Arnaud Quevedo & Friends, Electric Tales, 2020
Tracks: Electric Overture (1:32), The Dark Jester (7:24), The Electric Princess Part 1 (9:06), The Electric Princess Part 2 (9:02), Entering… (Impro) (4:11) Mushi’s Forest (6:21), Flower Fields (Impro) (3:26), The Hypothetical Knight (6:24), Hope (5:07), Electric Dreamer (3:49)
Arnaud Quevedo & Friends, Roan, Bad Dog Promotions, 2021
Tracks: Aube (1:33), Prologue (4:33) Découverte (8:48), Curiosité (2:26), Féerie (3:22), Dépassement (3:17), Nostalgie (1:56), Ryoko (12:33), Fardeau (1:51), Chrysalide (4:41), Métamorphose (5:50), Épilogue (3:30)
For the second in my series of reviews of French artists (see number 1 here), we have Arnaud Quevedo & Friends, a guitar-centered jazz fusion outfit based in La Rochelle, France. The group centers around Arnaud Quevedo, a guitarist and music teacher at Conservatoire La Rochelle. Bassist Noé Russeil joins Quevedo on both records, as does double bassist Éva Tribolles. Both also provide vocals. Lucille Mille plays flute and sings on Electric Tales, Julien Gomila plays saxophone on that record. There is a much larger cast on Roan, composed of more stringed and blown instruments. While Quevedo plays drums on Electric Tales, that duty is expertly handled by Anthony Raynal on Roan.
One of the primary differences between the two records is the lyrics on Electric Tales are in English while they are in French on Roan. I prefer the French vocals because they sound more natural to both the music and for the singers. Some of the English lyrics, like on “The Dark Jester,” are really difficult to understand.
Jazz is the name of the game here, but it remains tied to the rock world throughout. Electric Tales periodically reminded me of The Tangent, another band that heavily leans on jazz. “The Electric Princess” Parts 1 and 2 are almost entirely instrumental, with some more easily understandable lyrics near the end of part 2. The guitar and flute are prominent throughout, balancing the jazz with a rock feel.
“Flower Fields” is a short and quiet track that slows the momentum of the album which probably could have been done without. It’s followed by “The Hypothetical Knight” which is far more upbeat. But the male vocals hold this song back with their nasally tone and choppy feel. The attempt at scat singing doesn’t work very well, in my opinion. Overall, Electric Tales is best at its instrumental moments, which admittedly dominate the album.
Roan sounds like a more developed and mature album. It has a deeper brass, woodwind, and string section, and the predominately female vocals sung in French add a pleasant touch. The album is smoother with a more varied use of the rock and jazz elements.
“Féerie” finds the group at their quirkiest, with an almost Winnie-the-Pooh type musical frolic dominated by the horns with a jazz drum track and some understated guitars. It borders on corny at times, but the fast-sung female vocals in the middle balance that a bit. The song still sounds like it could be a soundtrack to a children’s cartoon.
At over 12 minutes, “Ryoko” off Roan is the undisputed epic of both albums, and it’s probably the finest track across both records. The jazz is there, but it’s subdued with a more melancholic vibe. In typical jazz fashion, the song rotates through short instrumental solos with a similar rhythm playing in the background. The violin played in a more experimental way creates a moody aura, and the deep tones of the flute further supplement that. The guitar also gets its turn in the spotlight. The female-led vocals bring some brightness to segments of the song.
“Métamorphose” has some excellent guitar shredding with a clean tone, bringing in a bit of more traditional rock influence into a jazzy album. The heavier riff featuring flute, guitar, and more in the second half of the song is especially proggy.
Fans of jazz and jazz fusion should give Arnaud Quevedo & Friends a listen. I would say Roan is the better album of the two. It certainly has the better artwork, with a pleasant Japanese-style painting. Both albums display talented musical skill with pleasant clean guitars and flute. Roan builds on that foundation to offer a more refined sound.