Some four years after his first solo album, the highly listenable Defence Mechanisms, nimble-fingered bass player Louis De Mieulle returns with his second offering stars, plants & bugs. Louis is an ex-pat Frenchman living in New York, and from the line up on his debut he retains the services of drummer Matt Garstka and keyboard player Casimir Liberski. More melodic than Defence Mechanisms but no less complex, stars, plants & bugs is an instrumental concept album that transmits the natural and cosmic themes of the album title through a music that is both intellectual but at the same time easy on the ear.
This is an individual take on jazz, but those of you who scuttle off whimpering at the very mention of the word really have nothing to fear here. Go on, jump in, the water’s lovely! Opening with the charmingly pastoral Petrified Wood #1 we are soon aware of the fact that Louis and his mates have a knack of transmitting a title’s mental image through highly crafted musicianship.
The trio are joined on some numbers by Turkish flautist Sarpay Özçagatay, aka “SharpEye”. Like Louis and Casimir, Sarpay is a graduate of that production line of musical quality, the Berklee School of Music, located in Boston, USA. Sarpay’s contributions add a natural colour to the canvas; his sinuous and dextrous playing is a delight to behold. Completing the multi-national group is Jerusalem born Tareq Rantisi , a percussionist who has played with a long list of jazz and world music players.
After a tale from the Petrified Wood opens the album, Castor’s song is delivered, all fleet of foot, skipping through the cosmos. The storyline on Louis’ website has it that Insect Party sees the bugs “gather for the Grand Bug Party. Wobbly millipedes, glow worm choirs, restless cockchafer, thieving ants: on the verge of chitinous chaos!” Louis obviously has a thing about arthropods, as this reprises a theme from the first album, and a track by the title of The Ladybug and the Cockchafer. Simultaneously regimented, playful, melodic and dissonant, Insect Party delves into the strange and restless hive mind, but these insects seem to be having fun in their own peculiar way. Keyboard scales ascend in unusual but harmonious fashion, underpinned by a repeating bass line in varied tempos. The small creatures skitter hither and thither to great effect.
While staying within its own modern jazz and fusion furrow, I can envisage that this album will appeal to those of you who are keen on adventurous music regardless of genre. The arrangements drift seamlessly from modernistic electronic and sci-fi fuzzed bass backgrounds, to venture forth across spacious cosmic vastness, to dropping in on rarefied alt-lounge jazz piano respectfully paying homage to ancient wonder. Contrasting with the more traditional jazz structures elsewhere, thoroughly up to date techno rhythms, played by men not machines I hasten to add, permeate Gemini – Part 2: Pollux (Yang).
The longest track here, at just over 13 minutes, is the melancholic Taurus Asleep. Quoting the storyline again: “Passing from one world to another. The Taurus constellation doesn’t glow anymore. Gemini Twins sing their sorrow and revolt against Nature’s inexorable law.” Extemporising on a Bolero-like theme the twins are entwined in a sorrowful lament, represented by Sarpay’s occasional flute, which strives to find joy in the sadness all around. The other focus being on Louis’ hypnotic bass lines and minimalistic percussion, Taurus Asleep is a consummate lesson in less is more. This song is cast adrift in nothingness, quite the meditative spoonful. The rebirth follows, Doff slowly awakening in the blackness on an ascending organ figure that recalls psychedelic era Soft Machine, guided by Louis’ driving bass line.
This album is a departure from predictable and frankly uninspiring prog normalcy but sadly stars, plants & bugs will achieve a mere sliver of the attention granted to musically lesser but more populist works, such is the way of the world. If like me you tire of the endless river of repeated rock tropes, struck by fear in a time machine and fancy something a bit different, but I hasten to add, thoroughly approachable, try this charming little oddity.
01. Opening: Petrified Wood #1 (4:16)
02. Gemini – Part 1: Castor (Yin) (8:54)
03. Insect Party (AKA Soundfreeze #2) (6:48)
04. Nanobot (4:44)
05. Green Hojary (6:47)
06. Gemini – Part 2: Pollux (Yang) (9:25)
07. Taurus Asleep (13:15)
08. Doff (4:11)
09. Malt (6:25)
10. Closing: Petrified Wood #2 (3:15)
Total time – 67:59
Louis De Mieulle (Louison) – Fender Bass
Matt Garstka – Drums, Glockenspiel (7)
Casimir Liberski – Keyboards
Sarpay Özçagatay – Flute
Tareq Rantisi – Percussion
Record Label: Dalang! Records
Catalogue#: Dalang! 2015-001
Year Of Release: 2015