La Guepe captures under-acclaimed French free jazz musician Bernard Vitet in full flow in 1971. I say free jazz: this LP also has some very interesting excursions into contemporary classical textures, such as at the start of Side A. I’d not heard of Vitet before this reissue, but I’ll be looking out in future. Reissue LP on Continuous Breath.
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- FFL010/SON05 / WHITE vinyl reissue LP on Continuous Breath. Edition of 200 copies w/ obi strip
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- La Guepe by Bernard Vitet
7/10 Robin Staff review, 26 August 2015
It’s all very reasonable. The French avant-garde scene of the ‘70s spawned many a musical dilettante making interesting music from the sidelines of sound, and the latest in an effort to reissue the works of the era’s Futura label brings Bernard Vitet to the fore. The cover for ‘La Guepe’ offers a characteristically sparse picture of a weirdly decorated alien playing a primitive flute, and if you swap that flute for a piano, you’ve got the record’s vibe down: these performances show Vitet to be a curious and largely unfussy soloist just trying out his instruments, like a bank robber going through combinations on a safe.
Opener “Et Cetera” is perhaps Vitet’s calmest and quietest work, simply going through varied and unrelated motions on the piano as time folds in on itself. Vitet clearly considered himself a polymath in both instrumentation and aesthetic, though, and his second track proves altogether less minimalist, combining barbed violin and piano that sounds like glass being clanked together in a coffee shop. The groaning vocals that intercept these sounds serve as an example of Vitet's penchant for improvisation: not only did he let certain arrangements go where they wanted, he introduced totally disparate intonations of sound. These wordless operatic vocals feeling like another way of framing the song’s distress signals.
The vocals take the record into a dimension that will surely appeal to fans of throat-wailers like Phil Minton, as well as fans of more beautified choral ambient, at a push; ultimately, though, they fit the woozy, formless diversions this record plays out, groaning over confused drums and scraped-together double bass. I don’t think I would have wanted to be in Vitet's scene, but I’m happy to just know it exists from this here chair.
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