Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones: Quatorze Pièces de Menace
Denovali Records

Chiaroscuro, turbulence, discombobulation—such words pass through the mind as one absorbs the aptly titled Quatorze Pièces de Menace by the French outfit Dale Cooper Quartet (a trio, as it turns out, consisting of Gaël Loison, Christophe Mevel, and Yannick Martin) & The Dictaphones (voice contributors Zalie Bellacicco, Gaëlle Kerrien, Alicia Merz, and Ronan MacErlaine, saxophonist Krystian Sarrau, trumpeter Philippe Champion, and guitarist Cyril Pansal). It's an enigmatic, seventy-four-minute plunge into a cryptic swamp of Lynchian design, the album's dark ambient-jazz at times leavened by the angelic vocal presence of Merz (Birds of Passage). Imagine a dimly lit, smoke-filled nightclub where a few lost souls drown their sorrows and an acoustic jazz quintet delivers a bluesy set and you'll have some basic idea of the album's Hades-like soundworld.

At twenty-one minutes, the opening instrumental “Brosme en dos-vert” could act as a stand-alone for the album as a whole, especially when its episodes are so disturbing. The disorienting ride gets underway with a portentous orchestral section that abruptly segues into a nightmarish soundscape of electronics, tenor saxophone musings, and raw guitar textures whose death lurch accounts for most of the track's extended time. As cryptic is “Nourrain Quinquet,” a Badalamenti-esque electronic-jazz meditation that couples muted trumpet playing with a male singer's Jim Morrison-like drawl (a similar vocal effect re-surfaces in “Céladon Bafre” and “Mange tanche”). Much of the album material is delivered in a slow-motion crawl that suggests one wouldn't be far wrong in proffering Bohren & Der Club Of Gore as a kindred spirit.

The journey induces wooziness as it drifts from underground dungeons to the open courtyard and back again, with elements of light occasionally adding some faint glimmer of hope to the doom-laden proceedings. When her ethereal voice graces “Calbombe Camoufle Fretin” and “Il Bamboche Empereurs,” Merz imbues the material with a hypnotic, dream-like quality that acts as a welcome reprieve from the album's darker excursions. Moments of derangement surface (“L'escolier serpent éolipile”) but so, too, do moments of haunting beauty (“Lampyre bonne chère”)—even if they're fewer in number. Nevertheless, while Quatorze Pièces de Menace is a challenging and at times unsettling trip, it's engrossing, too, and certainly merits one's time and attention.

November 2013