Recorded in December 1974 at Morgan Studio, Brussels
#9 : conversation between R.Rousselet (on flugelhorn) and a hippo
Marc Moulin's debut LP is a compelling and unique mosaic of jazz, soul, and electronic elements that employs sampled sounds and sequencers to startling effect, vividly anticipating the music of the not-so-distant future. While rooted in collective improvisation, cuts like the opening "Le Saule" and "Le Beau Galop" foreshadow the emergence of house music via their underlying electronic motifs; more impressive still is the five-part, 17-minute epic "Tohubohu," a remarkable update of musique concrete sensibilities that creates drumbeats from water drops and pits trumpeter Richard Rousselet against a herd of hippos. But for all its complexities and innovations, Sam Suffy is above all a sublime listening experience, closer in spirit and scope to trip-hop than the more abstract fusion classics it follows. Blue Note's 2005 30th anniversary reissue (which includes video content and a new remix of "Tohubohu") should earn the album the classic status it demands.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Since its release on Columbia in 1975, "Sam' Suffy" has been a must-have for collectors, groove and breakbeat DJs. It remains an influential album as it simply covers so much ground. Experimental, plaintive and funky by turns, "Sam' Suffy" is in many ways a dream project - a carte blanche to an accomplished and creative musician who does not think in terms of boundaries. You read it through your own references. Jazz? Definitely. Downtempo? If you feel it. Funk? We have that. Musique concrete? Absolument. All this from the maker of "Top Secret" and "Entertainment". Monsieur Cool-Skool in person, Marc Moulin.
It's 1975. Rock music is still the big exciting popular artform. Punk had not happened, nor electronic music in any significant way. If a young musician wanted to get creative, what could they do? In many cases, the answer was: play jazz. Through the groundbreaking jazz/funk outfit Placebo (no relation to pop bands of the same name) and as a solo pianist, Marc Moulin had been doing that since the early seventies. With guitarist Philip Catherine, he embarked on a musical adventure under the influence of Larry Coryell. "At the time," he remembers, "you'd see Grateful Dead doing 3-hour shows with 45-minute solos. So you'd think: why can't we do that?" Why indeed. The fusion of rock and jazz really hit the road when Billy Graham started programming jazz bands as opening acts at the Fillmore in the US.
"There were basically two sides to jazz fusion at the time," says Marc Moulin, "One was funkier than the other." In Europe, bands typically leaned more towards jazz-rock a la Soft Machine and Nucleus. In Belgium, Moulin's sprawling big-band Placebo was the place to be for the young and tragically hip.
So where does "Sam' Suffy" fit into the picture? The answer is in the name, a poor pun on "Ca me suffit", I've had enough - or given a more contemporary translation "enough, already". "I really did have enough with Placebo at times. For concerts and rehearsals, you'd ring up to 10 musicians suggesting a date and time. They'd all agree except number 10, who gives you another date. So you start again from n° 1. There really were times when I wanted to do something simpler." So Marc Moulin created a trio project "Sam' Suffy", most of the time with his regular sparring partners Richard Rousselet on trumpet and Bruno Castellucci on drums. Over a number of concerts and rehearsals, they pushed the envelope in terms of how bands create and present music to an audience. "There were only three of us and we were creating a big sound, so we started recording stuff during rehearsal and playing it back on an amplified cassette deck during the show to fill out the sound." Another reason was that the rudimentary synths of the time had no memory. So to change the sound in concert, you had to re-programme the beast. The trio was not known for their between-song patter, so any way to get around this was good, particularly if it reduced the head-count. Although the shows were known to be at times pretty wild improvisations - which is only normal when a band is created effectively to let off steam - the studio work was more disciplined. "You go at it differently, knowing it will be the record of what you do. I think the people that knew us in concert don't really recognise the record." As ever with Moulin, "Sam' Suffy" was a slash project, i.e. jazz / rock / funk. It is perhaps the unique combination of elements that has made it a consistent reference for musicians and DJs over the years. For one thing, this was not straightforward songwriting with choruses and middle eights. The tracks are open-ended mood pieces, blues-based on Side 1 and more experimental on Side 2 (the "Tohu-bohu" five-piece suite on this CD). "More than anything else, I think it's the funk or soul element that drove me - and still does today." Again, it's there in the name. All the titles are puns on music styles: "Le Saule" is a willow tree, but is pronounced "soul". "La Blouse" is pronounced "blues". "La Bougie" (candle) is a mispronunciation of "boogie". The cover art, inspired by Moulin, is another private joke. 'The Belgian middle-class like to have a little villa on the coast. This building is actually the most massive, imposing construction in Brussels, the Law Courts. It's over the top, of course. And like it says, 'That's good enough for me'." More dry humour.
Listening to "Sam' Suffy" from a distance of 30 years, there is a strange sense of what could have been. Shortly after its release, jazz took a hard left into post-bop. "If was largely the end of free jazz and fusion. There was a return to mainstream, back to Miles. He, meanwhile, had moved on. Coltrane also became the big reference for sax players. But in the seventies, you could try anything. You could play with sounds." This is why the sounds of hippos are duetting on Richard Rousselet's trumpet during "Tohu-bohu" and Bruno Castellucci could play with water drums - a section that has been massively sampled over the years by the likes of Jill Scott, Vadim, Handsome Boy Modeling School, DJ Soup and other. There is a definite funky overtone on "Le Saule" and "Le Beau Galop" (boogaloo) that predates a lot of the later House scene. So who do we have on bass tonight, ladies and gentlemen? The answer is Mr Moog, as played by Marc Moulin (and also recorded to be played back on tape in concert). "Sam' Suffy" was also one of the very first jazz projects to feature sequencers. It's interesting to see how the basic grooves of today were already in action 30 years ago. Different vibes, different haircuts, but the same desire to play with sounds and atmospheres over a blues-based groove. And this is why "Sam' Suffy" has earned cult status and withstood the test of time.
-Michael Leahy (March 2005)