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Lazuli

[4603 battements]

Review by Alison Reijman

This French quintet was formed in 1998 with two brothers, Dominique and Claude Leonetti very much at its helm. However, the band’s story goes back two years prior to that date when Claude was involved in a motorcycle accident which robbed him of the use of his left arm, certainly a life-changing experience when you are a guitarist. However, out of this tragedy came subsequent triumph when Claude oversaw the development of a unique instrument called the Léode. Resembling a Chapman stick, it is a veritable sonic box of tricks which Claude is able to operate solely with his right hand through a selection of programmed systems. That instrument has shaped band’s distinct and powerful sound. Fast forward to last year when the band was invited to play at the Summer’s End Festival, one of the top prog festivals in the UK at which they were headlining on the opening Friday night. Your humble reviewer had only heard one track of theirs previously courtesy of an online radio show and it failed to register then. However, it was hard not to notice them at the festival during which they delivered one of the most spectacular live performances I have ever seen in nearly 40 years of gig-going.

They completely rewrote the rules of prog, in my humble opinion, with a set of such huge power, energy, originality and perhaps above all else, enchantment.  It was a masterstroke of the organisers to have invited them to play as they are not usually seen outside mainland Europe.  They provided possibly one of the biggest talking points of the weekend. (Some of us are still talking about it even now!) So, having been given the best possible introduction to the wonderful world of Lazuli, could [4603 battements] their fifth self-produced and distributed album fulfil the promise they showed at the festival? Mais naturellement.

Albums of such unique power, charm and creativity such as this do not come along all that often and with the band also responsible for the absolutely spot-on sharp production, there is very little to fault on this astonishing album. Like their name, it is one precious musical gem in the current prog canon. If you elect to buy one untried album by a previously unheard band this year, then this has got to be at the very top of the list.  Its central theme is time, and throughout it has a recurring ticking clock motif and its title suggests the number of beats it took to create it. The band has seen several personnel changes in the past but the current line-up of the Leonetti brothers, plus Gédéric Byar on guitar, Romain Thorel on keyboards and French horn and Vincent Barnavol on drums, percussion and marimba might suggest this is going to be an album full of pleasant surprises.  And again, the answer to that is a resounding “oui!”

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
[

Brief opening seconds comprise “[“. It’s just an extremely short bit that leads directly into the next one.

Je te laisse aux alouettes
Out of the first piece comes the full-on keyboard driven opening bars of “Je te laisse ce monde” (I Leave You This World), which sounds like a rallying cry from the heart. Don’t be put off by it being sung entirely in French. Dominique’s clear, distinct pitch perfect voice conveys something beyond words, underpinned by pounding keyboards and a driving rhythm. At that point, Claude’s incredible Léode explodes into life, Byar’s guitar joining in to produce a sonic soundscape of epic proportions.
Le miroir aux alouettes
The next track is one of the killer songs of the album. Its early acoustic riff develops into a lilting little folkie tune with Dominique almost whispering the words that opens out into a recurring choral motif which then changes again as he starts extending the words in an increasingly frantic way. It is at that point that the composition catches fire into a mighty staccato rhythm orchestrated by Barnavol. These huge almost tribal rhythms are very much a hallmark of their overall sound, added to which are some incredible Arabic scales on Byar’s guitar, before it all ebbs away to a gentler beat.
Dans le formal au museum
Hardly have you had time to catch your breath when “Dans le formol au museum” comes swooping down with the most enormous guitar riff and compelling keyboards. Dominique’s vocal chords are on overdrive on a terrifically catchy melody line followed by a huge swirling guitar frenzy from which escape is futile. This is the track to play on the largest pair of earphones at your disposal as you will not emerge quite the same afterwards.
15H40
If your senses are still in good order after this aural onslaught, then the next two tracks will send them sprawling.  As the clock starts again, so begins one of the many perfect moments on this album as the ticks are picked up on keyboards, marimba and guitar to begin the hauntingly beautiful “15H40.” With Dominique’s singing in hushed tones, the song builds into the most exquisite melodic harmony sequence, his voice rising higher still above the mix as more instruments come in before it all descends to the gentle ticking again.
Les malveillants
They hit the button marked “All systems go” for “Les malveillants,” another full-on sonic assault and battery, but this time with the Léode roaring into life from the outset and the guitars blazing away alongside.  It all makes for the most amazing wall of sound like nothing else to be heard elsewhere currently.
Quand la bise fut venue
But the tempo changes yet again with the delightfully Gallic “Quand la bise fut venue,” the most charming little acoustic song which shows beyond all doubt what a fine versatile voice Dominique possesses.
L’azur
Then comes the final headlong assault through “L’azur” which has a riff so incredibly close to “I Am The Walrus,” it should be actionable. Still, they put their own unique stamp on the sound, the Léode, guitars and keyboards all jockeying for position in that wonderful sensurround sound. 
Saleté de nuit
If there is one single track that sounds like no other then it is the impossibly beautiful “Saleté de Nuit,” a musical journey into the psyche of an orbiting satellite led by the most stunning keyboard motif and effects together with Dominique’s gorgeous vocals.
Festin ultimo
“Festin ultime” offers a final glimpse in to the Lazuli musical palette. It’s a rousing semi-acoustic song full of character but with that brooding Léode never far away.
]

For the finale, “]” quickly reprieves the ticking clock and the instrumental section of “Je te laisse ce monde,” thus bringing the story full circle.

 
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