Présent – Triskaïdékaphobie and Le Poison Qui Rend Fou – Rune 382 (1 CD) and Rune 383/384 (2 CDs)

by | Apr 28, 2014 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Présent – Triskaïdékaphobie and Le Poison Qui Rend Fou [TrackList follows] – Rune 382 (1 CD) and Rune 383/384 (2 CDs), Triskaïdékaphobie, 59:08 [2/4/14]; Le Poison Qui Rend Fou: CD 1 – 39:06, CD 2 – 79:51 [2/4/14] ****:

(Triskaïdékaphobie = Roger Trigaux – guitar, Fender Rhodes piano; Alain Rochette – Yamaha CP-80 electric grand piano; Christian Genet – electric bass; Daniel Denis – percussion)

Le Poison Qui Rend Fou = (Roger Trigaux – guitar, Fender Rhodes piano; Alain Rochette – Yamaha CP-80 electric grand piano, synthesizer; Daniel Denis – percussion; Marie-Anne Polaris – vocals (CD 1, track 1); Ferdinand Philippot – electric bass (CD 1); Christian Genet – electric bass (CD 2))

The Cuneiform label continues to make fans of the Rock in Opposition movement happy, with reissues of projects by chamber rock group Univers Zéro, Belgian avant-prog ensemble Présent, and new releases by likeminded artists such as SONAR. In February, Cuneiform reissued Présent’s debut and sophomore albums, in separate deluxe editions with remastered sound and lots of bonuses. For those not familiar with Présent, the quartet was formed in 1979 by guitarist/composer Roger Trigaux, who had earlier co-founded Univers Zéro with drummer Daniel Denis. Univers Zéro is regarded as one of the crucial exponents of the Rock in Opposition (or R.I.O.) scene, which includes corresponding musicians such as Henry Cow and newer entities like Miriodor. Such musicians have produced non-genre-specific, non-commercial music outside (or “in opposition to”) mainstream music.

Présent’s 1980 inaugural outing, Triskaïdékaphobie (“fear of the number 13”) features Trigaux on guitar as well as Fender Rhodes piano, alongside Univers Zéro members Christian Genet (electric bass) and Denis (on percussion rather than his typical, fuller drum kit). Pianist Alain Rochette (on Yamaha CP-80 electric grand piano) rounds out the quartet.

Triskaïdékaphobie has a sound comparable to Univers Zéro (i.e., harshly atmospheric music and fevered arrangements which skitter from quasi-classical structures to pounding rock), but condensed and concentrated, without any distractions. The nearly 20-minute opener, “Promenade Au Fond D’un Canal” (“walking at the bottom of a canal”) initiates with a lingering and vaporous theme, and then shifts through sequences of polymetric themes, with serrated but rhythmically detailed riffs. The arrangement (partially improvised) forms tiers of tension and remnants of release (which don’t last long). Genet and Denis layer a seemingly fixed foundation shaped from differing accents and percussive lines, which abet a nervous mood. The almost 16-minute “Quatre-vingt Douze” (“ninety-two”) is notable for Trigaux and Rochette’s twinned pianos. The two keyboardists focus on their instruments’ percussive qualities and utilize repetitive riffs. The sharpness of apprehension is more pronounced than on the first tune. The coiled, minimalist percussion may not be user-friendly to all listeners, but devotees might find the tautness a refined experience. The final studio track, the aptly-named “Repulsion,” is an experiment with dubbed sounds, and is both shorter (less than four minutes) and slower than the other cuts. There are two live bonus selections from a Brussels gig, where Présent offers two Univers Zéro pieces. The stage recording is satisfactory and the performance is forceful and showcases how tight Présent could be in concert. A ten-minute version of “Dense” has unsettled pacing and is highlighted by Trigaux’s heavy guitar pyrotechnics, similar to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. A 10:34 interpretation of “Vous le Saurez en Temps Voulu” is also effectively transformed.

Présent’s 1985 sophomore record, Le Poison Qui Rend Fou (“the poison that causes madness”) is now a two-CD expanded edition. CD one includes the original four numbers, which date to 1983. The second, bonus CD contains an 80-minute 1982 concert. CD one also has three QuickTime live videos, from a 1982 show, with barely useable black and white video, but passable (albeit bootleg-quality) audio. Le Poison Qui Rend Fou displays a minor alteration in Présent’s modus operandi. Genet rejoined Univers Zéro and was replaced by Ferdinand Philippot (whose classical and jazz background supplies a slightly more cultivated but less propulsive style than Genet), and the music is more diverse and, in some instances, lighter in tone. The superlative title track is split into unconnected sections, one 15 minutes in length and the other almost ten minutes. Harsh harmonics, anxious arpeggios, insistent keyboard chord blasts, and more Fripp-ish guitar permeate the two segments.

One unusual effect is offered by Rochette’s wife, guest vocalist Marie-Anne Polaris, who adds her eccentric soprano voice to “Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Part 1.” A jazz/fusion inclination flitters through “Ersatz,” implied by Philippot’s turn-on-a-dime bass notes, and the group’s flickered time signature changes. Rochette’s closing, nine-minute “Samana,” is nearly lighthearted (at least when compared to other Présent works). Intervals are wound together by an unsteady disposition instead of an advancing, percussive push, and the arrangement is sometimes akin to then-current English prog rock. The 1982 live bonus material on CD two features Genet on bass, prior to his departure. The recording (taped at Livry-Gargan, France, January 23, 1982) doesn’t match the quality on CD one, but the potent performance is superb. The set list comprises two pieces from Triskaïdékaphobie (an extended rendering of “Quatre-vingt Douze” and an almost 22-minute “Promenade Au Fond D’un Canal”); two from Le Poison Qui Rend Fou (a noisy, blaring 19-minute rendition of “Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Part 1” and a stretched-out run-through of “Ersatz”); plus a 13-minute translation of Univers Zéro’s composition “Chaos Hermétique.”

The studio material on both releases has been re-transferred and remastered from original analog master tapes, by Présent’s sound engineer Udi Koomran (who is also a producer and mastering specialist). The sound is spacious, better than ever, and magnificently fills the speakers. Both reissues also have 16-page insert booklets which contain recent, in-depth interviews with Trigaux, Denis and other Présent members, who provide illuminating insights into the band’s origins and music, and impart specific details about the particular recordings and albums. Both booklets also have several previously unseen photos. For longtime Présent aficionados, these reissues are the definitive ones to purchase.

Triskaïdékaphobie = Promenade Au Fond D’un Canal; Quatre-vingt Douze; Repulsion; Dense; Vous le Saurez en Temps Voulu

Le Poison Qui Rend Fou = CD 1: Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Part 1: Ram Ram Va Faire “Pif Paf”; Ersatz; Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Part 2: Didi, Dans Ta Chambre!; Samana. Also includes 3 QuickTime CD-ROM videos.
CD 2: Quatre-vingt Douze; Ersatz; Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Part 1; Chaos Hermétique; Promenade Au Fond D’un Canal.

—Doug Simpson

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