Lo'Jo Transe de Papier
Review by Chris Nickson
"Transe de Papier"
Lo'Jo is one of those remarkable bands that’s crafted a sound that’s instantly identifiable. Five seconds and you know who it is. But rather than simply trade on that, they’ve used it as a springboard from which they can experiment. On each of their albums for more than 20 years, they’ve mutated and subverted many musical norms. They’ve tried things, brought in new ideas and instruments well before they became established in Western music. Transe de Papier is no different. The familiar elements are there: the poetic, gravelly voice of Denis Péan, the harmonies of the Nid El Mourid sisters, and the violin of Richard Bourreau, which all too often sounds nothing like an ordinary violin. That’s the established core, along with relatively recent bassist Alex Cochennec, but it’s how they use those pieces that illustrates the changes.
Over the years the Nid El Mourid sisters have grown in importance; nowadays they taken lead vocals as often as Péan, while Yamina Nid El Mourid has blossomed into a handy multi-instrumentalist, playing the kora or kamele n’goni harp (not instruments culturally associated with women) and these days often holding down the drum stool in the band. The band has drawn from its travels - they helped to found the Festival in the Desert, for example - and learned from different countries as well as nearly 40 years of performing as a collective. As always, though, Péan remains the centre, the linchpin, whether it’s on the purely solo “Black Bird,” where his piano part seems fragile and tentative, or powering the spiky, lopsided riff that’s the heart of “Bal La Poussière.” Bourreau, the other formative person in Lo’Jo, keeps to the background, an eminence grise who disguises his instrument, but forms so much of what makes them who they are.
"Bal La Poussière"
There are a couple of big-name guests, but they seem to arrive as welcome friends rather than for any marquee value. The late, very great Tony Allen plays drums on a couple of tracks, but he doesn’t try to dominate Lo’Jo’s music; he merely adds to it. And Robert Wyatt, who’s collaborated with the band before, makes an appearance on the brief track “Kiosco.” However, it’s far from what might be expected. No angelic singing; instead, he contributes a spoken word piece in French over Péan’s piano.
As a band, they often start songs with a simple element. Sometimes it’s a drum pattern (“Pas Pareil”), at others just a few notes (the title cut). The magic is how they build on that, assembling curious shapes of surprising, weary beauty. They keep growing, and after so long together still keep pushing themselves to look at the world in skewed ways. And while everything is familiar, it’s most definitely never the name. Quite how Lo’Jo do what they do is the magic that makes them unique, and ensures Transe de Papier is a joy. – Chris Nickson