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Garage a Trois: Outre Mer

John Kelman By

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Film music has its own sets of demands, often required to elevate the emotional content of the cinematic story while at the same time seamlessly blending so that it doesn't dominate. And while scores can literally define the mood of a film at their best—think Hitchcock's Psycho—and some only work in conjunction with the films for which they're intended, some can also stand as independent entities, like Miles Davis' 1950s score for Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud.

Some film scores are all about cues and consequently rarely succeed independently, but Garage a Trois' latest release—the soundtrack to French filmmaker Klaus Tontine's Outre Mer, a tender story about Etienne de Nerval, a four-foot tall man who searches for his place in the world—is more about creating grooves and specific ambiences to match Tontine's vision. Sadly, legal problems have put wider distribution of the film on indefinite hold, so assessing Garage a Trois' music in terms of its success as a score is currently impossible. But as a piece of music removed from the film, this album represents significant growth from Garage a Trois' last record, 2003's Emphasizer.

While Outre Mer continues with the infectious grooves that define Garage a Trois' musical space and have seen them accepted by the jam band faction, it also blends compositional intention, making this more than a series of ambling jams. The group—8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, saxophonist Skerik, drummer Stanton Moore, and vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon—headquarters out of New Orleans, but its broader rhythmic diversity gives it distinction. While the New Orleans influence is undeniable throughout the record, Garage a Trois also heads south into the Caribbean and then simultaneously east to South America and west to Africa for inspiration. The natural synthesis of these varied influences, along with a melodic sensibility that is just skewed enough to avoid sounding conventional, makes Outre Mer such a rewarding listen.

Groove needn't strictly imply danceable either, although much of the music on Outre Mer is the kind that will force even the stiffest body to sway. The hypnotic ambience of "The Dream" blends the minimalism of Philip Glass with the trance-inducing lyricism of Harold Budd, while the bluesy "Amanjiwo" lies firmly in Bill Frisell territory.

Still, the collection's emphasis is on rhythms that compel the body, even as the melodic and harmonic content is interesting enough to engage the mind. Hunter's schizophrenic ability to maintain a firm bass anchor while at the same time emulating a mbira on the title track is nothing short of amazing. But, at the end of the day, Outre Mer is less about specific virtuosity and more about creating miniatures with their own visual sense. Hopefully the film will be released from legal limbo so the score can be assessed in that context, but until then fans of rhythmically captivating music with its own melodic appeal will be just as happy to assess Garage a Trois' soundtrack on its own merits.


Track Listing: Outre Mer; Bear No Hair; The Machine; Etienne; Merpati; The Dream; Antoine; Circus; Needles; The Dwarf; Amanjiwo.

Personnel: Mike Dillon: percussion, vibraphone; Charlie Hunter: 8-string guitar, pandero; Stanton Moore: drums, polyrhythms; Skerik: saxophone.

Title: Outre Mer | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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