Jérémy Courault is the leader and voice of the inimitable trio Djé Baleti. Hailing from Toulouse, France, Baleti incorporate various African and European styles into a whirling array of music. Imagine if Hendrix was raised in Mali and grew up in Italy, and played a long-necked espina instead of an electric guitar. That's close to what Courault -- who grew up just about everywhere -- and his band does here.
With Sophia Ramia Medina on bass and Antoine Pedriolle on drums, Djé Baleti reimagines rock by way of highlife, tarantella, chaabi, and numerous other sources. The insistent energy of this record begins with "Manda Lo Batéu" the title track, with its descending espina riff, moments of Doors-like rock, and continues through long and short pieces, 12 in all.
Quirky is not the word, but eclectic, innovative just begin to describe this disc. On "Luna Nova," Courault channels Hendrix but then gets into a completely different meditative groove. On "Le Cogordon," I have no idea what he is up to, an acoustic pop jazz that morphs into a wild carnavalesque. Or something.
Courault delivers the lyrics with an outsider's take, a critical and passionate eye. On "Gâté," a bilingual track, the charismatic Courault criticizes capitalist society, the French, "ignoring history, ignoring politics, those who refuse to share the cake" with migrants, and pretty much any social ill going. "Bleu, blanc, rouge" with its bluesy espina touches on similar issues....even the Marseillaise is rendered for a moment in a style reminiscent of Hendrix's famous U.S. counterpart.
Ending the record is Artémis, an odd little poem of love or admiration, accompanied by an acoustic espina. This is an esoteric and frankly eccentric album of songs that cohere and provoke strong reaction, either positive or negative, but can't be ignored. - David Cox