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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alan Stivell: Reflets


1) Reflets; 2) Suite Des Montagnes; 3) Marig Ar Pollanton; 4) Brocéliande; 5) Son Ar Chistr; 6) Sally Free And Ea­sy; 7) Suite Irlandaise; 8) Sil Vestrig; 9) Tenval An Deiz; 10) Je Suis Né Au Milieu De La Mer.

To place Alan Stivell in the chronological category that approximately corresponds to «Mid-Se­venties» might seem a little off: he had been recording a bit of this and that since as early as 1960, and his first LP, Telenn Geltiek («Celtic Harp») already had a limited release in 1964. Yet it wasn't really until the early Seventies that he emerged on the international scene as a major cultu­ral revivalist as well as an individual artist in his own rights, no doubt due to the overall folk-rock boom of the era — without groups like Fairport Convention to pave the road for his much more esoteric, «hardcore» creativity, he would have forever remained the exclusive stuff of professio­nal musicologists and a snobby pastime for art college students. Come to think of it, that isn't very far removed from what he actually is today, but still...

Anyway, the first real international release from formerly gifted kid Alan Cochevelou, now tur­ned se­rious 26-year old message-carrying artist Alan Stivell, is this album, Reflets, («Re­flec­ti­ons»), released on the Fontana label and carrying a modest selection of traditional melodies, all of them based on Stivell's Celtic harp playing — his instrument of choice, without which he is as unimagineable as Ian Anderson without his flute — but diverse enough because of a wide range of supporting instruments: bagpipes, organs, cellos, harmonicas, you name it. There are even oc­casional outbursts of electric guitar moans, although on Reflets, Stivell had not yet really begun to cre­ate the unique Celtic/Rock synthesis of his later records.

Both song titles and lyrics range from French, his native language, to Breton, his ethnic legacy language, to English, the new language of that part of the world where, fifteen hundred years ago, Alan's forefathers used to reside. Or the language of Hollywood and McDonalds, you choose. He does have a bit of an accent in English, which is possibly why it is confined here only to the bal­lad 'Sally Free And Easy' (but he masks it well by rendering the whole song in the drawn-out folk style — if you sing well, then the more you sing, the less funny you sound).

Stylistically, Reflets is not much different from early Clannad albums, except, perhaps, concen­trating far more on the meditative balladry part than on the entertainment side of the business: only 'Son Ar Chistr', with its background chorus, 'Suite Irlandaise', with its little jig, and 'Tenval An Deiz', which does give the impression of a fairly old courteous Breton dance tune, have strong rhythmic support. The meditative ballads, of course, sound extremely similar, especially for those who lag behind in their Breton, but Stivell's fluent, complex, and sensitive playing contains eno­ugh magic to at least mold it all into a pleasant escapist background, and his bardic singing is also an essential component of his charm.

Finally, of tremendous importance is the production: lots of echo, subtle fade-ins and fade-outs, and expert manipulation of background instruments — so much so that, even in the complete ab­sence of «nature sounds» (such as waves crashing, winds howling, and seagulls defecating), it is still easy to visualize a wise old druid clutching his magic harp on a tall, tall hill, as lower-rank human beings are getting busy way down below transforming it into a quarry for Stonehenge. Or maybe it's just the subconscious effect of the album cover. Whatever be, the spirit of the picture does match fairly closely the spirit of the music.

For Stivell, this was just the beginning — he has but two original compositions here, and as good as the sound is, it does not yet define him and him only. The obligatory thumbs up is, therefore, modest and moderate, and there is an understandable, if insufficient, reason why it is almost im­possible to get it on CD these days. Still a must-get for all fans of Stivell and/or all things Celtic, particularly all things Bretonic.

1 comment:

  1. Here's something I've never heard of before! Sounds interesting. I like some of Clannad's stuff so I might just check this out (or wait and see future reviews and take my pick from those.)