The Empty Room – Frédéric L’Épée
This is another one of those albums where I was approached by the artist himself to review one of their recent albums, and like I have said many times in the past in general I only ever review albums that I personally buy myself. However I am truly grateful for people taking an interest in my blog site here and have in the past had to turn down certain artists simply because their music does not appeal to me enough for me to give their album any real justice in giving their album a review, and on other occasions I have been quite blown away from the albums people have sent me to review, and it was a real pleasure to write a review for them simply because their music was genuinely down to my personal taste and rocked my boat so to speak.
To be perfectly honest this particular album entitled The Empty Room by the French guitarist Frédéric L’Épée is not an album that is going to set the world on fire that’s for sure, neither will it rock my socks off so to speak either. But it does have some very good substance and touches on certain moods that are appealing for my ears. The music is also based around a subject matter that I have experienced plenty of myself over the years too. But as with all the music that I have been approached to review I have never turned down anybody simply by giving their music one spin regarding of if I like it or not. I personally do not believe any album is really going to speak to you just by giving it a single spin. As a matter of fact, the best albums take many spins to enable you to grow into them, and those are the type of albums in general that will have more longevity and stay with you.
The other thing I do in many of my reviews is take out some time to study the background of the artist, and this to be honest is where quite often the case things start to get a bit more interesting and it’s something I get a lot of pleasure out of and enjoy doing. Most of the time I do my own research and can spend several hours doing so as well and I prefer to do my own research than simply email the artist and ask them for some background information about themselves. Though on occasions when I am stuck I will no doubt try and get the answers I am looking for and approach the artist for it.
Although I have never come across Frédéric L’Épée before now, I can tell you that this guy certainly has some history in prog rock music and has had quite an interesting career in music since forming the band he was in way back in 1974. So, let’s now take a brief look at the man’s fascinating history.
Frédéric L’Épée In Brief History…
Frédéric L’Épée was born in France and currently resides in Berlin, Germany. He is a self-taught guitarist and back in 1974 he formed the prog rock band Shylock along with André Fisichella on drums and Didier Lustig keyboards. The band went on to produce 2 albums and were released on CBS Records. The first of which was the album entitled Gialorgues released in 1977 to which L’Épée also played the bass on. Their second album was released in the following year 1978 and was entitled Ile di Fievres (Fever Island) to which they also added a fourth member to the line-up namely the bass guitarist Serge Summa to take care of the bass duties on the album.
Shylock like many bands did not last that long and only ever produced a couple of albums to which have seen more up to date CD reissues over the years, though they are pretty hard to obtain without paying over the odds for them. No doubt at some time in the future we will get to see further reissues of the CD’s re-surface and some company like Cherry Red with their Esoteric Recordings for example may eventually get hold of it and reissue it at some point because there is no doubt that Shylock made a dent even if it was a small one in the world of prog rock music and were a very good band. Only a thousand copies were pressed of their debut album Gialorgues back in 1977 on vinyl making it quite a rare album to get hold of these days especially in good condition.
Shylock were very much influenced by King Crimson like many other bands have been over the years, though having heard their debut album Gialorgues it’s pretty much easy to see that Shylock had their own style and were very much more of an instrumental outfit. The instrumental side of things has certainly followed Frédéric L’Épée throughout his entire career more or less as well. Shylock disbanded due to musical differences between the band members and relationships with girlfriends were now coming into play, and L’Épée himself started up a family of his own and took around an 8 year break before embarking on his next project. During this time, he took up further guitar studies and even gave guitar lessons to make a living.
In 1988 L’Épée got together with another couple of guitarists namely Bernard Ros and Laurent Chalef and they formed what was to be known as Philharmonie. This French Trio went on to make and produce 5 albums between 1990 – 1998 and once again the King Crimson influence had stayed with the style so it appears and many even accused them of copying Robert Fripp’s LEAGUE OF CRAFTY GUITARISTS! Well just like I had never heard of Shylock up until now, I took the liberty to listen to Philharmonie’s 1990 debut album Beau Soleil and can honestly say that people really need to be more attentive to just what they are listening to before passing judgement and criticising it. Simply because this album is absolutely nothing like what Fripp was doing with his League of Gentlemen. The music we have on the album Beau Soleil is a thousand times better to my ears and is proper well-structured worked out composition and constructed music and not some flimsy experimental jam that does not make a lot of sense like much of Fripp’s music.
Don’t get me wrong I like quite a bit of the music King Crimson have churned out over the many years, but with its many incarnations their music has never really been that consistent and can be very disappointing at times. The bands 3rd and 4th albums Lizard and Islands I could quite easily throw in the bin for example. But then again just how many bands do make GREAT! albums all the time and I could say the same thing about practically every one of them 99.9% of the time. But regarding what Robert Fripp has done in his other projects and collaborative works, it’s never spoke to me enough for me to show any interest in it at all I am afraid. I am not saying it’s complete rubbish and we all have different tastes on that score, but having heard the album Beau Soleil by Philharmonie this is certainly tempting me to go out and buy it and investigate this fine trio of excellent guitarists further.
Though Philharmonie were only really a trio on their first couple of albums and in 1994 they added the drummer Jean-Louis Boutin to the line-up and they ended up giving the band more of a rock style regarding the output of their music. Both Laurent Chalef and Jean-Louis Boutin had left the band and they brought in Volodia Brice on drums to make their final album LE DERNIER MOT they put out in 1998. I think it was this particular rock style and the fact that L’Épée was not involved in the writing as much as he would of liked to have been like he was with the band Shylock that he felt he needed a change. It was also around 1997 that L’Épée decided to write a few of his own solo albums and in the early 2000’s he put together another band together called YANG that also featured Volodia Brice on drums along with guitarist Julien Vecchié and Stéphane Bertrand on bass.
YANG has so far to date have put out 3 albums between 2004 – 2017 and are supposed to be a bit more complex like King Crimson regarding their musical style. To be honest I was only able to locate the track “Pride” from their debut album A Complex Nature on YouTube to give a blast and in all honesty once again I was not really getting any King Crimson vibes here. I would also say that King Crimson was a bit more complex regarding some of their instrumental output particularly with their latter work with Adrian Belew and Tony Levin onboard especially on albums such as Discipline and THRAK for example.
But one thing has to remember, is that King Crimson are not entirely an instrumental band like the many of the bands L’Épée has put together. Even though the band Brand X can be more instrumental at times they can also throw in some vocals at times to take their music on another plane. To be perfectly honest I myself am not a big fan of instrumental albums that consist of instrumental tracks alone, and they have to be something that bit more special to grab my attention over the entire distance of an albums time slot. Though to be fair I cannot judge the band YANG on that one track alone and shall have to investigate them a bit more. But that track “Pride” for my ears was perhaps more of your typical rock track that sat in a groove to allow the guitarist to do his stuff over. It was not quite as special as what both King Crimson and Brand X can speak to me at times, and in all honesty Brand X are pretty more consistent than King Crimson when it comes down to doing instrumental tracks on that score.
I am not saying that I dislike instrumental albums by any means and to be perfectly honest I think when it comes down to them I will quite often prefer to have other elements of instrumentation going on in them, rather than sit and listen to an album that’s filled with just guitar or piano solos for example. Though I have some of those albums too and can still get pleasure out of them. To be honest I am not one who could sit down and listen to classical music either, though I have respect for it in many ways simply because a lot of it does have GREAT! musical structure to it, though at times even some of those GREAT! composers can go off the rails at times and be more sporadic for my own personal taste.
I can be quite diverse with my own taste of music, and even though progressive rock might be more suited to my personal taste for its diversity and just like classical music can go down other roads and take you along other paths with how its music is structured and created. I can still admire the singer songwriters of this world with their verse and chorus structured music with words to accompany it as well as the stranger styles of music I have come across in this vast world of music. I do also have one instrumental album that came out in 1975 that I could place on a pedestal and stick it in one of the 4 corners of the universe. That album is Camel’s Snow Goose which to me is an absolute masterpiece of beauty. It’s an album that can literally fill my eyes with tears of joy even today after all these years of listening to it, and they really did break the mould when they made that album.
As far as I can make out YANG is most likely still an ongoing project but I myself was certainly more impressed by Philharmonie’s debut album Beau Soleil and the material he did earlier with Shylock regarding the musical project bands L’Épée has put together over the years. I would also say it’s most unusual for even myself to take a lot of interest in 3 guitarists getting together and doing instrumental pieces as well.
For example I remember many moons ago when my brother Martin who is also a very well accomplished guitarist told me to watch the meeting of the spirits which was being shown live on the TV, to which consisted of John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and Paco De Lucia and I can honestly say I have never seen or heard such a load of sporadic nonsense in all my life. It said absolutely nothing to me and is nowhere near as good as the material that is written for Beau Soleil. I have even watched it again more recently to see if it said anything different to me, and it still speaks the same to me today. But like I said we are all different when it comes down to our own tastes and how music comes across to us and how we perceive it.
Over the many years L’Épée has been involved in many other projects besides the ones I have just mentioned, back in 2013 he put together another trio which was more of a song-based project with American vocalist Peter Lippmann. Though Lippmann was not by any means a professional singer or musician there was something that L’Épée admired about his voice and his words when he bumped into him and it was enough for him to assemble an outfit to do something a bit different and give himself a chance to play more of an acoustic role. Lippmann also played flute and harmonica which was also a useful asset for them to go out and perform live. The multi-instrumentalist Moussa Koita was added to the line-up of the trio to handle the percussion side of things and throw in other more worldly musical instruments giving it more of an African vibe and he also played the bass on the 5-track studio EP they put out in 2013. Jean-Seb was later added to the line up to cater for the bass duties for their live shows.
Lobotonics is certainly a far cry and way different from the instrumental material that L’Épée had been doing over the biggest majority of his musical career, though in reality he had very much in the long distant past tried at some point to write more simple structured music and add a vocalist to Shylock back in the late 70’s. He was even working on a 3rd Shylock album that the record company CBS had suggested he should do for their next album. Though the idea was not very fruitful for both the band and the record company and was scrapped.
I took the liberty and gave the Lobotonics 5 track EP a couple of BLASTS! on Bandcamp and it’s very well produced and has very much a Caribbean Jungle vibe about it in some respects. The music flows very well and it has some lovely classical guitar especially on the 2nd track “Easy” which is my personal favourite track. Overall, it’s quite a joyful collection of songs mostly and I would even say that the lyrics can be a bit BANANAS! at times, but they all add to the joyful fun of it all I felt.
However, you look at the history of Frédéric L’Épée’s musical career with all he has been involved with over the years. It is without doubt a very fascinating one and he has many years of experience behind him as both a musician and composer. Music flows in his blood and through his veins and it’s still very much flowing through them after all these years and he has put in the many hours to carefully craft out his talented skills on the guitar and is a very well accomplished and skilful guitarist.
The Album In Review…
The Empty Room by Frédéric L’Épée was released on the 22nd May 2019. The album contains 12 instrumental tracks and it comes with an overall playing time of 60 minutes, 9 seconds. It’s L’Épée’s 9th album from his solo career if you were to include the first album Vent Pluie et Sable (Wind, Rain and Sand) he done entirely on a fretless guitar back in 1997 and released as a digital download only for free. Oddly enough he has also put out an experimental album even more recently on Bandcamp entitled Campanologie though you can only play the album on there and it’s only obtainable via purchasing his complete digital discography to which you can get all 10 albums at a discount price.
To be perfectly honest experimental albums can be fascinating especially for those who are fascinated by how one can achieve to get a certain sound out of an instrument via using various effects, but musically they can be a far cry from a more structured composition like some of the material we have on this album The Empty Room for example with how the music presents itself to you in a more natural way with its instrumentation. But this album does also have a few experimental tracks on it as well.
I did take the liberty of listening to his first album Vent Pluie et Sable (Wind, Rain and Sand) and in many ways I could also see that has an experimental album with how he is using a fretless guitar to more or less replicate the sound of a Kalimba. I think he even managed to achieve that too, but out of the 5 tracks on the album it was only the last couple of tracks that really said anything to me musically. Oddly enough the final track on the album which was the only track that was not named after “Kalimba” and titled “Yabancı” to which I felt was very much stepping on King Crimson’s territory and parts of it reminded me a lot of the self-titled album track that opened up their album Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.
I also listened to the opening 3 tracks from the album Campanologie and that was even more experimental for my personal taste, and to be honest experiential albums are not really my cup of tea at all. Though no doubt there are those who will like these types of albums and find them far more interesting than myself on that score. Both of those albums were also done solely by L’Épée himself, whereas the album The Empty Room he brought in a few more musicians to help out on the some of the tracks on the album. Most of which I dare say he would have known and played with before such as the drummer Volodia Brice for example. Even the original drummer from Shylock André Fisichella also plays on one of the tracks. So, let’s now take a look at the musicians and credits that feature on the album.
Musicians & Credits…
All music composed by Frédéric L’Épée. Recorded in various locations in Berlin, Paris, Nice, Toulon and La Turbie. Mixed by Frédéric L’Épée & Laurent James at Laurent James Studio at La Turbie. Mastered by Tim Xavier & Michael Kuhn at Manmade Studios, Berlin, Germany. Manufactured by Deine.CD in Berlin, Germany. Photography by Nuria Gregori. Cover art & design by J.C. Philippart.
Frédéric L’Épée: Guitars/Fretless Guitar/Guitar Synth/Percussion & Programmed Piano.
Nico Gomez: Bass (Tracks 2 & 10) Fretless Bass (Track 8)
Volodia Brice: Drums (Tracks 2 & 10).
Andre Fisichella : Drums (Track 1)
Laurent James: Guitar Solo (Track 10).
Olivier Innocenti: Bayran (Track 10)
The Album Tracks In Review…
As I mentioned earlier in my introduction the album The Empty Room is not exactly an album that will set the world on fire. I also mentioned that the music is based around a subject that I have experienced plenty of myself, and the subject matter in question here is about the loss of family and friends which is something that we all go through more so as we grow older. It’s an album that took 9 years in the making and the music reflects L’Épée’s personal big losses over those years although the music is not all based around grief with its moods, and I think that L’Épée sums it up very well in his own words which are as follows:
“The Empty Room is about mourning, but it doesn’t make it a sad album. It is more a questioning about loss, about letting go or handling pain, about how grief can turn into a vessel of serenity and peace. Though we all have to face it one day or another, the process is different for each of us”.
I think the artwork that J.C. Philippart done for the album cover is very well suited to the subject matter here too, and reflects the sense of emptiness and loss when someone is no longer with us.
We all have our own ways of dealing with grief and the loss of our loved ones and quite often it’s New Year’s Day that hits me at times where I will take a moment to gather my thoughts. I have never seen New Year’s Day as a cause for celebration either, apart from being grateful that I am still around to see in the new year. But I always think of those who are unfortunate and no longer with us to see it in. Oddly enough it’s also a day I can look back on reflection and I have even written a couple of my own songs on that very day in the past too. Both “Another Year, And Another Day” and “First Day of The Year (Happy New Year)” I wrote on the 1st January. The first of which I wrote back in 2012 and the latter of the two I wrote this very year.
But overall another way you could look at the music we have on the album The Empty Room is that it’s an album that one could simply chillout too with it’s different flavours and moods, and it’s not all about chillout music either with how it can raise its tempo every now and then along the way. I think with every guitarist who plays in a band and makes their own solo albums it gives them the opportunity to express themselves in many other ways. No doubt you will also get the odd familiar track that is more like what they do with their respective bands they are in just like you would with guitarists such as Steve Howe of Yes, David Gilmore of Pink Floyd or even Chris Fry of Magenta and many others for example.
I know I also stated in my introduction that this is not an album that will rock your socks off either. But in all honesty neither of those artists I mentioned above will with their solo albums either, but I can certainly enjoy them just as much as I could enjoy guitarists such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai who most likely would rock my socks off. But it does not make them any better guitarists at all, and every guitar player has their own style, feel and personal touch on the instrument and can touch my soul in many different ways and what Frédéric L’Épée is doing here can also do exactly that. So, let’s take a closer look into The Empty Room by looking at the individual tracks on the album.
Track 1. Badong.
The album kicks off in fine style with its opening track entitled “Badong” and the word “Badong” means both bad and wrong and relates to something either has gone wrong or bad. It’s also a county in the province of Hubei in China and my own observation of why this particular title was chosen is that the person who was taken away by either a bad incident that happened or they resided in that province in China. I could of course be completely wrong, and under the circumstances relating to the subject matter of the tracks on this album I am hardly going to be poking my nose looking for answers into one’s personal life.
To be perfectly honest the music we have here does have a sense of beauty and drama about it and flows along like a river. It’s driven along at a good steady pace too and has some really GREAT! passages along its path that allow it to slow or come down a bit, which allows other instrumentation to come into play very nicely with how it’s all so well built up with its musical structure with the guitars, drums and percussion. It also carries a bit of weight and inflicts some force and power into it all too.
“Badong” is the second longest track on the album and weighs in at a good 7 minutes and features L’Épée on electric, acoustic, guitar synth and percussion. At least I think he’s using a guitar synth and not a real synth, it’s hard to tell these days. It also features his old bandmate from Shylock Andre Fisichella on drums and it’s good to see that after all those years that people can still get along with each other.
Some of the driven synth guitar does remind me of Robert Fripp in particular with the sound he’s getting out of it. The acoustic guitar is very well utilised in the piece too and comes into play right from the start though I love the section from 2:10 – 2:48 where the track first comes down and the acoustic guitar plays this WONDERFUL! melody line and the guitar synth plays a counter melody that actually reminds me of Tangerine Dream back in the 1980’s with it’s GORGEOUS! sound and it’s quite familiar with some of the voicing sounds they used back then.
The piece really builds up in with quite some power as it meanders it’s way along in a sort of stomping marching way, and the section between 3:56 – 5:21 is where L’Épée opens up the throttle and lets it rip, and watch out for even more power that gets injected into all the frenzy between the 5:48 – 6:28 mark where Fisichella does an excellent job on the drums and bashes them out in fine style. It really is a GREAT! track and has to be one of the top contenders for the Top Spot on the album. I dare say for many, this would be their favourite track.
Track 2. Inévitable Traversée.
The 2nd track on the album translates to “Inevitable Crossing” or could pertain to “Unavoidable Crossing” in English. It could suggest that the person either met their fate in a road accident or where one breathes their last breath at the end of their term in life and crosses over so to speak. Whatever the circumstances where, the piece reflects beauty and warmth in a way of remembrance of the lost one here for sure.
It features L’Épée on clean electric guitars doing a splendid job on the rhythm and contains some lovely lead lines that interweave there way along in GREAT! style. We also get some wonderful bass work from Nico Gomez and Volodia Brice does a very fine subtle job on the drum kit to accompany it all. It’s another beautiful piece of work and is very pleasing for the ears this one and is a really GREAT! chillout track and another track that could be a contender for the albums Top Spot I feel.
Track 3. En Descendant La Riviere Lente.
This next piece features L’Épée solely on his own like many of the tracks along the album, and here he is using guitars and guitar effects to create the soundscape we have here. The title of the track translates to “Descending Down The Slow River” in English and it’s well apt to the title with the pretty good job he done of it.
To be honest even though this type of track could be seen as experimental to some degree, it does have the ability to keep you attentive to the sounds he’s creating here, and even though most experimental work is not really my thing, I quite like this piece. It would also work very well in a scene for a movie and a Soundtrack album is perhaps more fitting for a piece like this along with a few of the other tracks on this album.
I also find that even though the track is near enough 6 and half minutes long, somehow it only seems like it travels over half of that distance. So, it must speak to me rather than irritate me like most experimental music would on that score. Though no doubt if the piece was some 15 to 20 minutes long like some artists would do on their albums, it most likely would get my goat up, simply because over that distance I would expect the music to have much more diversity and travel down more or even many roads so to speak. But overall this is quite a skilled piece of work.
Track 4. Amour Et Dissolution.
“Love and Dissolution” is what we have here which could pertain to an action of formerly ending, a terminal departure from life or even a dissolvement from marriage as in till death do us part for example. Once again, this piece was created with L’Épée’s guitars alone, only unlike the previous track this is not so experimental and is created with clean and slightly distorted guitars rather than an array of effects.
The melody and counterpart melodies are very well worked out with how they interact in harmony with each other, and they create a sound like a clock ticking out the time at first, and as it develops along the bell ringing sounds become more evident and it gave me a sort of visualisation of being at a cemetery standing in the rain at a funeral. The final melody line that comes into play at the end the piece reminds me a bit of the main melody line that created the song “Message in A Bottle” by The Police. It’s a very well-structured piece of work and fits the title right down to a tee.
Track 5. Delta,
This is the longest track on the album and weighs in at some 8 minutes, 23 seconds. It’s also quite a dramatic piece that drives along as if we were on some sort of a mission riding the rapids on a river sort of thing, and being that a “Delta” is a landform that forms from deposition of sediment carried by a river as the flow leaves its mouth and enters slower-moving or standing water. I would very much say that, that is what L’Épée was also trying to convey here with the music, though I could be wrong.
The piece does to tend run in one direction, however the way it builds up and transcends itself along with all the many parts on the guitars, does make it very interesting. There is also the sort of energy with how well its driven along that one would think the piece has drums to drive it along, but its all so very well constructed in a way that it does not really need them at all. “Delta” is very much another track on the album that is a contender for the Top Spot on the album.
Track 6. Hymne Aux Ancêtres 1.
The first of two tracks on the album that L’Épée created in a way of a dedication for his ancestors. “Hymne Aux Ancêtres“ translates in English to “Anthem To Ancestors” I suppose in many ways it could also be seen has an hymn to his ancestors. This is the longer of the two short pieces and features L’Épée on guitars and percussion. It does have a tribal feel about it, and it sort of gives me the visualisation of an Aborigine out in the outback at a burial ceremony.
Track 7. Blessures Precieuses.
The title translates to “Treasured Wounds” and treasured wounds is often likened to treasured memories, which are memories of lost ones that can be stored in our thoughts and even having something in the way of a possession of our lost ones to hold onto such as a ring for example. Though treasured wounds in some parts of the world can go much deeper where the person will even wear the bones of their lost loved ones around their neck or wrist in remembrance of them. There was a Jawara woman who even wore the skull of her dead husband around her neck.
I remember when I lost my son and my oldest granddaughter made a very strange request and asked me if she could have some of my sons’ ashes so that she could get a Memorial Tattoo in remembrance of him. To be honest just the thought of it made me feel a bit sick at the time, and even though I refused her request I did tell her that he will be forever with you in your memories and that is something no one can ever take away from you, and memories are very much precious treasures and hold all the fondest thoughts you could ever wish for deep within you. Apparently, Cremation or Memorial Tattoos are not nothing new and a select few are paying tributes to the ones they’ve lost in a different way.
Once again L’Épée is weaving his way along here with his array of guitars and the guitar synth is utilised very well in the piece too. I think he captures the mysterious side of the subject matter behind the title we have here and dramatizes it quite well. But it does tend to say the same thing at times.
Track 8. Brume.
This track features L’Épée on acoustic and electric guitars and Nico Gomez on fretless bass, and the title translates to “Mist“. To be honest I am not sure if the title is referring to a cloudlike aggregation of minute globules of water or has been used in a more modern way of saying “Missed” which would be perhaps more fitting to the subject matter and concept of the album. But I suppose either of them could fit to the subject matter depending on how one seen the person who is lost here. Musically it is perhaps leaning more towards the cloudy side of things and it’s quite a lovely piece with clean guitar lines and a very well-structured piece of music and another really GREAT! track I would see in the way of a very strong contender for the Top Spot on the album too.
Track 9. Parle-Moi Encore.
This next piece is GORGEOUS” and features L’Épée on one guitar and piano and it just goes to show how some of the simpler things can say so much. In English the title translates to “Keep Talking To Me” and this track certainly does speak to me, so much that it’s my personal favourite track on the album and wins my Top Spot Award. The simple one stroke piano chords are a bit reminiscent to the self-titled album track “Heartbreakers” by Tangerine Dream that was scored for the 1984 film of the same title and released on their soundtrack album in 1985.
Though this track is way better in my opinion, but Tangerine Dream did some similar things on some of their other albums a bit like this, and “Twenty-Nine Palms” from their Lily On The Beach album also springs to mind too. Though that did have more than just a single chord hammering down on the keys as it developed along. But no doubt the simple things at times can speak in volumes and I love this beauty that L’Épée composed here. I suppose in many ways the memories of the loved ones we have lost, will always keep talking to us, and that may have been what L’Épée was implying here, and this piece touches my heart and soul. Thank you sincerely Sir!!!
Track 10. Souvenirs De Traversée.
The title translates to “Memories Of The Crossing” and accompanying L’Épée here we have Nico Gomez on bass, Volodia Brice on drums. Olivier Innocenti on bayran which is a type of chromatic button accordion developed in Russia in the early 20th century and named after the 11th-century bard Boyan. I suppose it’s a bit like Russia’s answer to the German Squeeze Box from hell and is very similar to the Accordion.
Though the unusual traditional instrumentation does not stop there because the track also features Laurent James who contributes a solo on an Erhu guitar and this comes into play around the 2 minute 40 second mark. The Erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument that originated from China. It’s sometimes known in the Western World as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle and personally I think it replicates that sound more so than a guitar.
Besides all the other guitars played on the track by L’Épée, he also programmed the piano that runs through the piece. It does have a very good build to it and like most of the tracks on this album they do tend to be structured that way rather than be constructed over more chords. They also tend to run in a straight direction rather than go somewhere else and the skill is really in how well the piece is built up and how the other instruments and counterparts come into play. It’s another fine piece of work and every one does a GRAND! job on it.
Track 11. Hymne Aux Ancêtres 2.
The second part of the “Anthem to Ancestors” features L’Épée playing a solo on his fretless guitar, it does not give me the visualisation of an Aborigine out in the outback at a burial ceremony like the first part did with its other elements thrown into the pot. But it does have more of a Western World feel to it and it sounds more like an instrument that came from China in particular with how his fingers slide along the strings and hit the notes. Apparently, it’s also a piece in the way of a tribute to Confucius and he explains more about it in the description of this video he posted of it on his YouTube channel back in April this year, and here you can see him play the short piece.
Track 12. Wegschippernd.
The final track on the album is the shortest and is just over a minute long. L’Épée chose to put the title in German which is where he is living now and has been for some time, but it translates in French to “Voguant Au Loin” and in English the title is very much “Sailing Away“. I suppose it’s his way of saying Bon voyage has he sails off onto his next musical journey.
He uses just a guitar and some reverse effects to play the piece, and the opening lower region notes do rather sound a bit like a big ship in a harbour about to set sail, whilst the reverse effects give more of the impression of the ship sailing off into the sunset so to speak. It’s perhaps not the best way to end off the album but quite an effective way and he is saying goodbye after all.
To sum up The Empty Room by Frédéric L’Épée I personally think overall, it’s quite a good album, but not a GREAT! or SOLID! album. However, if you were to look at what L’Épée was trying to achieve with the material he wrote for the album over the past 9 years, and take in the concept of the subject matter it was personally meant for. I very much feel that he more or less achieved his goal, and if you are buying an album like this, you are very much getting exactly what it says on the tin so to speak with how he originally described the album in his own words.
In many ways I could perhaps see quite a bit of the music that is on the album more suited to film music, rather than an album an artist would put out as their main album sort of thing. But on the other hand, that would also be very hard to avoid given that the material was specifically written for a special purpose with its subject matter and original concept. Dramatics would also play much of a role too, and the album is far from a mixed bag of material even though he has thrown in some experimental material. But it still works very well with how all the tracks have been placed on the album, so there has been a lot of thought put into it all I feel.
From what little I have heard of L’Épée’s music during the time of writing my review here, there is no question of the man’s ability to play the guitar and he has put in the hours and learnt the instrument very well. No doubt he has years of experience behind him too, and to be honest some of his earlier material in the bands he has put together will even speak to me a lot more than what J.S. Bach’s Sonata for Violin n° 1 in G Minor will to which he is playing in this video he put on YouTube last year.
There is no doubt that J.S. Bach’s music can be very complex and you would have to put in quite a bit of hard work practising a piece like this too. But for me personally a lot of the notes in this piece do not really make a lot of sense, and they are not exactly going to sing to you like a decent lead solo would or like a singer would singing a vocal line for example. I know this particular piece was written for the violin and it would perhaps say more to me with an orchestra behind it, but on its own as a solo I very much doubt it would ever speak to me at all no matter how impressive it may look.
The best lead lines for me are those that sing to you, and can even bite you, and for many guitarists that is really the best way they can make a mark and express themselves and give themselves a voice. Especially when the music you do is mostly consisted of instrumental material without a singer to give you a voice. But even with a singer the solo still has to sing and say something meaningful, and just as I mentioned earlier about John McLaughlin & Co playing a load of sporadic notes at lightning speed, it may look impressive but it’s speaking a totally different language as far as I am concerned and saying totally nothing to me.
Thankfully L’Épée’s own music is not like that and allows more space for expression and my personal highlights from the album The Empty Room are as follows: “Keep Talking To Me“. “Badong“. “Delta“. “Inevitable Crossing“. and “Mist“.
To conclude my review of The Empty Room by Frédéric L’Épée. I would say that it is very much like I stated a couple of times already in that it’s not an album that will set the world on fire, but it does have some pleasurable moments along its path, and overall it’s a pretty decent enough album and one I can play from start to finish and still get something out of it. It’s not a solid album by any means and there are a couple of less interesting pieces, but nothing that bad to spoil my pleasure or even make me want to skip a track whilst listening to the album.
It’s perhaps more of an album you would expect from a guitarists solo career rather than what you would get from what they would do with a band for example, and the biggest majority of the material along the album is played by L’Épée himself. Which will have certain limitations no doubt. Much of the material can be a bit one directional and the real skill has been put into how it’s all been built up with the many counter melodies and textured layers he has applied. That is perhaps where the real artistry of his work lies on this album and he has done an exceptionally good job of it here.
To be perfectly honest in my world of prog rock music, the music does have to go in many directions for me to really appreciate it, and for it to really speak to me in the first place. It’s very unusual for me to see anything in music that is more one directional at all. So L’Épée must be doing something quite special for me to even take on an album like this and give it a review.
However that does not mean I am going to buy the rest of his solo albums, but I certainly will eventually buy some of the albums he has done in the past with his former bands Shylock and Philharmonie which perhaps will rock my boat more so to speak, and I have certainly enjoyed looking into the background of Frédéric L’Épée’s musical career and found it most interesting and thoroughly enjoyed his music and working on this review of The Empty Room. So, no doubt I shall be reviewing more of this man’s fine talent and his albums in the future.
You can listen for free or even purchase The Empty Room by Frédéric L’Épée by clicking on this link: https://laspada.bandcamp.com/album/the-empty-room
You Will Always Be Here, So Keep Talking To Me…
The album track listing is as follows and I have put all the track titles in English.
01. Badong. 7:00.
02. Inevitable Crossing. 4:23.
03. Descending Down The Slow River. 6:28.
04. Love And Dissolution. 3:32.
05. Delta. 8:23.
06. Anthem To Ancestors 1. 3:15.
07. Treasured Wounds. 6:47.
08. Mist. 4:50.
09. Keep Talking To Me. 6:40.
10. Memories Of The Crossing. 5:44.
11. Anthem To Ancestors 2. 2:04.
12. Sailing Away. 1:03.