Album Review: Parisian fusion combo Monsieur MÂLÂ deliver a self-titled debut brim-full with energy and ambition.

The Breakdown

What Monsieur MÂLÂ are presenting here is an authentic urban sound, the music of their city, Paris, in a cross-cultural buzz of jazz, soul, funk and tradition.
Bridge The Gap 8.8

World Jazz/Jazz Fusion/World Fusion…you sometimes wonder if the genre game is really worth playing. Yes useful for shorthand and signposts but not to be depended on to for the full picture. Enter Parisian five-piece Monsieur MÂLÂ and their self -titled debut LP out now via Bridge The Gap. Looking way beyond any label conventions the band think of themselves as ‘a machine whose design is empirical and its productions organic, capable of telling us stories by means of instrumental music’.

Mechanical but experimental, a product but organic, that might all sound a bit contradictory but as you dive into this splendid album this description of theirs begins to make more sense. The Monsieur MÂLÂ music machinery is consistently capable of providing imaginative, jazz flavoured compositions that readily take you places. Consequently this debut album has a certain swagger about it, stoked by their confidence in doing what feels right instead of what is usually done.

Opening track Storyteller voices this artistic principle literally through quirky narration (“My name is Monsieur MÂLÂ…I am one body with many voices”) and figuratively through the progressive concoction of sounds. From cosmic thrills to polished soul-jazz sections, staccato alt-rock riffola to eastern toned melodic trills, the song negotiates each switch with the decisiveness of an early day Return To Forever. Somehow Robin Antunes even manages to conjure DiMeola levels of chiming sustain from the unlikely source of his electric mandolin.

There’s also a harmonic complexity in the opening track’s melody lines that rings out with a Weather Report clarity, a reference point which bubbles gently through the Monsieur MÂLÂ sound. Swaéli Mbappé’s agile bass regularly takes that Pastorious patter and moulds it with his own flowing signature while on al Fayhaa, the keys are a reminder of those distinctive earthy Zawinul touches. This song, like Storyteller, also underlines that there is nothing reductive about the quintet’s music. Brisk mandolin patterns thread alongside a tambor pulse then burst into a whirling jig, part Celtic part gnawa, before a closing calm of cooing soundtrack vocals and trumpet swells. It sounds unwieldy but for Monsieur MÂLÂ the balance is natural.

Perhaps it’s Carnaval that asserts the combo’s identity even more distinctly. Here Antunes’ Congotronic mandolin scuttles around a tense nu-jazz beat, the synth lines blaze and a simmering pause for reflective keys from Nicholas Vella helps you save your breath. The final crescendo then scales up with that elastic control which contemporary fusion groups achieve so well, focused but skirting as close as possible to the edge. It’s clear that this tune is an imagined ‘celebration’ with more shadowy undertones.

Beyond their obvious dynamism, Monsieur MÂLÂ readily navigate more reflective and gentle moments. The upbeat samba soca of Little Ones weaves vocal scats and rolling keys in a tightly woven dance while Balthazar Naturel’s oily sax lines add a calypso warmth. Senze Paura is impressive, effortlessly rising from a downtempo sultry smooch to power ballad dynamism, but it’s frisky samba funk of Fly Fly that strikes as the most inventive of these more restrained Monsieur MÂLÂ cuts. “If I asked you to dance would you say yes” goes the voice-over…well, yes.

With vocals a key aspect of the Monsieur MÂLÂ soundscape it’s not surprising that guest singers are called on to front a couple of the tunes. French soul pop rising starlet Anna Kova, brings an expressive energy to the strident r n b of All my life which, though exceptionally slick, feels like more of an outlier within the context of the whole album. The less stylised Ai Di Mim, featuring nu-soul voice EU.CLIDES, slips into place more readily, stripped back, economic and using fine detail, the synth waves and zingy mandolin frame this classic ballad.

In many ways what Monsieur MÂLÂ are presenting here is an authentic urban sound. The music of their city, Paris, in a cross-cultural buzz of jazz, soul, funk and tradition, a place where the violin and mandolin can rest easy alongside slap bass and ethio horn lines. Nguina Mulema underlines this realisation with an almost early music, madrigal melody that pipes alongside a crisp samba before meeting some assertive jazz rock power chording.

So maybe that’s what Monsieur MÂLÂ are reminding us here on this fine debut. Great fusion music works best when defined by the people who play it and the place whose story it tells.

Monsieur Mala’s self titled debut is streaming now on all major platforms.

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