It’s not surprising to hear that eclectic jazz funk instrumentalists L’Eclair and their record label go back a long way. Drifting home to Geneva from a London expedition in 2015 the band’s founders Sebastian Bui (keys) and Stefan Lilov (guitars) discovered a like- minded creative community revolving around the Bongo Joe record shop. Beyond the crate digging here was a meeting place for those dedicated to borderless grooves, a global beat hothouse throbbing amongst the banking towers and riverside grandeur.
L’Eclair’s roots as a mighty six piece link back to those connections with the city’s underground scene and fittingly their expansive new album ‘Confusions’, available from 12th November, marks their first to be released exclusively by the venerable Bongo Joe. The record also sees a departure in the band’s approach to studio output. Previously they relied on the established jazz session process, getting things down from start to finish in a two or three day stretch, but the lockdown stasis permitted them to slow down and as they remember ‘recreate the same euphoria and feelings of sharing music with people at shows but in a more contemplative way’.
The results of having more time can often be a curse, for contemplation read over-thinking, but ‘Confusions’ shows that L’Eclair thrived on their extra breathing space. Yes it’s a long record (a delicious double vinyl) but there’s no directionless noodling or excess padding. Despite the title, here’s an album that builds coherently to make an impressive whole and in many ways paces itself.
The opener ‘P +R’ may kick off with dancefloor intent, putting the lurching electronic funk out there and adding an agile percussive sweep but L’Eclair take care not to peak too early. ‘Verso’ consciously dials things down, relatively sparse and dripping with pulp fiction atmosphere. The track manages to blend tempo and temperature seamlessly from the hints of ethio-jazz melodics to the closing shimmy of luxurious jazz fusion. Those shape- shifting powers surface again on the loose skanking, synth vamping, dubwise ‘Whirlwind’ and ‘Etoile’s’ brief soundtrack processional. Then, four tracks in, when things might be getting too elusive, L’Eclair masterfully gather all their musical strands together.
‘Cosmologies Part 1, 2 and 3’ is the album’s pivot. Stretching over sixteen minutes it’s an extended journey that never loses sight of its destination. The afrobeat undercurrents of ‘Part 1’ push the escalating layers of guitar electronica to the point of rave driven crescendo before Part 2’s prog-informed theremin and acoustics breeze in with some necessary pastoral calm. ‘Cosmologies’ sees itself out with the brakes off, reeling with rhythmic urgency, Fela key stabs, a deep funk bass and swirls of space jazz combustion. It’s some achievement.
From here ‘Confusions’ unravels with even more confidence. The pulse of club-land may never be far away but L’Eclair draw from the diversity of DJ culture and arrive at their own sound. The dystopian soundtrack ‘Timbacrack’ welds European electronics with the industrial pounding of Chicago House to add chill to the power, whereas ‘Clubless’ reaches the boil with a potent mix of Cameo funk and Madchester swagger. All these reference points underline that this is a band who are more than impressive players. They take deep listening as a starting point for their inventiveness. How else could they merge ticking math rock tension with sixties sleuth movie melodies (‘Pangea’) or pumping G-funk with outsider pop wooziness (‘Concorde’) and make it work.
But work it most definitely does. ‘Confusions’ is an album that leaves no doubt- L’Eclair not only make music of obvious quality, it’s got that mark of distinction.