I couldn't find a decent page on the web about Catherine Ribeiro, so here's my own homage to her wonderful music...
I was first drawn to the music of Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes on reading Nigel Harris's informative article about them in Steve and Alan Freeman's excellent Audion magazine (issue number 6, October 1987, available soon on CDROM) - see also a brief entry in their Web Encyclopedia. I never found any albums until years later, when I bought the CD reissues (from Ultima Thule in Leicester) which are now themselves tragically deleted, and hence rare again. I hope someone re-releases these gems to the world again after reading this and discovering the magical world of Alpes.
[UPDATE: OK, so I didn't look hard enough :-]
Catherine Ribeiro was born in 1939, the daughter of Portuguese immigrants. She starred in Jean Luc Godard's controversial film 'Les Carabiniers' aged 22, where she played a partisan. Here she met (and later married) guitarist and sound sculptor Patrice Moullet, the core member of the group they were to later form called Alpes. They released the first album Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis in 1969, but didn't use the name Alpes until the second album Nr.2. Her daughter Ioana was born sometime around 1971 and inspired many songs. Catherine is most well-known in France for her recording of Edith Piaf songs, but the music of Alpes under discussion here is much more revolutionary.
There is also a Catherine Ribeiro book that I've not read called Femme de parole (Chanteurs poetes de notre temps) (1998) [L'Etoile du Sud] ISBN 2912427029, and she also wrote a book in 1999 about her childhood called "L'Enfance" (childhood), which was published in France.
I have never found the original Festival, Philips and Phonogram LPs, which are probably highly collectable now. See also this complete Discography in French.
Catherine also recorded some solo albums without Alpes, which I've not heard but have read are in a different style, more chanson (French song) oriented, and not at all like the progressive music of Alpes.
(I'm still searching for the first two albums.)
This album appears on The Nurse With Wound List.
Her third album with Alpes breaks much new ground for 1971, where Alpes are joined by Gong keyboardist Patrice Lemoine and his bassist brother Jean-Sebastien. The music launches immediately into a radical sound world of acoustic guitar, bass, stabbing and soaring organ, scuttling percuphone and celestial cosmophone. The latter two need some explanation: the percuphone is a kind of steel guitar with just one bass string which is hit by a variable-speed motorised mechanism producing a rhythmic yet organic effect; the cosmophone is a sort of 24-string electric lyre which sounds like a mixture of harp, bass and guitar. And then comes Catherine's voice... Oh, that voice! One moment tenderly whispering, and the next moment woefully wailing, she nobly embodies sensuality, passion, anguish and ecstasy.
My favourite tracks are the short songs: 'Diborowska', 'Aria Populaire' and the haunting final 'Dingues' which have a folk-like simplicity and startling directness to them that never fails to move me to tears. Simply arranged with just acoustic guitar, 'Diborowska' features atmospheric train sounds and whistles, 'Aria Populaire' is an heroic lament for guitar, organ and Catherine's oh so haunting soaring vocals. Other tracks such as 'Alpes 1 & 2' and 'Alpilles' are written by cosmophone+guitar player Patrice Moullet, and explore the wonderfully creative possibilities of this excellent band. 'Le Kleenex, Le Drap De Lit Et L'Etendard' is a strange song for organ, voice and distant sounds. The best is left until last: 'Dingues' is a impassioned strumming maelstrom, like a kind of anthem of protest which proves once again the power of one guitar and one voice, with organ joining at the end.
This album is for me her masterpiece, just four tracks of startling invention. [To be continued]
"Peace to he who screams because he sees clearly.
Peace to he who searches, striking his head against concrete walls."
The fifth album from July 1975 sees Alpes joined by Jean-Jacques Leurion playing orgolia (a large metallic violin), Daniel Motron on organ/piano, and Gerald Renard on percuphone and bass, plus the return of percussionist Denis Cohen on timbales.
The first track has a bubbly percuphone and bass rhythm with organ and voice. Then comes 'Poeme Non Epique No.III', with nimble bass work, spacious organ, acoustic guitar and Catherine's powerful vocals about "Egality, Fraternity, Liberty!". Next on the CD is track 3, the stormy Finale, with echoey voice and drums. My favourite is the uplifting beauty of track 4: 'Un Regard Clair (Obscur)', a sublime melody (ah, the simple ones are always the best :-) for Farfisa organ, strummed guitar and more wandering basslines under ecstatic vocals. Here I suspect that the CD has been wrongly labelled and indexed, as what is clearly the 'Prelude Percuphonique' opening of the final 25-minute 'Poeme Non Epique (Suite)' is labelled as track 4 on the sleeve, but erroneously indexed as track 5 on the CD - confusing, but at least it is all the correct order and doesn't spoil the enjoyment. The subsequent sections of this six-part Suite - Preludes and Finales No. 1 and 2 - are built around the central 'Poeme Non Epique' where Catherine's spoken words are delivered with stylish intensity and the drums become ever more muscular. The Finale No. 1 then builds to a dizzying climax of frenetic percuphonic energy, only to eventually die away into the distantly cosmic Finale No. 2, which begins with tender moans and whispers as organic arpeggios swell and orgolia soars, until Catherine unleashes the full dynamics of her voice with bloodchilling intensity over deep thunderous drums and psychedelic fuzzed guitars.
This album features jazz bassist Henri Texier and the drums of Carroll Reyn replacing the percuphone. The first few tracks are shorter, one featuring a softly-spoken poem. The best is left until last, however, in the shape of the 22-minute 'Poeme Non Epique No. III'. [To be continued]
This last album is more conventionally song-based and rock oriented, often sounding like fellow French funksters Gong, especially the funky bassline of track 4 'Ne Pas Partir - Ne Pas Mourir', which could almost be Steve Hillage's 'Unidentified (Flying Being)'. There is much use of spacious rippling keyboards, lush organs and strings from Gongster Patrice Lemoine, and Francis Campello's virtuosic bass playing unceasingly underpins some epic arrangements framing her strident vocals. Pierre Gasquet's drumming is on fine form, lending a jazzy freedom to the mix, together with some nice marimbas from another Gonger Mireille Bauer on track 7 'La Parole Est A La Victime'. The final 20-minute track 8 is a new version of her 1972 classic entitled 'Paix 1980', which takes on a more jazzy rocky funky form with the new band. Once again Rene Werneer's violin solos to the fore duelling with her vocal gymnastics and percussive piano. I probably prefer the original but there is no denying the emotional power on display here.
© copyright Malcolm Smith 2005-03-08 - last updated 2005-09-28 - links verified 2005-03-08