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Vera Clouzot - Reviews "Live" -

The French group Vera Clouzot first formed in Lille in 1993 when vocalist Pierre Laplace, a young teacher, then aged twenty four, began practicing music with two of his sixteen year old pupils, guitarist Richard Huyghe and cellist Nicolas Fahy. In the eight years since then the trio have recorded three studio albums together. The first two of these, 'Vera Clouzot' (1996) and 'The Moon When the Cherries are Ripe' (1998) , both of which the group self-produced, were recorded in English in homage to the band's lo-fi American musical influences Mark Eitzel, The Red House Painters and Smog. The latter 'Kachina' came out last year and sung in French, has more in common with jazz and the free form post rock experimentations of 'Laughing Stock', the final 1991 album of Talk Talk and another major influence.

'Live 30/09/2000' was recorded at Le Biplan, a club in Lille on September 30th at the last of three shows played to commerate the release of 'Kachina' earlier that month on the French Spirit of Jungle label. As well as its three original members, it also features the debut of jazz drummer Peter Orins as an official fourth member of the band and a guest appearance from Christophe "Pher" Motury on the trumpet. 'Live 30/09/2000' highlights aspects of the band's career from 'The Moon When The Cherries are Ripe' onwards, but concentrates particulary on 'Kachina', five of its eight tracks coming from that album. Limited to just fifty copies in its initial pressing, it is the first release of new Parisian "micro-label" hinah.

As a result of Laplace choosing to sing in English, Vera Clouzot initially had difficulties finding a French record label to release their records and 'The Moon When the Cherries are Ripe' was never distributed in France. The mood of 'Live 30/09/2000' is, therefore, despite the often heavy subject matter of much of its material, exuberant and celebratory, capturing the band at a definitive moment in their history and at both a professional and a personal peak. It translates well from the stage to compact disc. Huyghe's acoustic guitar, Pher's melancholic trumpet and Orins' jazzy drums are all at regular different points the central focus, each sometimes floating, sometimes surging to the fore. Discordance is common place, but the album to an equal degree in contrast also has several quieter and more reflective passages. Every song is tightly performed and frequently shifts tones, flitting often in an instant between a harsher and a softer sound, and never quite concludes as one might expect.

The opening song 'Treasures and Tombs', which originally appeared on 'The Moon When the Cherries are Ripe', finds a world weary Laplace, his silken vocals reminiscent of those of David Sylvian, nostalgic for times past, as in the background Huyghe's soft guitar and Fahy's more dissonant cello lightly battle against each other for dominance. 'Hunter, Sing Your Song', the only other track written in English, is a short haiku about the wind and originally published in a French collection of poems but now set to music, is sombre in nature, featuring a melancholic cello line ; plucked, chopped guitar work and a mournful vocal from Laplace. 'La Valse de Chinaski' is in contrast a snappy waltz. Featuring sudden flurries of trumpet and with Fahy's accelerating cello acting as a lead instrument, it has Laplace aligning himself with Henry Chinaski, the drunken, hedonistic anti-hero of several of the writer Charles Bukowski's novels. 'Chien Fantôme', an otherwise unreleased track, has harsh and gutteral vocals in the style of Brel and Weill. 'Nomades', the album's final track, is meanwhile about the need to find roots, but also about the disappointment that can come along with this and begins in a soft and elegiac manner, but concludes seven minutes later in discordance.

This is an impressive album of striking contrasts and which intelligently and enthusiastically played and performed captures the intensity of a perfect live show and is never less than a compelling experience. Acting both as a splendid introduction to new listeners while also offering something that is unique to committed fans, its finds Vera Clouzot in excellent form and at their very best. With this, their first live album, Vera Clouzot have made a great record, while hinah with their debut release have got off to the finest of starts.

John Clarkson