JJ Chardeau - In Terra Cognita?

Kev Rowland

French composer and keyboard player JJ Chardeau has been releasing albums, either under his own name or a band name, for more than 30 years. This, his latest offering, is the result of a meeting with Alan Simon which led to the development of a full-blown rock opera. The picture of Chardeau on the cover is a representation of God, as the story itself is regarding Magical Musical Man whose onboard computer fails, so he is going to crash on a planet reportedly inhabited by degenerates, called Earth. In a panic he sees only one salvation, calling God to his rescue. God duly appears but does not remember anything about humans apart from a quarrel over an apple, so decides to accompany Magical Musical Man to Earth to see what is going on. With it so far?

Any album like this is always going contain a huge number of special guests, but one thing which makes this album so different is just who it is this time around. How about Mark Andes (Canned Heat, Spirit), Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Brian Auger (Rolling Stones), Jason Scheff (Chicago), Alex Ligertwood (Santana), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty), John McFee (Doobie Brothers), Danny Seraphine (Chicago), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Michael Sadler (Saga), Chris Pinnick (Chicago) and Hank Linderman (America, Chicago)! Now, I must confess to seeing Helliwell’s name as a session musician every so often, but not the others so much. Also, Chicago do not sound like Supertramp, who are nothing like the Doobie Brothers, who may have some affinity with Canned Heat but little with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Musically the result is something like one might expect, in that it is incredibly varied and often quite messy, but they always get it sorted out in the end.

With lyrics both in English and French the story is hard to follow for anyone who isn’t competent in both languages (I barely get by in one), but musically this is quote intriguing in the way the music swells, changes, and moves. Progressive in its truest sense, it rarely contains the hooks and strong songs which one would normally expect in the genre, and feels in many ways far more like a concept album as opposed to something which would be put into a theatre. The use of percussion and woodwind gives the music an almost African style at times, yet somehow it always also feels very French, which is to be expected.

An interesting album to get lost inside, but it is also one which takes a great deal of playing to get the most out of.

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