One of the nice things about reviewing for The Progressive Aspect is occasionally discovering wonderful musical acts that were hitherto unknown to me. Here’s one of them: Arnaud Quevedo & Friends, whose mixture of funky jazz fusion mixed with Magma and the Canterbury Sound has been playing almost non-stop in the Furbank hovel.
Mr Quevedo sounds as if he is of a Latin persuasion but, in fact, he’s a 40-year-old French music teacher from La Rochelle (Atlantic port city north of Bordeaux) with unruly hair who has, in the past, recorded tributes with his students to Frank Zappa, Gong, King Crimson and Magma. Roan is his second album with the Friends and, by jiminy, it’s a cracker, performed with style and energy by guitarist and composer Quevedo and a 12-strong band that includes double bass, cello, violin, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, flute, oboe and vocals.
Some of it will make you think of the hypnotic, driving Zeuhl riffs of Magma, while the vocals occasionally echo the harmonies of Amanda Parsons, Barbara Gaskin and Ann Rosenthal in Hatfield and the North. At other times, you will find influences from Gong, particularly that band’s former sax and flute wizard Didier Malherbe, and the child-like nursery-rhyme approach of Daevid Allen. And at others, when the Friends get really funky, you will find yourself reminded of Snarky Puppy and their particular brand of eclectic big band jazz.
Roan is supposedly the story of ‘a person’s journey through his unconscious imagination, following the inability to face the world around him’. Unfortunately, the conceptual nature of this work is totally lost on me as it is sung in French and the info supplied with the digital files doesn’t include an English translation. But that doesn’t matter – the music is so interesting, both melodically and instrumentally, that the vocals act as a mere garnish on the main dish. They only occupy small parts of the songs, and half the compositions are instrumentals anyway.
As I write this I’m listening to what I consider to be the standout track on Roan, and one that, at more than 12-and-a-half minutes, dominates the album in length and scope. Ryoko opens with moody keyboard arpeggios introducing an electric bass solo punctuated by percussion that settles into a gentle, funky lope underpinned by long cello notes. Flute comes in, blending with the cello into a repetitive four-note medley, and I’m strongly reminded of a Gong instrumental, a combination perhaps of Other Side of the Sky from Angel Egg and Magdalene off a later album, Zero to Infinity.
Chanting female vocals enter with dramatic Magma-ish repetition before things slow down for a cello and double bass tussle, then hand over to the Quevedo’s guitar, Louis Theveniau’s clarinet and Anthony Raynal’s busy drumming to drive home the final three minutes over alternating D minor and B flat chords.
Elsewhere on the album we get Prologue, which opens with a Soft Machine-style fanfare before becoming a funky groove locked into Noe Russeil’s electric bass, while drummer Raynal impersonates Animal from the Muppets. Curiosite channels Didier Malherbe with Manuela Perissutti’s dancing flute, leading into Feerie, which offers a stomping, child-like brass and flute tune – imagine something that might accompany a fairytale dance sequence.
Depassement is like a reggae-fied Magma, Chrysalide a slow, stately minor key tune that builds up a head of steam at the end, while penultimate track Metamorphose has elements of King Crimson and Frank Zappa in the atonal, ferociously over-driven guitar notes and fuzzy electric bass flourishes.
“Now hang on,” you might be saying, “this is all a bit derivative, isn’t it? All these nods to old bands is hardly progressive?” To which I would answer yes, but so what? It’s all put together so well, with such sheer energy, cheek and brilliant playing from everyone involved, that it stands up in its own right as superbly-produced prog jazz.
It’s impressive enough to make me want to hunt down Arnaud Quevedo’s previous recordings and perhaps one day catch them live – they frequently perform free concerts at the Conservatoire in La Rochelle and maybe they will head towards other shores.
In the meantime, if you like your prog jazzy – or, indeed, your jazz proggy – then Roan will be right up your street.
01. Aube (1:33)
02. Prologue (4:34)
03. Découverte (8:48)
04. Curiosité (2:27)
05. Féerie (3:23)
06. Dépassement (3:18)
07. Nostalgie (1:56)
08. Ryoko (12:33)
09. Fardeau (1:52)
10. Chrysalide (4:41)
11. Métamorphose (5:50)
12. Epilogue (3:31)
Total Time – 54:26
Arnaud Quevedo – Guitar, Vocals
Anthony Raynal – Drums
Noé Russeil – Bass
Marin Michelat – Keyboards
Eva Tribolles – Double Bass
Tifenn Trévinal – Cello
Axelle Blondel – Violin
Olivia Gray – Oboe
Louis Théveniau – Clarinet
Manuela Perissutti – Flute
Julien Gomila – Saxophones
Florent Hervier – Trombone
Emeline Merlande – Vocals
Record label: Independent
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 21st April 2022
Arnaud Quevedo – Website | Facebook | YouTube | Bandcamp