THE MOST potent fusion music, the stuff that’s born from experience rather than cooked up as an experiment, comes from travellers in search of sounds.
Julien Lesuisse is one such explorer. The vocalist and sax player has been a central player in Lyon’s Mazalda, a band that steadily evolved from jazz messengers to sound system-driven dancefloor fillers before more recently exploring the mesmeric possibilities of Algerian electro-rai music.
It’s from this phase, working with rai new wavers Cheb Lakhdar and Sofiane Saidi, that Lesuisse has spirited a key dimension to the sound of his electrifying new band Crimi, whose debut album Luci E Guai is available from April 2nd on Airfono. Then, to add more depth and identity, he’s filtered the music of his family’s Sicilian roots into Crimi’s songs, filling them with a traditional melodic verve to spice up their funky ingredients.
Take the opener, “Mano D’Oro”, which skips in with a quickstep guitar riff and tight, muscled bass before bumping along to some serious skanking. Based on a Sicilian traditional song of loss, leaving and hope, it preserves that yearning emotional edge respectfully, the beats working for the song rather than overwhelming the story. As Lesuisse’s daredevil, slightly worn vocals match nimble guitar lines and “Mano D’Oro” works towards its European-tinged hook, you get a perfect introduction to Crimi music in a dazzling three minutes. It’s a track that’s made for the Dansette.
The band re-imagines two other Sicilian songs on Luci E Guai from the legendary folk chanteuse Rosa Ballistreri’s catalogue: “La Vicaria” and “La Virrinedda”. The tracks may be connected by heritage and a lyrical directness but they also reveal Crimi’s enviable sonic range. “La Vicaria” belts along urgently with the reverberating drive of desert rock maestro Mdou Moctar. It’s a track built for motion, all hunched shoulder rhythms, flighty Arabic patterns, serious jazz funk interplay and switches as slick as White Denim at their most defiant. “La Virrineda” gets more sultry, a slower paced sparse torch ballad, with reverberating dustbowl guitars, pleading vocals and an exquisitely inventive sax coda from Lesuisse to elevate the song to higher places.
Recorded live with limited overdubs, Luci E Guai is a record that’s defined by its immediacy and consistent ability to pack a punch. Listening to the loosely structured “Ciatu Di Lu Margiu”, you take in some pulsing toms, hints of highlife plus vocal yips and whoops before whirling out to a stomping prog-flavoured finale. “Conca D’Oro” takes a similar open-ended, flowing approach but without straying into the land of the noodle. Opening with Lesuisse’s glistening sax trickling towards the melody, a sumptuous funky shuffle soon sets the song onwards to its uplift, whipped along one more time by the imperious guitar dynamism of Cyril Moulas, from Geneva’s own etho-jazzers Imperial Tiger Orchestra.
Amongst all this heat you need a track like the edgy “Quetzalcoati” to introduce some ventilation, a cut of spacey soulfulness and sumptuous europop sway; or better still the tense “Chi Ci Talia”, which sees Crimi dip deeper into their desert blues mindset with those double -handclaps, chattering qraqab castanets and distinctive gliding guitar lines. Like so much of Luci E Guai it’s a track that meets the highest global beat credentials and lays down Crimi’s marker as a band which is hurtling over the horizon.