Mon April 29, 2019

Charles Pasi (F)

Charles Pasi: vocals, harmonica, guitar
Joseph Champagnon: guitar
Jose Ramon Cabrera: piano, vocals
Franck Belez: bass
Jon Grandcamp: drums

Here it's a piano that draws the first visions. A voice relates that it comes from the concrete, the avenues, from sidewalks crowded or deserted, from the shadows, and forsaken trees. The city. Cities. A harmonica, restraint personified, and then a rhythm section advancing through the heart of its streets and souls. A stroll that owes as much to memories as it does to an observation, and a condition: city-dweller, eye-witness, man, musician, Charles Pasi walks, paces, and advances, over the asphalt and in his head. “From The City” is the first song in Bricks, his new album. It's a door that opens onto something sensitive and significant, an environment that serves as an ID. It's a subtle mixture of softness and melancholy, lucidity and duality, a manner of giving much without laying it on. Blues, soul, pop, right from the start you don't know, you've forgotten, and you understand that here, labels are of no importance at all. That's not the issue; it never was. Is it absolutely necessary to define a thing in order to give yourself the right to love it? Incidentally, and with a smile, he quotes Duke Ellington: “There are only two kinds of music: good music and the other kind." How right he is.

Born of an Italian father and a French mother, accustomed while still young to return trips between France and the United States, de facto a European, Charles Pasi signed with Blue Note in 2015, for three albums. Blue Note (how about that, then?): the real, the one and only, the legendary label that Don Was runs today. Charles Pasi, the only French singer who can say as much. There was one posthumous record by Nougaro, of course. But that's all. Before, the thirty-year-old had scoured the roads of the planet defending “Sometimes Awake”, his previous album released in 2013. France, Europe, China, and Neil Young, who personally decided to take him on his French dates, five Zenith gigs and one at Bercy over the summer in 2016. With no noise, no insane media campaigns behind him, by our reckoning this makes it already ten years that Charles Pasi has been skirting around the codes, slaloming through the gates of the obvious, to write his own destiny. With a harmonica, a pen, a heart that overflows, and the feeling that this is what he's here for. His music has this rare faculty of being able to convene all those still capable of being moved, far from any notion of coming to terms with death.

Recorded over some eighteen months between Paris and ICP's Brussels studios, and coproduced with the faithful Jean-Philippe Verdin, this disc of elegant intensity and shifting colours is at once very 'arranged' and very 'stripped-down': “I thought the songs stood on their own, in fact, which explains why I didn't want to clutter it up. It had to be straightforward. Now's not the time, I thought. I find this record has more impact; it's more direct, more abrasive. It's more modern, in the sense that the rhythm has a central role, bass and drums. The fact it is stripped down has nothing to do with facility or being idle. I worked enormously hard to achieve this result." He had to get to the bone: prune it, aim for the heart. This was no time for quirks or overdoing it. Not the moment for camouflage or tiresome gimmicks. And he knows it.

Since 2014 he has been dividing his time between Paris and Nice. Obviously, he hasn't forgotten the recent tragedies in both. He hasn't simply picked up his life again, where he left off, as if nothing had happened. He hasn't wiped the board. The song “Shoot Somebody” (also available on the album in a drop-dead acoustic version) comes from that, in a way: “Those events turned me inside out, almost paralyzed me… It all comes down to this paradox: in the same city you have a kid who wants to go out and sing and dance, and another who wants to go out and shoot. Only the city can edify that kind of paradox. A city is a systematic process of upheaval."

He composed and wrote everything, playing harmonica of course, and also acoustic guitar. Today he's delivering his most accomplished record, the most alive; the record of a young man who refuses simplification. And then there's the album's title: Bricks: “Bricks are what you have at the start, when you're building. And also when you've finished. When nothing's left, there are still bricks. You look at a ruin: you see bricks. 'Brick' can mean a projectile just as much as somewhere safe. Bricks are home, a symbol for protection. And there's also the brick that you can throw violently. I thought it was a good human metaphor. Two men can have very different destinies, like two bricks. And then, bricks are also the elements: earth, fire, air and water." Hence this recurrent theme, this common link: the city, its bricks and contradictions. “This record represents what it is to be in a city today, and what that means in terms of innocence and guilt, depending on the way you look at it. That's not praise or an indictment. I'm not making a judgement; it's a description," he observes. Charles Pasi is less an ostrich, more an eagle.

He is well aware that Man is victim and executioner, family and torture, shadow and light, wonder and chaos. Perhaps that is why his album is so striking. This is not a sententious record, nor does it make you feel guilty. It is a record at the heart of things, one that owes as much to desire as it does to frustration, as much to fear as to the desire to continue to draw breath. It is a record that will age well because it speaks to men, of men. It is a record of blood and guts, soul and conscience. A disc that is alive, yes. Despite its doubts, its grey areas, its flaws. Thanks to them, even!

“Sometimes I've been criticized as gloomy. Yes, I accept the melancholy that can rise to the surface of this record. Outside of this context it doesn't matter much at all. When you make a record, when you make music, it is not a sombre act, not ever. It is an act that is luminous, in any event. It is alive. The guy who wants to throw himself out of the window, he's not thinking about his songs. Music is vitality, the desire to live, a catharsis, obviously…" And then you understand better why the songs of Charles Pasi transport you so much. They owe a great deal to a visceral honesty, to the simple will to be no more than what they are. They don't cheat, they grow, right there, while you listen, they come alive with a class and strength that are undeniable. “All The Way” claps its hands and speaks of love; it is an uncluttered song, a beating heart; a love affair in the sunshine that will one day bow out. The sentimental waltz, when there's nothing to say and everything to be felt. “Good Enough”, or the art of being content with little, of breaking off the race for that which is always better. It's a song that borrows from jazz and the moon, from sobriety and the stars. Charles Pasi is a feline, a cat from the alley and other places. “City Of Light” is Paris. It's him, it's the city; it is a ghost brass band inviting you to a celebration far from the red carpets, a place where men finally drop their masks. When Charles Pasi puts down the microphone, with that voice juggling between the confidential and the asphalt-gospel, he still sings, but through the instrument that is his talisman, his harmonica, which sings of things that cannot lie. “Burn Out” makes you think of a blues, that of an escaped prisoner, an improvised voodoo ceremony; a revolt, not so much of the people, but a revolt of certainties. These are two visceral instrumental minutes in the bayou of Boulevard St. Germain, or on the cobblestones banking the Mississippi. “Don’t Be Like Me” is a kind of ballad, not quite jovial but lively all the same, with a carefree, healthy nature: almost early rock 'n' roll, from the days when amps could still sweat without a filter. Charles Pasi's advice to those listening to him (and all the others): above all, don't resemble him. This title, perhaps written one night with a certain depression knocking on his door, says much of its author and the way he grasps the world: “There, that's a smack in my face. It's always good to know your own limits, right?" It makes him laugh. He's not making any apologies here. Sins confessed… No, he's not the type. Here he's baring his soul, the better to tear apart that social skin that would stifle us. I am like you, in some way. We are, with all that this means in terms of doubts, paradoxes, dizzy emotions… Perhaps he's darkening his personal portrait, with that secret smile that makes all the difference, the better to raise himself, the better in any case to go beyond these feelings which, at times, prevent all freedom.

The song “Jungle Jimi”, a beautiful, acoustic piece with the intimacy of raindrops after a storm, is a farewell speech to his former bassist, an Australian and an old friend, who went to Chile where he became a jungle medicine man. One jungle for another… The farewell is dignified and touching, and it is also a promise for the future, a friendship with no fear of the ocean. “Love Me or Leave Me”, which follows, is a reprise of the Nina Simone standard. If Charles hadn't confessed this was the same song, we wouldn't have recognized it… It's a song he adores, and here it takes on new life with a lively sensuality and a velvet touch. “End of the Line” means making a choice, leaving without turning back, no hesitation. It's going elsewhere, leaving everything behind so as to make the return better. The city, a terrible, wonderful magnet, where you're born and where you die. Once again, Pasi succeeds in blending emotions, and it also in this that he goes beyond borders, crushes habits, and extinguishes the last of resistance.

In fact, when you think about it, Charles Pasi doesn't make records; no, what he does is simply continue writing his private diary. It deals with the privacy of the world, of course, since one's navel is always no more than a starting point, and never a purpose. Pasi is receptive, sensitive, and incapable of looking away; his lucidity—all nine lives of it—is something that he would sometimes prefer being able to forget; and he possesses that rare thing in these troubled times: a vision without judgement. A poetry of fragile balance that relates this world of ours, a world at once beautiful and frightening, immense and minute, past and future, adorable and to be burned. That's Bricks. (Jérome Rejasse)

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