contrast between the dark spaces and the obvious melody or something light and easy…[there’s] ambivalence and counterplay between the two things.” The elegant and moving medley of ‘Thus Gamesters United in Friendship/Ungrateful Macheath!’ from the Beggar’s Opera serves a similar purpose.

When I visited New Zealand this year I played a track from She on an Auckland radio station and a listener texted in asking when I was going to play some music. I took this as an enormous compliment to Le Pot. It’s tough to sculpt a distinctive shape in music these days as so much has already been done. I can’t recommend Le Pot enough. Interestingly, despite being in a very different corner of the music spectrum from Im Sinne Der Zeit by the band Klaus Johann Grobe, Hera fills my heart with just as much joy. I’d ask all promotors to consider booking them so that I can see them play live!

16-19 Sept 2015 – Vevey (CH), L’Oriental (4 nights)

23 Oct 2015 – Sion (CH), Eglise des Jésuites (à l’oeil & à l’oreille)

15 January 2016 – Sierre (CH), Jazz Station

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