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Digging Deep: Chassol

Digging Deep: Chassol
Alex Rennie

When it comes to originality, few are more gifted than Parisian pianist-cum-composer Christophe Chassol. Trained at Paris’ renowned Conservatoire National de Musique and Boston’s Berklee College, Chassol has developed the insight and technical ability of a proper maestro. However, and with no disrespect to the merits of education, the Frenchman clearly possesses an intuition that simply can’t be taught; a inherent talent for harmony.

Chassol’s career kicked off in the mid 90’s writing scores for movies, TV shows and adverts before going on to collaborate with France’s premiere synthpoppers Phoenix and bearded instrumentalist Sebastian Tellier, having played a part in the latter’s 2004 album Politics, which featured the critically acclaimed ‘La Ritournelle’.

2005 marked a significant period for Chassol, in more ways than one. With the world-changing arrival of YouTube, he began to experiment with a concept he would later coin “ultrascore” – the spellbinding synchronisation of documentary-style footage, ambient noise and his own soulful rhythms. Sadly, it was also the year he lost both parents to a tragic air accident, the flight they were aboard was destined for their native Martinique, an idyllic Caribbean island and overseas French territory.

Buoyed by this poignant event, Chassol began collecting his own video material to couple with his compositions.  After releasing his debut record X-Pianos on Bertrand Burgalat’s super-chic Tricatel, his focus fell on compiling a dazzling trilogy of ultrascores with his drummer, Lawrence Clais. For the first LP in the series, Nola Chérie, Chassol and his crew ventured to Creole-speaking New Orleans for Mardi Gras, harmonising the carnival of sound and marching bands along the way. The next instalment – Indiamore – was inspired by Chassol’s odyssey to Calcutta and Varanasi and is a whirring portrayal of Indian life that glides between sitar strings, vibrant dancers and the spiritual notes of the Ganges.

The crowning piece in Chassol’s trio of sensory trips, Big Sun, dropped this May. Willed by his desire to discover his Antillean roots, Chassol visited Martinique, exploring the country’s electric culture and tropical landscapes. The product of his West Indian voyage is truly mind-blowing, a perfect sonic adventure that encapsulates the isle’s tempo, both aurally and optically. From a bustling game of dominoes to enchanting birdsong, Chassol’s final offering weaves together an opulent tapestry of music that hangs above a seamless stream of improvisational jazz and liquid funk. With praise from the likes of Gilles Peterson and projects with Frank Ocean, Laurie Anderson and Terry Riley in the bag, Chassol’s artistry appears to have no limits.

So, it is with great pleasure that we’re able to present a selection of the more obscure tunes stowed away in Chassol’s record collection. Unsurprisingly eclectic, it’s probably the only place you’d put Magma’s progressive rock next to the lyricism of Jay Dilla! Dig in.

Herbie Hancock – ‘Rain Dance’ [Sextant (1973)]

This is with his band Mwandishi. Hancock was using the synthesizers in such a weird way, a weirder way than with ‘Head Hunters’ one year later. (The Patrick Gleeson influence).
I do prefer the track ‘Hornets” on this album, but the link wasn’t available!
‘Rain Dance’ and its space synths could have been written today, it reminds me of Diplo’s synths in ‘Look At Me Now’.

Jerry Goldsmith – ‘The Dog’s Attack’ [The OMEN (1976)]

Goldsmith is a god to me. I have been listening to his scores since I was a teenager, with Planet of the Apes and The Omen being my favourites. This cue takes place in a cemetery in Italy, and after discovering what is Damien’s mother, Gregory Peck and the British photographer get attacked by furious bad vibe Rottweillers.

David Axelrod – A Divine Image [Songs of Experience (1969)]

I love how David Axelrod uses spaces and arranging in his compositions. That track can be summed up by its two note bass line and the constant one chord organ. The sophistication of the tension he creates with such a few elements is fantastic. Everything is serious and deep about that divine image.

Jay Dilla – ‘BBE (Big Booty Express)’ [Welcome to Detroit (2001)]

JD offers a variety of moods on that album…the chords, the slow tempo and the electronic dirtiness on this track always surprised me…I love how desperate and post apocalyptic it sounds.

Mallikarjun Mansur – ‘Raga Shivmat Bhairav’ [Live in Concert (1910 – 1992)]

A great singer from India who I have been listening to a lot. He knows many unusual ragas and can improvise as if the notes were really long lines he was sculpting. It is about tension when the melodic line takes off the bass line, and release when it comes back.

Magma – ‘De Futura’ [Udu Wudu (1976)]

The Magma track that changes your life. At 8:09, there’s one of the darkest bass line I have ever heard.  It sums up evilness to me.

The Cure – ‘Another Day’ [Three Imaginary Boys (1979)] – (Shades of Grey/1980/Boys Don’t Cry)