Philippe Besombes

Pôle [Reissue]

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Originally released in 1975 and reissued on CD in 2004 as Volume 2 in MIO Records' series of Philippe Besombes reissues, Pôle remains the keyboardist/experimentalist's strongest achievement and a must-have for fans of '70s European electronic music. Yet, "electronic" is too restrictive a word to describe this extravagant collaboration with Jean-Louis Rizet, another synthesizer whiz. This two-LP set was recorded for Paul Putti's Pôle label and features input from a number of acoustic musicians who were part of the latter's entourage at the time (sadly, the MIO reissue doesn't mention the personnel). The music stretches in style from Heldon to Tangerine Dream, by way of early Kraftwerk and Faust. The 11-minute opener, "Haute Pression," nails the second, beat-driven phase of Richard Pinhas' Heldon with stunning accuracy, especially as the guitarist was not quite done developing his formula! Minus the trademark Heldon guitar, but replete with Krautrock-like drumming and ever-evolving layers of synthesizers, this is a monster track, worthy of any anthology of French electronic music of the era. "Evelyse" features some very nice flute playing at its core, overdubbed with several layers of synth dialogues. Sides one and three of the original LP presented relatively short tracks, including the three-minute farce "Rock à Montauban," where Besombes and Rizet sarcastically try their luck at the song format, singing inane lyrics in English while arguing in French over synthesizer technology (one piece of equipment will eventually start to foam!) and girlfriends. Sides two and four consisted of side-long pieces. Of these, "Armature Double" is the highlight. It starts with contrapuntal keyboard motives and remains relatively calm and delicate throughout, evolving in a way that recalls early Kraftwerk and TD, but also Mother Mallard's Masterpiece Co., although Besombes and Rizet prove to be constantly more whimsical and psychedelic than either of these groups. The other extended track, "Synthi Soit-il," lacks the cohesion of the latter, but it also opens the doors of perception, so to speak, on an unusual form of psychedelic freak-out, with space-like swirls, reverb galore and Gregorian chants coming out of nowhere. More focused than Libra while retaining its wild side (something that will be mostly lost by the time of Cesi est Cela), Pôle is the perfect place to dip a first toe into Besombes' universe and a very good all-around rarity from the '70s French underground.

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