François Rabbath
Emen : 1974

FR, bass on all tracks; Michel Delaporte, percussion (“Breiz”);  Jean-Pierre Drouet, percussion (“Poucha Dass”); Jean-Pierre Drouet, Christian Garros, and Armand Molinetti, various percussion including tabla and marimba (“Thyosanne”).

We’re thrilled to present part two of Brian Roessler’s exploration of the visionary jazz of François Rabbath, based on new interviews and archival research. This is important and overlooked music. If you haven’t already, check out part one here.

* * *

The late ’60s and early ’70s found François Rabbath expanding his musical palette and career in many ways. Rabbath’s compositions transformed quickly, incorporating more elements of world music and western classical music into jazz. This was in keeping with other trends in jazz  at the time, but Rabbath works with these elements in a style very unlike his contemporaries. There continues to be a sparseness and gritty edge to his music, in addition to the obvious virtuosity, that sets it apart.

In addition to some oddball pairings (an evening he shared with The Moody Blues, for instance), Rabbath began a fruitful partnership with the Spanish singer and guitarist Paco Ibanez, which led him, really for the first time, to make a musical impact outside France. This collaboration with Ibanez led Rabbath to tour South America and Europe, and more importantly, to work for human rights and against fascism at concerts benefiting the people of Spain, Chile, and Argentina. In 1976 Pop Hebdo published these words from him:

I am here tonight for the Argentine people. It is not even a question of politics … it is quite simply intolerable to know that this people is facing, all alone, a total and revolting repression. They are persecuted, murdered, forced into exile. This people resists in a desperate struggle that must be known by all.


In 1971 Rabbath played in concerts in Vallauris and Paris, France to celebrate the 90th birthday of Pablo Picasso. Rabbath composed and performed “War and Peace,” inspired by the Picasso murals at Vallauris. Rabbath also began performing solo concerts around this time which drew wild critical praise, including what were probably the first performances of the J. S. Bach suites for solo cello on double bass at their original pitch. That live recording I mentioned in the previous post was made in Paris in June 1971, at a series of three concerts with Ibanez attended by around 5,000 people each night.

However, the vast majority of Rabbath’s work was in the studio writing and playing on film scores. Among these scores is Salut a l’Aventure, Le Bateau sur L’Herbe, L’Invasion, and Omer Pacha. His film work has continued to the present – notably with his soundtrack to the wonderful movie Zaman, The Man from the Reeds, the first film made in Iraq after the 2002 U.S. invasion.


The three tracks featured this week come from Multibasse, a compilation of some of the music he made in the late 60s and early 70s. It was later re-released in a collection simply titled 70. At this time, Rabbath was writing and recording for his own pleasure and musical growth, not sponsored by a label. Pieces he wrote sometimes found their way into films. Of the three featured in this post, only “Thyosanne” was written for a film (about African art). Since he continued to own the rights to all his own music, he was able to use them in films or release records as he saw fit:

I was recording for films. And each time that I write something I put it in different movies. And I keep all the rights for me. So I have the opportunity to take all these recordings from different [sessions], like ‘My Father’ (‘Papa Georges’) goes in a movie. It was the soundtrack of a movie [Venda Teres].


In the tracks featured in this post we hear tablas from India, percussion from Africa, and the sounds of the Breton pipehorn all incorporated into Rabbath’s writing and playing. But this music still falls squarely into the category of jazz. There’s an open and improvisational style, a clear continuation and elaboration of the work Rabbath began with his first two records.

The short piece “Breiz,” from 1972, is the former name of a province in Bretagne in northwestern France. It was written using Rabbath’s innovative techniques to explore the sounds of other instruments and sounds from other parts of the world. Rabbath explains:

“Breiz?” I write it because I like to have the pipe horn and it inspired me to do this kind of sound, you know? … in fact, all what I write its exploring all the possibilities of the bass. And each time that I write something I found out that it can represent the pipe horn or the sitar. So when I found something like that I write a piece to, not just to make an effect … So I write a piece complete to not just make an effect, you know? In a way, it becomes noble.

“Poucha Dass,” from 1968, opens every Rabbath performance to this day. It was the first piece of his that I ever heard, and it is a marvel of sensuousness and musical magnetism. It was not written for a film according to Rabbath, but was instead for his own interest and musical exploration. In keeping with the Zelig-like way Rabbath has of working with many of the most important musicians of our time yet remaining under the radar, he explained the origins of the piece:

Its simple. Because I see Ravi Shankar one day and we planned to play together in the future. And I hear his sitar and the sound, I like it very much. And I say, with the double bass, with the arco we can imitate this. So, I write “Poucha Dass” for that.

“Thyosanne,” also from 1968, is a piece reminiscent of his earlier work – moody, sparse and biting, featuring just bass, percussion and drums. In fact, when I asked Rabbath about it he told me “Thyosanne” was from his first record. Maybe it was recorded for that album, more likely his second one, and not included? Or, more likely still, written for those first albums but not recorded until later? At any rate, it is a wonderful illustration of his unique sound on the bass and his unmistakable style of writing.

The textures of this piece are sultry and absolutely unique. The percussion arrangement, the use of tabla and marimba, sounds somehow inevitable and at the same time avant (in the most loving use of that term) and completely fascinating.

* * *


The record from which these tracks are culled, Multibasse, is happily available in a reissue on the Red Mark label in a version now called Multibass ’70. YOU CAN (and should!) BUY A COPY HERE, HERE, OR HERE.

* * *

COMING ON WEDNESDAY: François Rabbath rips it up live on stage in Paris with a couple of Indian musical virtuosos.

Category François Rabbath, guest posts Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,