Sjef Oellers 13-July Did Heldon Make a Jazz Noise Here?

Lard Free was a French band led by drummer/multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Artman, who had previously been playing in a free jazz ensemble called Operation Rhino. Lard Free released three albums during the seventies on which they tried to integrate jazz, rock, free form improvisation, and electronic music.

Their self-titled first album is a melting pot of all these elements, although the jazz-rock element dominates. Hard to compare to anyone else, but the music sounds somewhat similar to Miles Davis on "Bitches Brew". The album starts with "Warinobaril": the music is led by a slow, deep groove on bass guitar. A bit later, stretched out saxophone leads set in and are sustained for some time; eventually a heavily distorted electric guitar crashes into the music. The second track of the album is dominated by pulsating synthesizers that go slowly, but ultimately completely, out of control. In the background a jazzy saxophone provides a strange counterbalance to the squeaking synthesizers in the front. About halfway, the mood suddenly changes and we are again in experimental jazz-rock territory with a rather "free" guitar solo. The rest of the album continues in a similar vein as the first two tracks: synth drones are intertwined with 70s jazz-rock. Check out the lazy groove that pervades "Acide Framboise": it sounds like weird electronic funk from another galaxy. All in all, a captivating and original debut album.

On the second album, I Am Around About Midnight, the music had become significantly more electronic at the expense of the jazz-rock influences. The opening track, "Violez l'Espace de Son Refrigerant", reminds me of the otherwordly soundscapes of early Tangerine Dream albums like "Zeit" and "Atem". The album sounds more like a long suite, where subtle accents provided by vibes, electric guitar, and percussion fade in and fade out to support the icy sounding sythesizers. The closest comparison would be early Heldon (Richard Pinhas joins the band on guitar here), but Lard Free's approach is more interesting in my opinion. The spacey and sparse music recalls images of wide panoramas, endless steps, or if you wish, cosmic travel through vast areas of emptiness. A mesmerizing classic from the seventies French scene.

The third album Spirale Malax is even more electronic, with the complete absence of the jazz rock aspect. Spirale Malax is their most experimental and unconventional album. It is based on dark and detached sounding musical structures extracted from a variety of keyboards and further enhanced by distorted, Frippian guitar lines. At first hearing, the album may sound a bit cold and uninviting, but there is a compelling urgency to the music. Again the best comparison would be Heldon, although Heldon's later albums would be the best reference point for Spirale Malax. An essential album if you like experimental electronic music.

Along with the original releases discussed above, the French label Spalax also posthumously released Unnamed, an album of material predating the first album. It is an interesting mix of late sixties free jazz, early seventies jazz rock (Miles Davis, Soft Machine), and semi-improvisational free rock with a slightly psychedelic sensibility. Lots of ghostly sounding vibraphone solos, stuttering saxophone outbursts and freaky jazz guitar runs can be heard. "Petit Tripou du Matin" seems to have vague ethnic influences with its raga-ish sounding electric guitar and slightly oriental sounding saxophone. A worthy addition to the three original albums.

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