All four Dharma Quintet, Dharma Trio & Dharma reissues at a special price. Long regarded as one of the best record stores in the world, offering a particular focus to avant-garde and experimental music, in 2014 Paris based SouffleContinu launched as bonafide record label. While France has played a crucial role in the history of avant-garde music - from its beginnings in Dada, to the developments of Musique concrète, experimental electronic and electroacoustic music, many of the country’s more adventurous sonic efforts remained overlooked during the decades following the Second World war, with dominant creative narratives shifting toward the United States and Britain. It is this unjust neglect that SouffleContinu has set out to combat - illuminating remarkable recordings the few beyond France have ever heard. Within the arching scope of the labels efforts to this end, they have taken particularly great strides in unearthing the country’s incredible indigenous free jazz scene, notably visible in their recent surveys of the Cohelmec Ensemble and Workshop de Lyon. Now they’re at it again, with four incredible vinyl reissues from Dharma, one of the seminal outfits of improvisers from the 1970’s.
France’s participation in the history of Jazz and free improvised music is second only to the United States. From the very beginning of both idioms, it offered shelter to artists and the ability to record and perform beyond the oppressive shadow of American racism. Most importantly, it was here that these musics found one of their most dedicated and loyal fan bases. It isn’t surprising that indigenous forms were soon to blossom. Because France played host to so many incredible players from the United States and other countries, its own artists have often been overlooked unless they were in direct contact or collaboration with those figures. Dharma is one such case.
Dharma was ensemble that existed under different line-ups and variations on the name over the first half of the 70’s, from the constrained Dharma trio comprised of Jacques Mahieux, Michel Gladieux, and Patricio Villaroel, to the Dharma quintet (later simply called Dharma) which, in addition to Mahieux, Gladieux, and Villaroe, also included Gérard Marais, Jeff Sicard, and Gérard Coppéré. The project sprang from the radical left wing politics of May 68, combined with a respect and association with transplanted players from AACM like Anthony Braxton, or Noah Howard, Archie Shepp, Sonny Sharrock, but quickly began incorporating a vast range of creative touchstones, from deep spiritual jazz, to fusions of rock and jazz. SouffleContinu’s incredible reissue series covers the groups output and remarkable evolution in its entirely - Mr Robinson and Snoopy's Time from 1970, End Starting from 1971, and Archipel from 1973 making the totality one of the great artifacts of the country’s history of indigos avant-garde jazz, and as essential as LPs come. Each is issued in a limited edition of 700 copies and represents the first time any have been reissued.
DHARMA QUINTET - Mr Robinson
Released in 1970, Mr Robinson is Dharma’s first release. Recorded by a quintet of Jef Sicard, Gérard Coppéré, Patricio Villarroel, Michel Gladieux and Jacques Mahieux, it is a true product of its era - the blending of a radical collectivist spirit, with communal living and wild adventures in sound. The musicians lived together, rehearsed endlessly together, and collectively purchased the necessary material together. Of all the band’s output, it is arguably the closest to a direct realisation of free-jazz, falling within the territory expected from releases on ESP, America, or BYG Actuel. Wild frenetic and open rhythms and sonorities intermingle as each member pushing the next toward the unknown, joined together to create remarkably solid forms. Unquestionably one of the great unheard artifacts of European improvised music, which stands tall with a great many of the towering works of the era. An alternate vision of radical politics and creativity which began in the United States, taking seed in France. It is wonder to hear unfold, helping us catch a vision of what was and what might be.
DHARMA TRIO - Snoopy's Time
Recorded three months after Mr Robinson in 1970, Snoopy's Time encounter Dharma constrained to the trio Jacques Mahieux, Michel Gladieux, and Patricio Villaroel. Despite the little time which had passed, it is clear that radical changes and points of inspiration where in evolution. Even whittled down to three players, their sound is thickening, taking on heavy melodic spiritual tones, with nods to where jazz had been as much as where it was going. Viewed by many as Dharma’s quintessential release, Patricio Villarroel’s stunning electric organ playing takes centre stage, evoking classic Herbie Hancock and fusion era Miles Davis. Though Snoopy's Time could be seen by many as one of the most accessible of Dharma’s releases, for all its beauty and straight ahead time, it sacrifices none of the ensembles characteristic complexity and willingness to challenge. It is a kind a trojan horse and a rethinking of the delivery of the radicalism at their core. Wonderful, intoxicating and immersive, this is an LP which reminds ear and the heart of the true international potential held by the many forms of jazz.
DHARMA QUINTET - End Starting
Inspred by Albert Ayler’s instruction to play your own music, Dharma’s third LP, End Starting, issued in 1971, displays even more remarkable developments underway in the ensemble - a full circular hybridity, which melds the wild free improvisational structures and tones of Mr Robinson, with the thick spiritualism and fusion of Snoopy's Time. It’s clear that pushing creative boundaries was a central objective of the group. To put it simply, it’s stunning spectacle for the ear, arguably, at times, falling the closer to the Sun Ra and his Arkestra than anything else of the era. Heavy, deep grooves are placed alongside wild full on free playing, pulled back again and then released in an elastic frenzy. The result is huge sound and an incredibly dynamic range of output boiled into two sides single LP, which leaves little surprise of why it ended up on the iconic Nurse with Wound list as one the band’s key inspirations. Wild, wonderful and incredibly inspiring, it’s confounding to imagine that so few have heard this marvel. So essential it hurts.
DHARMA - Archipel
Darma’s final release, issued in 1973 in a tiny edition of 100 copies, with an additional deluxe edition of 20 with hand drawn covers, is undeniably bittersweet. It is so wonderful that the ear years for more. We must allow ourselves to be simply grateful that it exists, and that SouffleContinu has reissued it, finally allowing to be widely heard for the first time. Like its predecessor, End Starting, Archipel mixing elements of free rock, free jazz, and grooving spiritual jazz, within a series of collective explosions based on abrupt and contrasting improvisations. For much of the time, piano, guitar and saxophone intertwine over intense rhythms, with everything and anything being electrified. Fascinatingly, the groups curiosity was clearly beginning drift further afield, taking on influences from the modal traditions of North Africa and the Middle East. Arguably the most creatively expansive, challenging, and dynamic of all their releases, the fact that this is the last time we heard from this incredible ensemble makes it heart wrenching. That said, it’s hard to thank SouffleContinu enough for bringing it back. Absolutely essential.