Raven is the nom de plume artistique of Manu Domergue, a French singer and mellophonist with a decided theatricality to him, one of those aesthetes who live their creativity in performance, and whose appearances have been called, even by fellow countrymen much enjoying the outré, "a little nuts, eccentric, and more than fascinating". The same goes for this CD's literal physical presentation, which must be the most complicated I've ever seen, boasting an origami'd interior disc holder securely enfolding the CD until you open the cover enough to expand the clever arrangement. Appropriately, the device is black and triangular, just like a raven's beak. I'm vaguely reminded of Man's spectacular fold-out LP Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day, this time in miniature.
When Domergue/Raven and his ensemble released their debut EP a few years ago and participated in the Lagny and Crest Vocal Contest, the jury and public immediately handed them the 1st prize honors; subsequent concerts only enlarged upon that regard. With Chercheur d'Orage (Seek the Storm, if my exceedingly rusty and always wanting command of the language is correct), we here in America get to see why that is. Raven's forte is jazz but of a highly adventurous and liquid sort dipping into whatever strikes its fancy while bouncing from concert hall to nightclub to back alley to library to Punchinello street box to, well, whatever dark, sparkly, or whimsical thing attracts its eye and mercurial brainworks.
La Strategème may be the most striking jazz number of the roster, with its extensive scatting against a Krupa-esque background, but it's also the number, for me, most mindful of an obscure 70s groupe française, Hydravion, and the outside experimentalities of its frontman, Phillippe Besombes…not that the two match as such but that their spirits are quite similar. For reasons I cannot fully explain, I was also, as the music wended on, cut after cut, sometimes reminded of Ange as well, progrock where Hydravion was fusion. Perhaps it's the interspersal of open spaces and then build-ups to dark lonely grandeur, especially in Les Corbeaux, similarly seen in Ange's highwater mark, Au-Dela du Delire, but the echoes are there, they're there, trust me.
Domergue's encantations are exceedingly Sting-like in register and approach—the latter gent has always been a jazz aficionado—so it was hardly unusual when Joni Mitchell's Black Crow came up in the #7 slot on the disc, as the now sadly afflicted 'chanteuse incredible' has always been a swingin' acolyte of the venue. While the now-much-lauded Mr. Sumner was sitting in for Eberhard Schoener along with future bandmate Andy Summers, both then unknown studio players, Joni had already established her cred in the dazzling Twisted from Court and Spark. Naturally inhabiting a high register, Domergue hits a Riperton-esque A-above-high-C falsetto in this song that strikingly sounds like Mitchell herself sitting in.
Then there's his take on Alan Parsons' The Raven from Tales of Mystery & Imagination, garbed in Poe's poem of the same name but markedly differing from Big Al's famous arrangement, crystalline and moody where Parsons was gloriously bombastic in fanfare and processional blare. Next trip over to Invocation II and its weird Roswell Rudd-ish transmutation of reeds and, briefly, voice, a piece Anthony Braxton would revel in, not to mention Richard Teitelbaum, slowly arising from mud and murk like a lotus reaching for the sun, and you grasp the ranges Raven can travel. The equally pointillistic Ghorab follows and, now deeply into the CD, you find yourself helpless before the parade of wonderments…
…and that's where I'll leave you, dear reader, in this, my very last, review for FAME. It arrives in your email box VERY tardily, for which I apologize (many trying real-life incidents have demanded my time since Dave announced the demise of the site in February), but I was loathe to lay pen permanently down before tackling this very satisfying disc, which weds the EG, ECM, Enja, and other connoisseur labels together in a constantly shifting array of flavors and nuances. Were there to be a FAME Best Of for 2015, and there will not be, Chercheur d'Orage would be on the list.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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