Jacques Thollot

Quand Le Son Devient Trop Aigu

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Jacques Thollot's 1996 comeback album on Nato, Tenga Niña, came with a booklet containing some archive photographs of the child prodigy drummer sitting rather alone behind a kit three times his size, a rather forlorn reminder that Thollot's greatest work will always remain his solo albums, of which this 1971 date on the mythic Futura label (home of several obscure cult bands including Mahogany Brain, Red Noise, and the enigmatic Fille Qui Mousse) is arguably the finest. The album title, which translates as When the Sound Becomes High-pitched, Throw the Giraffe into the Sea, gives a clue of the kind of inspired surreal madness Thollot concocts on these 14 tracks, only five of which go beyond the three-minute mark. Playing all the instruments -- percussion, piano, organ, and assorted electronic manipulations, including some tape effects Robert Wyatt and Brian Eno would have been proud of -- Thollot joins a select band of French avant-garde multi-instrumentalists (Jacques Berrocal, Roger Ferlet, and Pierre Bastien). With the exception of a medley of songs culled from Kurt Weill, and a brief piece credited to Don Cherry -- a seminal influence on this generation of French post-free improvisors -- all the compositions are Thollot originals. Wyatt's distinctive vocals would not be out of place on tracks like "Cécile" and "Qu'ils fassent un village, ou bien c'est nous qui s'en allons," and the scattery drums of "Aussi long que large" also recall the Soft Machine drummer's virtuosity. Sometimes wistfully nostalgic, "Quiet Days in Prison" -- who's on cello, by the way? -- clearly references Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," sometimes plain disturbing (the strange tortured vocals on "Virginie ou le manque de tact"), but consistently thought-provoking and supremely musical, this is an album that no self-respecting connoisseur of improvised music should be without.