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Published: 2005/08/08
by Jesse Jarnow

Bande Orignale du Film da OUTRE MER – Garage A Trois

Telarc 83640

Packaged with vivid detail as the soundtrack to an imaginary French film, Outre Mer is hippie-jazz supergroup Garage A Trois’s latest. It’s a fun conceit, and the story included — in both French and English — tells of a 3’9" dwarf named Etienne de Nerval who dreams of distant lands and devises a way to project them via a fantastical system of needles inserted into his brain. There is a love affair with a fellow little person and the birth of a tall child.

In a way, it's a leap for Garage a Trois, whose members' priorities are usually simply to make the music groove. Here, in order to be successful, they must sound as if they are conforming to some imaginary — probably unfunky — off-"screen" movement, as well as make each track belong to the same world. Otherwise, the idea that this is a soundtrack just turns into an afterthought for another jam session.

Though the tracklist doesn't completely match the "plot," the quartet does swiftly establish a consistent sound that defines the film. "The Machine" (the notes are unclear about which machine) and "Bear No Hair" (who?) don't rely on Stanton Moore's snare to propel them so much as the space created between Moore's kit and Mike Dillon's vibraphone. When the two are able to create this effect, they produce a real sense of consistent space.

Likewise, the concept is most successful when the music retains some degree of abstraction, such as the title track, where Moore's atmospheric drums rumble a bed for Dillon's mechanical vibe chiming. "The Dream," with its mysterious Phillip Glass-like Dillon patterns, is all noir, Skerik's sax blowing down an abandoned puddle-dappled street, Charlie Hunter's guitar soaked in foggy reverb.

The music isn't always entirely believable, though. It's a little hard to get behind a track named for a supposed 3'9" French man — the shuffling "Etienne" — which also sounds like the soundtrack for a French Quarter detective caper. It's still cool, though, even if — like Italo Calvino's If on a winter’s night a traveler… — the plot you thought you were getting is suddenly supplanted by something completely different (but also the same). And, in a few places ("Antoine") they just make good party music. I think I saw that movie, too.

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