Bey.Ler.Bey Mauvaise langue
Collectif Cok Malko
Review by Dylan McDonnell
French trio Bey.Ler.Bey are mistranslaters of sorts. Composed of accordionist Florian Demonsant, percussionist Wassim Halal, and clarinetist Laurent Clouet, the group showcases a collective knowledge of what they call the “colors and codes of Balkan music” while embracing certain conventions of free jazz and minimalism. They conspicuously eschew “traditional” elements through a kind of upside-down and backwards jigsaw puzzle, fitting sounds together that seem like they've always coexisted. However, the mercurial qualities of each voice (sometimes repeating phrases in rhythmic unison but ultimately diverging from any fixed form) betray a newness of vision.
The album is structured in four movements that take on this form of musical gossip (“mauvaise langue” is French for “one who gossips”). “Jacasseries” (Trivial Conversations) is a grand opening that loops and transitions in ways that preclude traditional Southeastern European contexts, as it seems more appropriate for a sitting/listening audience rather than a conspicuously dancing one. The trio together, settles into a rhythmic vamp with a virtuosic clarinet solo, revealing shades of Ivo Popozov. Ever-changing triplet groupings are interspersed with occasional the duple unit while Clouet sustains, then builds momentum into a more raucous yet rhythmically defined passage. Demonsant's chaotic accordion, which sounds out the blues as well as Arabic/Turkish modal gestures, feeds into another clarinet feature.
"Bon Sauvage" (excerpt)
The second movement, “Bon Sauvage” (Noble Savage) delves into its own kind of chaos, with very dense sheets of clarinet and accordion clusters in every register alternating with moments of melodic unison. Halal's figures on a frame drum prepared with snares or shaking contents inside focus on short patterns but end up forming a dense foundation for the melodic and harmonic voices.
“Aphone” (Voiceless or Mute) evokes someone trying to develop and put across a point, but, due to “voicelessness” experiments with alternative ways to express besides verbal communication: it emphasizes moments of stop-and-start, begin-and-end. The accordion bass drone, as well as the frame-drum pulse, becomes white noise, highlighting the constantly shifting accordion and clarinet lines. The two converge in the final three minutes with a haunting unison line, the clarinet ascending in register, a final cry out to the abyss. Increasingly rapid drumming, then silence.
"Naufrage" (full track)
The finale, “Naufrage” (Shipwreck) reads like a dirge, survivors trudging home accompanied by dense accordion chords and a wide-vibrato clarinet melody, but with an incredibly infectious halftime pulse from Halal. Cut to an oscillating-octave clarinet figure, accordion tremolo, and a rocking daf (Persian frame drum) beat, and the group sound becomes kind of a rager for a shipwreck. From here, it flirts with a very prominent Turkish Romani feel of escalating intensity of rhythm, virtuosity of melody, and density of chordal accompaniment.
While defying predictably “danceable” stuctures, Bey.Ler.Bey is bent on allusion to dancing and community participation: the chaos of each section is more a mark of celebration than travels to interstellar destinations. The continuous changes in texture are effective in creating and withholding movement, just as gossip is effective in creating and withholding truth. - Dylan McDonnell