This is the third review within these pages for projects involving the remarkable French vocalist Carla Diratz, and this one sees a collaboration stripped down once more to bare voice and limited instrumental backup. But unlike ‘The Electric Suite’, with Corentin Coupe, which uniquely matched vocals and bass, this pairs her with Pascal Vaucel, a French guitarist who adds enough additional layers with drum tracks and bottom heavy treatments to make this album sound like the work of a band. If I’d looked hard enough, I would have seen him at Kozfests 2016 and ‘17 performing with Bob Hedger in Phaselock. More fool me – he’s clearly a prodigious inventive talent.
As with all Diratz projects I’ve heard to date, the music alternates between pieces which are carefully constructed to showcase her rich voice in conducive, almost conventional genres (which only serves to accentuate the starkness of her delivery); and tracks which are more freely constructed. Whilst I favour the former, the performances are strong throughout and the freeform numbers for me work better than on any of her other albums, testament to some alternately brutal or eloquent passages from the guitar of Vaucel. In fact, as with Dave Newhouse, Diratz appears to have found herself another kindred spirit, another composer with the virtuosity and versatility to do justice to that unique voice.
Three original tracks really stand out: ‘Questing Dawn’ with its warm jazz guitar flecks; the nihilistic, ‘Dharma Song’, dominated by abrasive guitar effects where the Diratz voice reaches its most primeval peak, set against a most industrial backdrop; whilst ‘Blue Drops’ meanwhile, is much more amenable, recalling the gentler, bluesier ambience of Hugh Hopper’s Hughscore, propelled along by simpler guitar lines and relatively gentle percussion. Elsewhere, on ‘Ancora Pier Paolo’ – there are hints of Durutti-column style noodling with multiple call and response vocals and on ‘Movoid Blues’, subtle guitar licks eventually give way to a Hopper-like fuzz bass grind out.
If one needs a reason for reviewing this fine album on a Canterbury scene blog, then it is for ‘Sea Song (Robert Wyatt)’, a version which was apparently sent to its author for approval and received it in spades. Tackling a piece which is almost the holy grail of Canterbury tracks is courageous in itself, and whilst the likes of the Unthanks (beautifully) Tim Hawthorn (faithfully) and the University of Errors (authentically) have attempted this, the Diratz/Vaucel version is less diplomatic: gravel voice and heartfelt delivery chill the bones a little, and the scatted coda, which for me in its original form is perhaps the most beautiful two minutes in musical history, is here performed with a hint of menace. It is the most unique re-interpretation to date, and as such works well.
This 10 track album is available digitally at https://carladiratz-pascalvaucel.bandcamp.com/releases but there is also an 8-track vinyl version available to buy direct from Pascal at firstname.lastname@example.org, which includes all 6 pieces mentioned above. I used my copy to christen a record player brought out of a cupboard after a dozen years in hibernation – quite a baptism of fire for it!