Monday, 12 August 2019

French Composer Michel Colombier [limited time only]

Here's some material that just made me drop everything when I heard it, surprised I had never paid attention to this composer before.  In particular I already knew of the 'famous' Wings album with the unforgettable theme Emmanuel, from 1971, but hadn't heard a remarkable fusion opus he made in the late seventies which falls squarely in the great progressive fusion tradition of those years, and can be easily overlooked when swamped by his library-OST body of work.

First of all we can reassure ourselves that on wikipedia he is a famous individual.  As follows:

Michel Colombier (May 23, 1939 – November 14, 2004) was a French composer, songwriter, arranger, and conductor. In a career that spanned over four decades, he composed over 100 film and television scores, as well as chamber music, ballets, and concept albums.  He won a César Award for Best Original Music for Élisa, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and three Grammy Awards.

I note that he worked with French progressive (electronic) artist Michel Magne, and Petula Clark, Quincy Jones, Herb Alpert, etc.  Regarding the opus Wings from 1971, we can actually use allmusic for the customary professionally written description full of the standard music review cliches:

With the Tijuana Brass mostly on hold at the time, Herb Alpert commissioned what was immediately touted as a landmark project from French musical polymath Michel Colombier -- a pop symphony with the positively Mahlerian ambition to encompass the entire world in about 37 minutes. Alpert produced it, the gnomelike Paul Williams contributed lyrics, and Colombier composed the music and recorded it mostly in Paris, with additional big-band tracks and voices added at A&M Studios in Los Angeles.

Though Paul Williams, who was a genius of seventies songwriting, probably wouldn't appreciate the description.  The fact is, the album is all over the place in terms of orchestration, styles, and themes, a quality I don't usually mind as long as there is a sense of cohesiveness somewhere, but that's lacking on Wings.

The song Emmanuel, with its classic French soundtrack sound, has a story behind it.  Michel wrote it for his son who died at the horrifically young age of 5, drowned in a swimming pool.  If you haven't heard that track, here it is on youtube.  It was used on French TV in that era and so was well known in that country.

In any case the album I'm referring to here today is the ST 1979 album in which he definitely took to flight with the spirit of fusion.  What's equally ridiculous is the star power that got assembled for this one LP, almost like a Grammy Award audience from the period: Larry Carlton, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, etc.

The opening, called Sunday:

Did he perhaps make more fusion as ultra-competent as is featured on this LP somewhere?  It's genuinely hard to tell from the database information as listed here, and I don't feel the need to wade through a ton of soundtrack material to find out.  To explain why I threw in two of those seventies OSTs.

Then in 1983, he lands back on terra firma from the high-flying seventies with Old Fool Back on Earth, a magnificent double-CD set of compositions that recalls to me the Claus Ogerman works such as Gate of Dreams (his masterpiece), Cityscape, Elegia, etc.  It's true it's a bit too long in the sense there is a lot of filler, a multiplicity of ideas that could have used some paring down, but it's really quite stunning.  And it flows together beautifully, unlike Wings.

Note the lovely illustrations better seen on the CD here.

The chord changes which evoke shifting ripples on a pond never cease to entrance me on the Nympheas (i.e. water lilies, as in the over-exposed impressionist paintings)

When I think of how this music is indebted to artists like Ravel from the early 20th century but travels so much farther in the direction of breathtaking beauty with the help of twentieth century jazz or pop harmonies in its soft skill and depth of feeling, I just stand in awe at what the human mind has created in the musical sphere.  Can't wait to see what those AI programs will accomplish in the same dept. after 2030 when 'the singularity' takes them far beyond us.


  1. Colombier 4

    Colombier old fool, limited time only

  2. hi, thank you for your great site, hope you can help
    2 lps, warrior, invasion from 1972 howard jones first band +

    porter cunningham, observations, from 1972 folk lp
    any format will be ok best wishes peter

  3. I hadn't heard of him before but the samples sound amazing. Thank you!

  4. Great post. Tarot is another good soundtrack. Also his 60s pop album Capot Pointu

  5. One note: in the Colombier "Wings" album, the last song (track 10) is missing (it's only 128kb and you can't hear it). Greetings and thank you for the work you do.