By the muddy river at twilight with Les Triaboliques
By Les Triaboliques
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
In music as in life, three is often a crowd. The idea of an instrumental CD from a trio of string players with a background in British punk and new wave might seem like a hard sell at first. Yet, Rivermudtwilight the debut from Les Triaboliques has confounded my expectations to become one of my favourite CDs of the year.
Those expecting a guitar master’s summit along the lines of John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia and Al DiMeola’s Passion, Grace and Fire will be sorely disappointed. Those fearing the same, will be relieved. At times, such collaborations create tension and a sense of competition that crowds the music and while one may marvel at the individual players’ technique, the lack of soul ultimately often renders what they play irrelevant and annoying. Indeed, Justin Adams, Lu Edmonds and Ben Mandelson – the three guitarists who make up Les Triaboliques – play so intuitively with one another that it’s often difficult to distinguish between each person’s contributions to a song. Rather than proving a detriment, this approach to music ensures that it is the song and not the musician’s ego that is being served. By eschewing virtuosity for its own sake -though each musician here is a master in his own way – Les Triaboliques have created an album with a wonderful and organic flow that stands up well to repeated listenings.
Justin Adams is perhaps best known for his session work with Billy Bragg and Sinead O’Connor, and as the guitarist in Robert Plant’s band. As impressive as some of his contributions to pop music have been, it is his collaborations with artists like the Gambian riti master, Juldeh Camara and the Tuareg band, Tinawaren that will ensure his place in the musical pantheon. His playing on this record that swings between crunching shrieks of electric feedback, gut bucket blues and highlife melodies is singularly impressive and completely enveloping. Lu Edmonds – who has also played with Billy Bragg as well as The Damned and The Mekons – sounds like he’s having the time of his life adding textures from a variety of stringed instruments into the mix. Like Adams, Edmonds found playing pop music ultimately unsatisfying and spent years traveling the world and encountering new sounds from the Balkans to the Middle East.
Like his other two bandmates, Ben Mendelson has also served time with Billy Bragg (who would have thought the bard of Barking’s three chord ditties would have inspired such an outflow of world beat rhythms?) as well as the pioneering 3 Mustaphas 3 and Magazine before founding the UK based Globe Style Records. An exhilarating guitarist in his own right, Mendelson – like Edmonds – forgoes his six string for much of this outing to concentrate on finding his own unique place in each song’s melody and digging into some wonderful grooves. This is a record full of the kind of joy and wild abandon that can only be achieved by musicians who long ago stopped worrying about whether they’re ‘doing it right.’
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this record is how well it holds together as a complete statement. Though there are a variety of textures and styles expressed here, none of the songs sound like pastiches that threaten to fly apart. Other than a somewhat pointless cover of ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ there really isn’t a misstep on this whole CD. And, even this inclusion is forgivable as it must have been irresistible to explore the similarities between this overplayed standard and ‘Hora Anicuta draga’, the Jewish traditional melody that directly precedes it on the album.
Whether exploring African, Middle Eastern, jazz or folk themes in a composition, Les Diaboliques never forget that the goal of music is to be entertaining and uplifting. To this end, there are no diatribes or tedious musical lessons on Rivermudtwilight – only a palpable joy of rhythm and melody that will make this record an enduring one in the years to come. It is an unqualified success that has left me dying to hear more. Don’t pass this one by.
This article also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com