Poni Hoax

Poni Hoax are a band from Paris. They sing in English, and have been playing since 2001, but I don’t think they’ve yet quite crossed the watery divide between French indie acclaim and anglo-saxon stardom.  Navigating between the austerity of Kraftwerk and the masculine emotion of The Doors, there’s something about their electro-disco style that suits these grey times.

In addition, as befits a consciously stylish band from the city of Gainsbourg and Godard, their video clips are top notch piece of film-making. Antibodies features a naked chick and a bubble in an airport:

And The Paper Bride features a man, a swimming pool and a dance:

Don Ellis “Indian Lady”

The Don Ellis Orchestra charted an original path through the jazz of the late 60s and early 70s, producing some remarkable music for big band.

With an emphasis on electronics, non-conventional time signatures and improvisation, there are more than a few fans who consider his Orchestra to have been one of the most advanced in modern jazz. The 1971 live album Tears of Joy is worth checking out to hear what this band was all about.

Ellis himself died in 1978, cutting short his remarkable career, and his music fell back into relative obscurity in the neo-conservativism of 1980s jazz. Very little film footage of the band seems to have survived: this VHS copy of the Ellis composition “Indian Lady” at a concert at Tanglewood in 1968 is one of the few films of the Don Ellis band on YouTube.

Behind the Lines

When one posts a Phil Collins video, one is on shaky ground. However, music from your childhood sticks in your memory like week-old pesto to a fridge wall. And this is a day to scrape off some of that green gunk.

My clueless 13 year-old self received a double album on cassette (Face Value/Hello, I Must be Going) as a birthday present, and not knowing any better, I decided I quite liked it.

I soon learned to keep such opinions to myself: and to day, this double cassette remains the only Collins in my collection. I soon found other monstrosities to obsess over (who remembers Arrested Development?).

And I still think my favourite Phil Collins song is this one: it features the horns from Earth Wind and Fire, and is really a Genesis song, so there.

Betty Carter in 1990

There’s been a ferocious email debate going on among some of my friends this week regarding Betty Carter.

Is she the greatest jazz singer ever, or a warbling charlatan who destroyed every song she touched? 

With Betty, there seems to be no middle ground. Either you love her, or you hate her.

This is Betty Carter and her trio, playing one of her own songs, “Dropping Things“… with a nice nod to Art Blakey at the end…

Betty Carter (vocal)
Marc Carey (piano)
Dwayne Burno (bass)
Gregory Hutchinson (drums)

Lisbon, Portgual – October 1990, at the Galp Jazz Festival

Cuong Vu

Cuong Vu Trio playing “Vina’s Lullaby

Cuong Vu – trumpet
Stomu Takeishi – bass
Ted Poor – drums

Live at Berklee College of Music (date unknown)

Un village français

France 3’s continuing little World War Two epic Un Village Français has just reached the end of its third season, with double episodes playing on Sunday nights over the festive break. This ongoing TV series, planned to run over 5 years, is an attempt to tell the story of everyday life in Vichy France. I for one, am rather enjoying it.

The series takes place in Villeneuve, a fictional town in Vichy-controlled territory in the Jura. The town, which is a subprefecture and certain larger than the “village” indicated in the title, is populated by a vast ensemble cast of men, women and children who are coping with war, occupation and a new totalitarian government as best they can.

The writers seem to emphasise verisimilitude and human interest, rather than strict historical accuracy: the active viewer forum on the France 3  website is stuffed with trainspotters pointing out errors in chronology, military equipment or administrative arcana. However,  if sometimes the scenarios spiral towards melodrama, the performances are solid.

Robin Renucci (right) plays Dr Daniel Larcher

Robin Renucci is magnificent as Dr Larcher, the town’s doctor and mayor, balancing his family and medical practice with demands of local politics under the Vichy regime. The belgian actor Patrick Descamps, noted in France for his other appearances as a TV detective, plays the increasingly disillusioned and alcoholic Inspector De Kervern, who must hold down a desk job in the town’s police station, while harbouring a Jewish woman in his apartment.

Occasionally the series seems rather didactic – for instance, one episode entitled Par amour concentrated largely on the intimate relationships developing between French women and the German troops stationed in the town.

In addition, each episode ends with a 5 minute historical “featurette” including interviews with French people who lived through the Vichy era, reflecting on their own experiences during wartime: here the show seems to take some inspiration from Spielberg-produced historical dramas such as HBO’s Band of Brothers.

Marie Kremer as Lucienne Borderie, Villeneuve’s primary school teacher

All things considered, Un village français is a worthy, well-made drama that makes up for its lack of Hollywood budget with its ambition: to recount the subtleties of an entire chapter in French history, told from the perspectives of the citizens of one provincial town. It’s certainly one of the best things on French TV.

After three seasons, the ensemble of characters is well-established, and the intrigues can only grow more complex as the war progresses.  By the end of Season Three, we have only reached October 1941. There are still 3 years of occupation to go.   I hope that funding for the show continues, so we can live with Villeneuve through to liberation.

Gustave Larcher: (Maxim Driesen, centre) nephew of the mayor and son of a communist terrorist

Snowed In

I managed to get stuck in England this weekend – and once again was able to enjoy snow in Oxford… despite the fact that it took me 10 hours to get back to Paris on Sunday, Saturday was a most enjoyable day to be a weather refugee. Snowmen constructed, snowballs were thrown, and port and mince pies were served in the Middle Common Room at Teddy Hall.

Random Act of Culture

I rather thought that this was a fabulous idea: a “flash mob” choir of 650, singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in Macy’s department store in Philadelphia, surprising the early Christmas shoppers.

They were accompanied by the shop’s pipe organ (only in America), which is apparently the largest pipe organ in the world (also, only in America).

It’d be great to do something like this in Paris… perhaps in Printemps or the Les Halles shopping centre?

The Last of the Medici

One of the best Brian Sewell clips, ever. It’s from his documentary series Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour.