by Ian Mann
December 20, 2012
Engagingly eccentric punk jazz from this young French quintet, part of the increasingly influential Match & Fuse movement.
(Musea Records GW3155)
Alfie Ryner is not an individual but a five piece group based in Toulouse, France. The young quintet are part of the Europe wide Match & Fuse musical community, a project kick-started by the British band WorldService Project.
Match & Fuse sees groups of similarly minded young musicians visiting each other’s countries on a kind of “cultural exchange” and touring in a series of exciting double bills, the climax of the evening being a mash up between the two bands. Alfie Ryner have already visited the UK and toured with WSP under the auspices of the Match & Fuse scheme, including an appearance at the Match & Fuse Festival centred around The Vortex in London in June. Further festivals are planned in Oslo and Rome.
Alfie Ryner was formed in 2006 by five students at the Music Halle in Toulouse, all have since graduated. Loris Pertoldi (drums), Paco Serrano (saxophone/voice), Guillaume Pique (trombone), Gerad Gimenez (guitar) and Guillaume Gendre (bass) began by experimenting and building a repertoire before making their first public appearances in 2008. Their first album “Memorial 1” appeared in 2010 and from what I can ascertain told the story of the mysterious, roguish, trumpet playing fictional character of Alfie Ryner.
Alfie Ryner the group’s sound fits neatly into the Match & Fuse aesthetic as jazz meets rock, tango and other influences in an intense ferment of musical ideas. There’s the youthful fire and enthusiasm that unites all the Match & Fuse bands but Alfie Ryner also bring a touch of Gallic eccentricity and theatricality that old timers like me can trace back to the psychedelic whimsicalities of Gong and others. Three of the pieces feature the vocalising (in French) of Serrano, which of course means nothing to me and on first listening I’ll admit to finding them to be something of a distraction. However my thanks to Dave Morecroft of WSP for emailing me a synopsis of the three songs which does at least help to put them into some sort of context. To a degree they can be seen as an extension to the story of the fictional Alfie from the band’s first CD.
Lance Liddle’s excellent Bebop Spoken Here website offers a fascinating insight into the spirit and character of the band with a review of their performance (with WSP) at the Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle on 14th June 2012. Go to http://www.lance-bebopspokenhere.blogspot.co.uk/...project-alfie-ryner-star.html
The site also offers a review of the limited edition EP released at around the same time and featuring the music of both bands.
The second Alfie Ryner begins with “La Kunda” which is ushered in by rumbling bass, whiplash drums and the snarl of guitar and sax. There’s an almost punkish urgency about it despite the often tricky time signatures. Serrano’s semi spoken vocal (it doesn’t exactly qualify as singing) is a monologue voiced by “someone who is having a very bad day”. He sees how miserable both his life and those of others are and declares himself “tired of just breathing”. You don’t need a literal translation to appreciate the increasing air of desperation in Serrano’s alternately whispered and growled monologue and the spiky music fits his theatrical performance like a glove.
“Suleyman Aga” is a punchy, hard hitting instrumental based around a sinister rhythmic pulse. Much of the group’s music has an air of menace and unease about it, a characteristic that fans of groups such as King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator might appreciate. Serrano and Gimenez make powerful contributions here as if to emphasise the point. That said the gently whimsical coda featuring a duo of saxophone and trombone comes as something of a surprise.
“Tango Toxico” begins with another evocatively theatrical Serrano monologue that tells the tale of a man who owes money to the mafia and a woman who ends up in prison following a dodgy drug deal. The tune itself is a sulphurous, twisted tango which goes on to opine that life is a bitch and that the bad guys always win. It’s the same the whole world over. I see the band name Tom Waits as a friend on their myspace page and there’s something of his influence here. Frequent Waits collaborator Marc Ribot is also mentioned and his presence can be detected in Gimenez’s guitar sound.
“5 + 5 = 9” is closer to ambient territory as it shimmers on the horizon in a vaguely unsettling manner. There’s a brooding cinematic feel to the music, all long instrumental lines and eerily bowed bass, like something from a David Lynch soundtrack. Subsequently drum and saxophone break away from the body of the tune to produce something more immediately visceral.
Gendre’s resonant solo bass virtuosity introduces “40mg”, another vocal item that tells the tale of a man who leaves his country for the so called “promised land” and finds nothing but misery. His only comfort is the 40mg of methadone pills that he manages to find. Serrano’s vocal is again essentially a monologue but he becomes increasingly animated as guitar and drums set up a bruising riff for him to emote above.
The instrumental “Hum” features clangorous guitars and rasping horns above powerful bass and drum rhythms. With Alfie Ryner the highly distinctive ensemble sound of the group is paramount and conventional jazz solos are rare. However Gimenez deserves credit for his scorching guitar solo here, a dramatic statement that draws heavily on his early grounding in rock music. Elsewhere there’s some killer collective riffing over a rumbling bass groove. Exciting stuff and doubtless a major feature of the group’s live shows.
The closing “RedRum” opens with an impressionistic free jazz episode that eventually gives way to a walloping drum groove and further bludgeoning riffing as the juggernaut gathers momentum. It almost lurches to a halt then builds again through Serrano’s heavily treated sax blasting. It’s visceral scabrous jazz with a strong rock undertow.
Alfie Ryner’s take no prisoners attitude allied to Serrano’s unique and often bizarre vocal contributions combine to make them one of the most distinctive of the Match & Fuse bands. As the Bebop Spoken Here website suggests it would seem that they’re also a pretty phenomenal live act and I’d certainly welcome the chance of seeing them should the opportunity arise.
The album offers many aspects to enjoy and is likely to appeal to adventurous rock listeners as much as jazz fans. I’m still not quite sure about those vocals though…
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