“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


Preview: Klaus Johann Grobe at For Noise

© Paléo / Boris Soula

© Paléo / Boris Soula

I can’t pay a bigger compliment to Klaus Johann Grobe than to say they make me want to learn German (I’m actually looking at courses in London now). For the moment I freely sing along to their album Im Sinne der Zeit not knowing what on earth I’m saying. When I got the CD I played it every morning, over and over, because it made me so happy.

A minor-key world of melancholy and sensuality

My interest in KJG was immediate. I was due to see them at the Great Escape festival in Brighton in May and so I did some research on YouTube (of course). I found a live version of ‘Traumhaft’ and the very first chords of Moog/Farfisa synths pricked up my ears – the sound was so dandy, almost comical, and yet honest and soulful. The vocals seemed to dwell in a minor-key world of melancholy and sensuality, entwined with a thread of quiet optimism. It sounded nostalgic for DIY culture and a time of simplicity yet was progressive and fresh.

© Paléo / Boris Soula

© Paléo / Boris Soula

The irresistible synth sensibility of Sevi

Their show confirmed me as a fan and I literally barged people out of the way so I could be near the front (I avoided the very front row as I was aware my stalker-grin might scare the band). It was the irresistible synth sensibility of Sevi Landolt that drew me to them, but the equally genuine and clever rhythm section of Daniel Bachmann on drums and Stephan Brunner on bass (for the live shows) made this trio greater than the sum of its parts. I cornered their manager (who happens to be a great guy from Liverpool), gushed about how much I liked them and got a CD – then I gushed about how much I loved the CD cover. My gushing hasn’t stopped.

A serious depth of musical knowledge

On the album, tracks such as ‘Koffer’ give a sense of The Doors metamorphosing into The Jam via Herb Alpert. There are wafts of garage band, psychedelia and post-punk outfits like Howard Devoto’s sharp and lyrical, Magazine. Sevi throws us scraps of groove that the keyboard King, Jimmy Smith, would even nod his head to. You sense there is a serious depth of musical knowledge that underpins their unique ideas, but they draw on influences without being derivative.

KlausJohannGrobeThese guys aren’t afraid of an easy listening sway

‘Les Grecks’ still makes me chuckle as it wafts in memories of Peter Fenn’s music for the TV quiz show, ‘Sale of the Century’. These guys aren’t afraid of an easy listening sway or blowing an unashamedly romantic mist onto tracks like ‘Vergangenes’. If they keep their timing, simplicity and never try to be anything except genuine, I’m sure I will stay hooked. In fact I’m coming all the way to Switzerland to see them play the For Noise Festival in Pully on Thursday 20 August (I’ll be near the front with a big stalker-grin on my face…).

20.08. For Noise, Pully (CH)
21.08. C/o Pop, Köln (GER)
22.08. Dockville, Hamburg (GER)
09.09. Daba Daba, San Sebastian (ESP)
10.09. Moby Dick, Madrid (ESP)
11.09. Psych Fest, Zaragoza (ESP)
12.09. Sala Apolo, Barcelona (ESP)

Florian Favre “Dernière Danse”

Florian FavreYou get the sense Florian Favre is wringing as much out of some wood, metal strings, hammers, pedals and keys as he can. Using what he refers to as, ‘his first love’, the grand piano, he works melodies in with rhythmic punches, varying qualities of tone and a rich variety of ideas. His solo album, Dernière Danse (A-Nuk) is an engaging listen and shows off his clear talent and skills, although that could be a point of criticism too.

He has a wonderfully mournful touch
The tracks I favour are those where Florian is getting into a melancholic mood, as in the title track. Maybe it’s the ‘last dance’ in a romantic sense – but as if the affair is over, not beginning. The tempo perfectly captures a dragging feeling of loss, and he broodily uses the deeper end of the piano whilst tinkling high notes almost try to soothe it. ‘Träume Einer Wachspuppe’ (‘Dreams of a Wax Doll’) is just as touching whilst again using this tension between the two ends of a piano to weave a strange and evocative atmosphere. He has a wonderfully mournful touch.

“It was a nice brain training”
When I first met Favre he talked excitedly about his ideas of creating dance-like beats on the piano at the same time as musical tunes. These ideas formed when he was the only member of a backing ‘band’ for a pop singer. Favre says, “I tried the challenge to ‘split the keyboard’ into many different functions, having the end three fingers of my left hand playing bass and the other two playing drum, while my right hand was playing the harmony and melody. It was a nice brain training.” You can hear this clearly when he does a brief cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Let’s Groove’ – it’s clever but doesn’t touch me like his original compositions do.

Florian’s timing is impeccable
He can definitely pen a tune, as ‘Jambo’ and ‘Comme de J’aimeu’ testify. The latter uses delicate harpsichord stabs to create an unusual texture underneath the bluesy melody. Again Florian’s timing is impeccable, and with his original twists of melody he makes the piece captivating whilst allowing for groove, swing, and feeling. ‘Oh Lord’ expands on his ability to play southern-style blues and I love the drunken and warped ‘Interlude: The Lonely Turntable’ – it reminds me (in a positive way) of the 1970s English comedian, Les Dawson who crafted sophisticated off-key versions of classics. Florian used a quarter-tone piano to create the effect.

In fact throughout the whole of this album there is a sense of exploration, fun and playfulness. It’s just better when he invests a spirituality as opposed to the moments when I feel there is focus on technique. Florian’s trio recently played a coveted gig at Jazzahead, the huge ‘jazz trade fair’ in Bremen, and when Joshua Redman heard him play in Zurich he asked him to join his band onstage for a jam. There is no doubt that this is a musician to watch for – his passion and emotion when he plays are obvious, and that can count for a lot.

Florian Favre, Last Dance, Label ANUK

Link for next concerts


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