CD review

Anthony Malka – ‘Le Commandant Couche-Tôt et son Magnifique Orchestre de Claviers’

Anthony Malka – Le Commandant Couche-Tôt et son Magnifique Orchestre de Claviers
(Black Milk Music. CD review by Ciaran Carter)

Le Commandant Couche-Tôt et son Magnifique Orchestre de Claviers is a new E.P. from French keyboardist Anthony Malka. As the press release says: “After 5 releases and 150+ gigs with his electro-funk trio The Hoo, he decided to deep digger into his own piano compositions.” The E.P. is definitely full of compositions from a piano player’s perspective, with plenty of harmonic movement, yet possibly not enough melodic ideas. A multitude of pianos, keyboards and synths have been deployed; the textures can be very dense indeed.

The E.P. consists of a 17-minute through-composed suite of music telling the story of Le Commandant Couche-Tôt’s discovery of a mysterious island and risky encounter with its inhabitants, based on the book “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne (1875). It’s not necessary to know the story to appreciate this music. It is very groove-based and can be reminiscent of Vulfpeck in its sound world and compositional techniques. It is a sound world reminiscent of 70s cinematic music – think “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” by Rick Wakeman or Jeff Wayne’s “Musical Version of the War of the Worlds” – but also with a hint of Brazil. One thing that isn’t like Vulfpeck, however, is that there are no lyrics here, only spoken word on the last two tracks, and voiceless vocals in the rest.

Le Chevalier Du Zodiac (The Knight Of Zodiac) has a great groove, with relaxed, lyricless vocals from Youka Snell, which really sets the mood for the rest of the E.P. The music video for this is an animation, and it really works to listen to the track with the picture (see below). In a way, it would work well to have the whole E.P. set to picture. Then it might be easier to find the story in the compositions.

L’Île Mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island) is very short so doesn’t leave much time to get into the material, but it is, as the track says, mysterious and the melody finishes on the 9th of the last chord which leaves the track open, to be followed by Bise Mort Gun (Kiss of Death Gun). They describe this track as: “Captured by the Rapa Nui, the island’s people, Le Commandant is about to be put to death by the island’s priestess in a celebration coinciding with the full moon.” This highly cinematic track features bass clarinet, played by Lutz Streun, and guitars, played by Paul Audoynaud, which thicken out the textures, as well as a variety of synths. This is their second music video, with the track set to a very over-the-top death scene from the film “Karateci Kiz” (“Karate Girl” in Turkish). It’s pretty bizarre and could leave the listener wondering not only what they just heard, but also what they just saw!

S.O.S is a breath of fresh air as it is the only piece with a solo, by clavinet player Hervé Salters (from General Electriks). The other parts are highly arranged, which although works well doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.

La Vénus de 1000 Hommes (The Venus Of 1000 Men) is a beautiful track. The strings, played by Héloïse Lefebvre who is presumably overdubbed to create the effect of a section, are a solid addition here, never getting in the way of the range of synths and keyboards but lending the piece a 70s Philadelphia feel. In these latter two tracks, spoken word elements are added, which do offer an interesting change in texture although the music feels as though it would be just as strong without them.

Le Chant des Sirènes (The Sirens’ Song) is a great way to finish the E.P. Snell adds spoken word in her native language, Japanese; it is a refreshing moment on the album and definitely grabs the listener’s attention. There are also some nice moments from flautist Tristano Pala, and more from the woodwinds would have been welcome. It’s a bit frustrating to be given a hint of these “real” instruments, without feeling as though they’re being allowed space to shine. This is an underlying theme throughout the album. Sometimes, music can be so arranged that you feel players are being held back from reaching their full potential.

Although this E.P. is only 17 minutes long, by the end you feel as if you’ve been on a sonic journey into the mind of the composer. Anthony Malka has achieved an ambitious, rich debut E.P., and although there are some small details which seem out of place or not needed, it is an exciting start for this project and I look forward to hearing more and seeing where his musical journey takes him next.

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