Train Fantôme, 2018
Fred Pallem is an aesthete. Because his music is full of fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dishevelled or incoherent. And its proclaimed hedonism doesn’t imply you need to judge it superficially. On the contrary. His eccentricity is well under the control of his writing and his exultant orchestral ideas hit the nail on the head. The scores he gives to his musicians are undoubtedly crystal clear and he obviously knows where his imagination is heading from the very first chord. Richly imaginative, skillful in its effects, masterful in its narrative, Fred Pallem’s talent is that of a Homeric storyteller – with elements of Hollywood, Z-movies and Phil Spector’s studios. In Pallem, the composer, the conductor and the record producer act as one, all focused on a precise vision of music, honed by twenty years – an Odyssey in itself – of orchestral experience. Each note has a meaning, each instrumentalist is a colour on the palette, every solo is defined by the dramatic effect it harbours, and each idea is staged with a specific intention. The title of the album is no fraud. One gets the feeling, from one track to the next, that the composer is acting like a musical demiurge, building his personal mythology and embarking us as Ulysses in the epic turmoil of his soundscape.
What strikes the listener from the outset in this album, his first since ‘Soundrax’ in 2011 (a compilation of soundtracks for imaginary films), is his capacity to put foward personal compositions, to invent whole new realms with only a few notes, to create atmospheres where each detail has its importance, to have the listener holding his breath with a carefully disposed framework that gives each track an epic dimension. The titles of the tracks suggest they might be underpinned by a film script. (Ask the maestro about their meaning, you’ll see). After paying a tribute to one of his heroes, François de Roubaix, in 2015, covering a few unknown Blaxploitation gems in 2017 (‘Soul Cinema’ released on vinyl only), and revamping a children’s repertoire, from Inspector Gadget to Super Mario (‘Cartoons’), Fred Pallem is back with a whole new bunch of hand-tailored original compositions. Loyal to his idea of the triple function of the orchestra (creating music, keeping repertoires alive and developing programs for young audiences), Pallem took up the pen again, driven by the desire to add a some string instruments to his bow, « to mix the three families of instruments, brass, strings, rythmic ». For someone who gave up the double-bass in favour of the electric bass, it’s a kind of return to the orchestra’s roots, since its earliest compositions included strings. « This extended array of sounds gave me a renewed and extraordinary appetite for music. The mere fact of having all these possibilities generates new ideas. Why didn’t I allow myself to do this before? I wonder! » This new repertoire is also an opportunity to « put the soloists in the forefront again », people like Thomas de Pourquery, Rémi Sciuto, Christophe Monniot or Théo Ceccaldi who, like caracters of heroic vertues, inject an exhilarating feeling of entropy into the heart of the compositions.
In this record conceived as an entity, « from start to finish, like a pop or rock album », relatively short, « in the vinyl format, neither too long nor too short, the Blue Note or Beatles format, which gives you the urge to turn over the B-side and listen to the A-side again », Pallem, loyal to his deliberately eclectic hybrid esthetics, unshackled by style or genre, reconnects with his reputation as an ‘enfant terrible’ of big band jazz, a Quentin Tarantino of sound. Transgressing every limit defined by the censors of good taste, he brings whole swathes of musical history back to light, the sub-genres despised by so-called experts, too impure, too un-artistic, too unappropriate to be sanctified by those who consider pop music as a commercial form of non-art and cross-over as a heresy. Going against the flow of these stereotypes, Pallem has demonstrated that this ‘parallel’ production has its geniuses, and on top of its exciting and deeply evocative powers, it is now engraved in our minds through cinema, television, radio and commercials, playing with our musical sub-conscience and reactivating the emotions of the movie lover and the thrills of a child.
On ‘l’Odyssée’, Fred Pallem summons the spirits of the masters who inspired him and puts his signature on a sequence of epic pieces, handling dramatic effects and equivocal atmospheres with panache. Glittering brass contrasting with tense violins, angry basslines clashing with ominous strings…Ornette Coleman infiltrating the world of Ennio Morricone, Bernard Hermann going hand in hand with the overdriven tones of electric Miles Davis, Lalo Schifrin partying with Fela, the shadow of Creed Taylor lingering over luscious string arrangements, Memphis Sound meets John Barry…many reminiscences come to mind in this realm that happily plays with its references without becoming a pastiche. We shall not reveal all the autobiographical echoes concealed inside a repertoire where sense of humour and melancholy intermingle, and the lustrous sheen sometimes leads to darker places, with eerie or mournful tones. Fred Pallem, as all aesthetes, keeps his cards close to his chest.