CHROMB! - 1000
Every even year we can look forward to a new release by French avant jazz proggers Chromb!. A first demo came out in 2010, followed in early 2012 by the debut album I. In mid-2014 I had the immense pleasure to review their second album II, and now in late 2016 they are back with their third album actually not titled III, but 1000, which can be interpreted as 10 to the power of 3, so the numeration still makes sense.
Last time I compared Chromb! to King Crimson, John Zorn, The Residents and Magma, and this is still valid on the new album, although the band has managed to broaden their scope even more. At eight songs, 1000 makes it to nearly one hour, showing from the start that the quartet really likes to experiment their hearts off without being restrained by time. One thing you have to know is that Chromb! don’t have a guitarist. Instead the music is performed by synthesizers, saxophone, bass guitar and drums. A lot of the music is instrumental, but when vocals are added, they always give the song even more depth and magic.
The opener Des Francis en Quinconce is a fairly strange opener, showing the band from their goofiest side on this seven-minute track. The keyboard comes with a squeaky sound, the saxophone is soaring with wild and psychedelic lines over the madcap rhythm procured by bass guitar and drums. The vocals are highly cartoonish, with the vocalist probably having inhaled a healthy dose of helium before laying down the vocal tracks. The following Bobby nearly makes it to nine minutes, and while it starts in a relatively humble way, it soon lifts off when the vocals join in nearly two minutes into the song. They sound like a young Greg Lake by way of Canterbury styled Caravan, and the music, which consists of a bare drum rhythm, a pounding bass guitar, and later heavy organ and sax parts, recall images of an early Van Der Graaf Generator minus Peter Hammill, although there are also sparks of King Crimson shining through, with a real twenty-first century schizoid sound and memories of albums like In The Wake Of Poseidon and Lizard. Frankly, if Chromb! were able to only write songs like these, they would instantly be my new favourite band.
Favrice is at not even four minutes a shorter instrumental track and comes with a Balkan edge. Another incredible highlight is the seven-minute prog rocking Le Tombeau est vide, which feels like a jazzed and progged up version of Gangsta’s Paradise. The shared vocals work really well, just as with the earlier Bobby, and maybe these are Chromb! at their most accessible, possibly showing a more commercial side, but still much weirder than most music nowadays. Bonjoure is a driving dance track, short and catchy at under five minutes, before the stage is cleared for the ten-minute epic La Nuit des Madames, an instrumental extravaganza that is really out of this world with its Zappasque take on music, but when you have such good vocalists, you should definitely use them more. Die Krabben leben noch is a dark and moody track at five and a half minutes, and although there is a trace of humour underneath it all, it is also the band at its gloomiest. The album ends with the nearly twelve-minute long Il en fallait, another quasi-instrumental avant jazz prog track that is incredibly energetic, making you yearn to see these guys play live.
The first half of 1000 is among the best stuff I have heard in a very long time, and a whole album on this level would have deserved the maximum rating. The second half is still fairly impressive, but also more difficult to get into. And still, 1000 is a huge step forward for Chromb!, and I can only hope that they will soon perform somewhere nearby.