JJ CHARDEAU – In Terra Cognita?

The Right Honourable 2019

JJ CHARDEAU –
In Terra Cognita?

French composer brings rock opera down from the stage into a listener’s living room, losing some vital images in the globe-trotting transition.

Jean-Jacques Chardeau has been applying his talents to pop idiom ever since 2005’s "Hors Portée" – his solo debut that showed how this artist can separate different aspects of a single endeavor and splinter them into standalone releases – but “Magical Musical Man” must be the Parisian’s magnum opus. Still, staged in November 2019 with the help of Alan Simon, who specializes in similar concepts, on record Chardeau’s opera got distilled to an array of geographically tethered numbers and lost some of its live coherence, although such an approach resulted in an attractive variety, rendering “In Terra Cognita?” – the work’s CD version – a worthy trip around the world in the company of well-known players.

Recorded, in keeping with the project’s agenda and in JJ’s presence, in studios around the world, as opposed to the current tendency of file-sharing, the album must have intergrity and inner unity about these pieces, yet “Evolution” is a rather fractured ouverture which, instead of creating an arresting flow out of the opera’s main themes, attempts to stitch together an assembly of individually gripping fragments that are lushly orchestrated by John Van Eps to host wordless vocal harmonies and Chardeau’s show-tune-esque piano. Just as disjointed is “Dream In Moscow” which, cheap in cinematic terms due to its use of commonplace folk songs and symphonic snippets, will be elevated thanks to the tremendous ensemble – with Jerry Goodman engaging in gypsy tune and Mark Andes’ bass locking in with Danny Seraphine’s drums against choral sway, while Alex Ligertwood, at his most histrionic, rocks hard.

Fortunately, the vibrant raga of “Black Taj Mahal” has an organic flow to its lacquered licks, despite the title suggesting dirty blues, and some glimmering grit are smeared all over “The Last Rockaway” that Michael Sadler’s pipes chase across the desert, but there’s also a lot of delicate moments – like romantic passages in the jazzy “Les Larmes Du Pacifique” where John Helliwell’s sax and John McFee’s pedal steel shine, or “Farewell Lhassa” where Martin Barre‘s exquisite curcliques sound truly transcendental – to contrast the overall bombast. Yet if the celestial vibes of “DMZ” get brought down to earth when Brian Auger‘s ivories do the dance, the lightweight Latino rhythms totally deflate “Pablo Tequila” instead of making it exhilarating like “Cabale Kabyle” – the fiddle-spiced and woodwind-driven dervish swirl, and even the tribal buzz of “Tchad” is undermined by the easy-listening, caricature approach.

With occasional soliloquy floating into aural focus, it’s not easy to make sense of “In Terra Cognita?” – only the album somehow works. Had the opera been presented in full, the intergrity and unity would take it on a much more exciting journey.

***1/2

January 22, 2020

Category(s): Reviews
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