Ghost Rhythms – Live At Yoshiwara [Cuneiform Records 2019]
It would be inaccurate to describe Ghost Rhythms‘ music as purely ‘cinematic’. Precisely because the French ensemble is heavily influenced by the filmic experience, the band is much more than just a cinematic band. With a compelling mixture of jazz rock, progressive rock and minimalism, they are creating a very unique sound of their own. Yet the addition of visuals is the prime force behind this band, letting the music flourish through the interstices of the movie frames. Nevertheless, playing music according to a projector is all but reductive to describe their spirit. Ghost Rhythms is instead playing the filmic experience, creating a soundtrack for the soundtrack itself. Live at Yoshiwara is a collection of soundtrack for imaginary places caught in sparse filmic experiences, starting from Metropolis‘s fiction club Yoshiwara.
Despite being a live album, Live at Yoshiwara contains much new music brought into the universe of Ghost Rhythms. Following the cumbersome -a two full discs set in duration- and acclaimed Madeleine, which served as an ideal soundtrack for Hithcock‘s Vertigo, their fourth release is a 10-years celebration of the band. Recorded live during the XMas days of 2018 for an intimate audience and released by the leading avantgarde label Cuneiform (a label that, even if being officially on hiatus, is capable of producing some of the finest music around), Live at Yoshiwara is an ideal entry point of the diverse vision behind Ghost Rhythms‘ music. Let the words of Xavier Gelard, main force behind the drum stool, tell the tale behind creation of the band: it started when Camille Petit [piano] and I were looking for improvisators to play on looped rhythmic sessions that we did. Our idea was to marry the jazz improvisation with a more formal research around rhythm and its perception. So we met a flutist, a tenor saxophone and then others. Camille Petit explains more about how the challenging line-up was born: the basic line-up was found using classified ads on internet music forums. We met several bassists, but only Greg fitted in both rhythmically and in personal terms. The late instruments, congas, accordion, cello, came in a more natural way. For example, Nadia (cello) was in the public in one of our gigs and she came tell us after the show that she would love to play with us. Each time we add new instrumentist, we are first very excited.
I think the way I evolved on this rhythmical thing is that in the beginning I was playing with the perception of patterns knowing what “first” time I wanted to impose, and now I am more interested in having multiple interpretations and letting listeners hear what he wants – Camille Petit
The big and variable number of musicians, which currently range to ten musicians in total, has always been more a cunning than limiting choice. While Petit and Gelard have always been the sole writers of the ensemble’s music until this recording, still they teetered between taking the reins and hiding behind the curtain, with no temptation to swagger. The real thing about this band is melody and repetition, often with a deep emotional impact; but it’s a never a solo artist music, nor the music written for just piano or drums. Nattes is a perfect entry point of how this band reverts complexity in a whistling melody: the title (nattes means braids in french) hints at the interlocking motif played by piano, cello and accordion. A solemn and intimate question and answer by the instruments drives a long and tense fugue that is only occasionally, like at the three minutes and thirty seconds mark, goaded by other instruments. When at over the five minutes mark other instruments enter in, the main theme taken from the opening interlocking section triggers a powerful, heartfelt and deeply emotional moment.
Nattes depicts a clear picture of how the ensemble worked to create their structures: starting from odd rhythms, they eventually moved to a more holistic approach to rhythm: the next stage for us was to play with what we call “ghost rhythm” -recounts the drummer. We have “ghost notes”, that add groove to a line you play on guitar, for example; what we call “ghost rhythm” is an elusive rhythm, a potential OTHER rhythm, that appears and disappears in a tune, and can lead the listener to a different perception of the tune. For example, on Nattes (in Live at Yoshiwara), there’s a 5 notes melodic pattern, but it’s played by three instruments, one note a time for each: so you have this feeling of “three”, like a waltz, but the “5 notes pattern” is distributed on the three instruments, and therefore you feel that kind of instability. The “ghost rhythm”, in this matter, is the “hidden rhythm” behind the “plain rhythm”. And the band grew according to this approach through the last ten years: our ambition became to reflect that rhythmic research in the arrangements itself. So every instrument and timbre served the purpose of creating rhythmic illusions. We had a very “jazz” combination of timbres, and we did gradually integrate non-typically-jazz sounds, like accordion and cello.
Manipulation of the rhythm is nowadays leading to new developments in postminimal music, still Ghost Rhythms are able to rig a vision of their own. A diverse array of influences let them through new horizons: Camille and I come from very different musical backgrounds -as Gelard delves back into the past. He did have a classical training, and started to dive into rhythmic curiosities by listening to musical soundtracks by Jerry Goldsmith and others. I developed a passion for seventies prog (Genesis, Yes, King Crimson) when I was a teenager and was therefore very familiar with odd rhythms. And no wonder that the drummer indicates also the cyclical rhythmic patterns developed by saxophonist Steve Coleman as one of the most fertile common grounds for the couple to drag inspiration from. Ghost Rhythms paper over the cracks that affect their over complex rhythmic structures, covering melodies replete of rhythmic illusions. Again Gelard provides an hint about where this comes from: [Camille and I] we “discovered”, as others, that rhythm perception is something very peculiar, and something that can be played with. My moment of epiphany was the drums played by Bill Bruford on the “slow” part of Heart of the Sunrise’s beginning. You have that slow tempo, the bass has this very cool pattern, nothing too intricate, but the mellotron plays chords that seem to appear in a odd manner, like they’re late. And suddenly I realised that’s because Bruford and the band tricked us by making the listener think the first note of the bass pattern is the “one” for the drums. Slowly, Bruford reveals the truth, and makes us understand that the real “one” is not there, and finally all come into place. That’s really the coolest thing on earth, isn’t it ? Being a prog and jazz vulture, Gelard has often digged into progressive artists: I had a second epiphany when I listened carefully to Third by Soft Machine and understood that Wyatt played a simple 4/4 ride pattern against a ⅝ bass pattern. His drumming was not there to underline or reinforce a perception, but to give another possibility. It opened doors! Gradually we began to explore those ambiguous rhythms. We had a vocabulary of sort. We could play on the bass pattern and the way the drums lock with it to toy with the listener’s perception: how did the displacement of drums affect the bass pattern perception? That’s how we wrote Alphée, for example, on Madeleine, where you have a certain bass pattern which accents are displaced when the chords change, although the drums stay in 4/4.
We acted as we played in that place, that is only in our heads. But that’s what you do when you listen to music: you create a time and a place -Xavier Gelard
The repeated note pattern played by piano at the start of Kamaloka is furiously counterpointed by an odd rhythmic section played by drums and bass, before a folk melody adds even more unbalanced spicy. When, just before the two minutes mark, the main theme comes back in, it turns up that piano and drums have unexpectedly and mischievously swapped their roles, playing with the rhythmic gullibility of the audience. The rest of the track is taken by a long interlude by accordion, which plays a jumpy and whipping solo over the intricate net of patterns. Gelard tells more about this piece: we could also play with proper rhythmic illusions. Your brain does interpret bass patterns (or else) by placing it into a certain usual rhythmic placement. I did, on Madeleine, or Kamaloka, on Live at Yoshiwara, are two good examples: the piano plays straight 4/4 notes, and with no other indicators, your brain is waiting to hear the drums making your statement true. But we, as others, found that those stressed notes could be played against a ⅝ pattern (as in I did) or a 11/8 pattern (as in Kamaloka). So we could compose on those basis. This tracks depicts like no other what Ghost Rhythms aim to do with rhythmic illusions. Camille Petit adds more background: I think the way I evolved on this rhythmical thing is that in the beginning I was playing with the perception of patterns knowing what “first” time I wanted to impose, and now I am more interested in having multiple interpretations and letting listeners hear what he wants. Perception of the first time is a psychological phenomenon (the projection of a mental representation already builded in auditor’s mind) so it depends for the most part of the cultural background of listeners. In previous work I tried to compose music that forces the perception (expecting the music would build new own mental representations in auditors mind while listening).I think Xavier already experimented this with Kamaloka for instance, but regarding perception of pulse. The intro of Kamaloka plays with an archetypal representation (a simple beat) so the entrance of the 11/8 is like we force a new perception, but the writing of the drums allow the double perception (11/8 and 4/4) and in some gigs I like to play the piano pulse with eight notes during the drums pattern so the ambiguity is reinforced. But there is no ambiguity about what is “first time” in Xavier’s melodic patterns in this tune. So next step for me is to obtain this sort of multiple perceptions not only regarding pulse but also the phase of cycle.
Perception of the first time is a psychological phenomenon (the projection of a mental representation already builded in auditor’s mind) so it depends for the most part of the cultural background of listeners – Camille Petit
Visual element is a key component in the band’s artistic statement: performing with movies is binding in many ways but when it comes to choruses it’s a very pleasant thing to do -says Petit. It’s like a second layer to build the solo on (the first layer would be chords or rhythmic progression) and it helps me to have a less cerebral way of playing. As much as Madeleine was a genuine tribute to movies, that time Hitchcock, Live at Yoshiwara is for Metropolis. A clear mention to the eponymous district in Japan, the depraved, ambiguous red-light district,that eventually inspired the Fritz Lang‘s 1927 silent sci-fi movie. In addition, each track is meticolously marked in the booklet as being played in a specific, real or inexistent, place or time: we acted as we played in that place -tells Gelard-, that is only in our heads. But that’s what you do when you listen to music: you create a time and a place. Since it all combines neatly with our rhythmic approach, I can proudly say that we’re the first time-traveling band in the world. Not only an inspiration, their relationship with music is definitively multidimensional, again according to the drummer’s own words: we worked with cartoon-drawers that draw while we were playing ; and obviously it all climaxed when we did Madeleine, as we played along the entire movie. It’s a thrill, really, when it’s working well. You have that relation to images, your music is like a commentaire, but also underlines things that were not stressed in the first place.
That said, is it any surprise that the initial track of record, Mahoee, is again linked with Metropolis? Gelard provided hindsight in the newsletter about how the title of the track came from the novel Metropolis, written by Thea Von Harbou, which served as the basis for the movie. (When they’re intoxicated with the drug, the people in the crowd [in Metropolis] begin to invoke Maohee as a god-like figure, which chose to “descend” into one of the participant’s mind. As such, he is the one who feel the power of everyone else’s intoxication, and is not himself anymore for a while. It is a transcendant experience, shamanic in a way, a possession-like trance). A chilling mixture between a noir and a compelling jazz brass track, underpinned with a strong fusionesque approach, the piece is again a labyrinth of everchanging measures and jubilating rhythmic illusions. To mark again the special status of this piece is the fact that it has been composed by a member not belonging to the founding couple: the accordionist Alexis Collin wrote it. The wicked measure changes, frequently switching between 6 and 7 across the track, creates the perfect ground for a solo by guitarist Guillaume Aventurin, chastening any virtuoso show off for some clear and thoughtful rhythmic changes.
Your brain does interpret bass patterns (or else) by placing it into a certain usual rhythmic placement. With no other indicators, your brain is waiting to hear the drums making your statement true. – Xavier Gelard
Playing with audience and not only in front of the audience is Ghost Rhythms‘ main feat since the very beginning. Yet Live at Yoshiwara adds a new point of view: it took a long time to develop the Live at Yoshiwara from Madeleine -tells Gelard, as I personally found it was our best work to date and we had everything said. So it kind of created joy and some turmoils: we had many many good feed-back, but strangely we were kind of bloked. What was to do ? I wanted to have a live album, for a start, so people could hear what we were sounding like in a non-studio situation. First, we for the first time agreed that the other musicians had one tune on the record. For people as focused on the project constraints as we are, it was already a big deal. Second, we agreed on a very, very few studios sessions work to fix or arrange the live results. So I guess that’s why you can hear some differences, as I, as a drum player, could concentrate on the groove I could add to others compositions, and the “cleanness” of the sound became sort of secondary, since the main interest was the raw, live feeling. The version of La Chose on this live is very representative I think. Petit wraps this passage up with the following words: Madeleine’s recording was a giant puzzle. Music lost some cohesion and energy in the process but we obtained a very special object that we love. Anyway it’s very cool to have this live recording now with Live at Yoshiwara. It’s what the band needed after Madeleine and it opens new spaces for next albums.
Live at Yoshiwara is like a kaleidoscope: simple, yet complicated; intuitive, yet brainy; rejoycing, yet haunting. Classical cadences, jazz brass energy, proggish breaks, afro and folk influences all cooperate around catchy melodies. The audience discovers new feats under the surface of every bar turning into another. A manifesto of non-existent places of music in the fictionary universe of Ghost Rhythms.
Live At Yoshiwara
1.Yoshiwara’s Theme 03:34
3.La Chose 08:15
5.Kamaloka 06:26 video
10.Chamber Claire 11:08
Guillaume Aventurin (guitar)
Alexis Collin (accordion, sound manipulation)
Xavier Gélard (drums, sound manipulation)
Gregory Kosovski (bass)
Morgan Lowenstein (percussion)
Nadia Mejri-Chapelle (cello)
Tom Namias (electric guitar)
Camille Petit (piano)
David Rousselet (tenor sax)
Maxime Thiébaut (alto, soprano and baritone sax)
Composed by Guillaume Aventurin (06), Alexis Collin (01, 02), Xavier Gélard (01, 03, 04, 05, 07, 10), Gregory Kosovski (08), Camille Petit (03, 10), David Rousselet (09).
Recorded live by Maxime Lefèvre (Claudia Sound) at Les Frigos in Paris on December 14, 2019.