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As a preview to an extensive interview and feature on master guitarist Frédéric L’épee, of Shylock, Philharmonie and, currently, Yang, I have a look at three contrasting albums, his most recent being a boldly experimental one, the second a vehicle for his fabulous guitar solos, and the third a look back at one of Frederic’s most acclaimed albums (with band) from 2019, viz “The Empty Room”.

“Observation Report” is a challenging one compiled from eight hours of material condensed into two long interactive pieces that were inspired by the guitarist’s striving to achieve greater appreciation and make sense of contemporary art. Thus, he placed loudspeakers strategically at various places in an exhibition space and, using digital loopers, sent them improvised musical constructions that would arise during his observations. He describes this as music of a “plastic character”, as each complete construction (the sound when listening to all the loudspeakers) is static and can be visited by moving between loudspeakers. It is an intriguing, unforgettable and, dare I say, intrepid experience.

“12 Pieces for Solo Guitar” comprises études for electric guitar and the score for the pieces can also be purchased. It is a compelling listening not only for guitarists and guitar students of all ages, but for a wider audience, as L’épee’s music has a genre-defying melodic beauty that extends beyond mere virtuosity and technique.

“The Empty Chair” is rapidly becoming one of my favourites amongst L’épee’s extraordinary musical journeys. On this album he is among friends including members of his current band, Yang, and it is another bold move in trying to translate the “deep and subtle feelings” that only music can convey when dealing with loss. Frédéric says, “It is an album about mourning, but it doesn’t make it a sad album.” The 7-minute opener ‘Badong’ is demarcated by intense/ subtle passages, with panoramic guitars (Laurent James is the second guitarist) that soar and swoop, memorable acoustic and arpeggiated moments, and notable contributions from the percussionists, André Fisichella and Volodia Brice (A bayan, a type of accordion, played by Olivier Innocenti, also appears here and there on the album). The evocative and enchanting flow turns in a more reflective direction on ‘Unavoidable Crossing’, a sublime, dreamlike piece with a fluent guitar break and excellent bass playing by Nico Gomez. ‘Descending the Slow River’ is a fine impressionistic piece with foreboding bells. The 8-minute ‘Delta’ has an insistent, haunting guitar riff and an evocative 3-note riff-like progression. ‘Hyman aux Ancêtres’ conjured in my mind images of a desert wasteland. ‘Mist (Brume)’ is a perfect example of the melodiousness of L’épee’s music; the wonderful bass line and choral effects greatly enhance it. ‘Parle-moi encore’ has guitar in more of a blues style, with soloing to poignant chords, every ounce of emotion teased from the highest notes of the guitar. There is much more: a marvellously eccentric synth solo, and some memorable looped piano soloed over by guitar. All-in-all, it is an album on which you will find something new on each listen.

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