Voix de Surface

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Multi-instrumentalist Momo Rossel, who helped to hold down the tiny Swiss franchise for Rock in Opposition-style avant-prog music with Débile Menthol, surely found his dream group in the Nimal quintet heard on Voix de Surface. Nimal had already released an eponymously named LP in 1987, but, while featuring cellist Tom Cora and drummer Pippin Barnett from the U.S.-based avant jazz-rock band Curlew, Nimal was largely a Rossel solo effort rather than an LP by a true working group. Rossel wanted to form a band, so he recruited, in addition to Cora and Barnett, fellow Débile Menthol member Jean-20 Huguenin on bass, electric guitar, and keyboards, and Slovenian accordionist Bratko Bibič from the celebrated avant-prog and Euro-folk-flavored Begnagrad. Rossel played many instruments with the group -- guitar, hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, keyboards, and more -- but blended his contributions into an overall ensemble sound. So although Voix de Surface is the second Nimal album, it is best considered the first full-length by Nimal the band. There are tracks that the quintet recorded in 1989 at the French avant-garde Festival MIMI and, in addition, there are a few compositions by other band members (including Cora's wonderful "James River," which appears as "Jim [To the James River]" on the Curlew album Bee), although Rossel still wrote the lion's share of the material, much of which first appeared on Nimal. The tunes are concise, without a note wasted or even the slightest tinge of bombast. This is music that draws equally from noisy and brash rock, textural and timbral experimentalism, and (as can be heard starting with the first 11/8 bars of the first track, "Une Lucie") the skewed and celebratory rhythms of Eastern European folk dances. Many of the compositions are remarkably tuneful and danceable -- with warmth from the accordion contrasting effectively with the rock-solid foundation of electric bass and drums -- while remaining edgy enough to satisfy listeners attuned to the avant-garde. A dark sonic ambience even emerges on occasion -- as in the ominous, almost Univers Zero-ish prologue to the otherwise upbeat "Sale Temps, Mais les Couleurs Sont Belles." And Tom Cora fans should note that the cellist cuts loose with some fine solos in his signature abrasive style. But Voix de Surface displays all the musicians so well that it is hard to focus on one individual or consider the album anything other than the product of a truly collaborative spirit. It's a credit to Rossel and his bandmates that they managed to tour and record together, surmounting the challenges of being spread across two continents an ocean apart. However briefly during the late '80s and early '90s, Nimal held together as a scrappy, adventurous outlet for instrumental avant rock, and Voix de Surface remains the album to search for if you're interested in hearing the five-member version of Nimal, certainly the group's classic incarnation.

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