This has been one of my favorite world jazz discs since I acquired it almost a decade ago. There's a bristling urgency about this recording that never fails to draw me in, largely due, I think, to leader Texier's unique vision and the incredible diversity of the band he's assembled.
The idea's a simple one: The nomadic way of life--be it that of "traditional" nomads (Berbers, Gypsies, Bedouins, Tuaregs, Afghanis) or "symbolic" nomads (sailors, musicians, troubadours)--is slowly being eaten up, eroded away by the forces of industrialism, trans-nationalism, and global capitalism. Thus the title, "Mad Nomad(s)"--crazy nomads, angry nomads, wandering souls who appear to be mad but are really no(t)-mad. The music is an attempt to conjure a feeling of a world experiencing "the disappearance of natural spaces, of thought, of imagination, of understanding" (from Texier's liner notes).
One unique Texier move is to present snippets of stylized traditional music struggling for expression amid hostile or alien musical influences, symbolizing the struggle of traditional cultures to maintain freedom and integrity: "S.O.S Tibet," with Tibetan bells being swallowed by their Chinese counterparts, a picture of the political condition inside Tibet; "S.O.S Tamasheq (Touareg)," depicting the struggle for freedom inside a VW SUV (just kidding--T(o)uareg designates a North African nomadic people; clever of VW to pick that particular cultural and geographical referent for its new SUV . . .); "S.O.S. Dour," which attempts to paint a music portrait of the struggle in Brittany over water usage; etc. These musical micro-portraits nicely frame the longer pieces and lend a very welcome exoticism to the proceedings, which seem to draw strength and inspiration from these vignettes.
The main band, a septet, features Henri Texier (bass), Sebastien Texier, (alto sax and clarinet), Julien Lourau (soprano, alto, and tenor sax), Francois Corneloup (baritone and alto sax), Noel Akchote (guitar), Bojan Zulfikarpasic (piano, synth), and Jacques Mahieux (drums), only two of whom I've ever heard of, H. Texier and Noel Akchote. The latter has several solo albums out, and makes a fine contribution to Sam Rivers' brilliant disc, Configuration. I'm thrilled to have him on board. His Dave Fiuczynski-like jazz-punk stylings fit perfectly into this context. They concoct a dense but very tasty musical stew, sharply spiced with exotic flavorings from their differing ethnic backgrounds, perfectly suited to the multicultural stylings this disc assays. Its vibe reminds me, somewhat strangely, given the vast cultural distance separating these artists (French Breton and East Los Angeles), of John Carter, especially his marvelous Gramavision discs, and of Horace Tapscott's two Dark Tree discs, as well as Flight 17 by his Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra.
There are also various smaller combinations of instruments--duos, bass/sax/drum trios, and a piano trio--that add apposite water-color relief to the roiling oils of the larger ensemble.
In any case, this is simply marvelous music that never fails to lift my spirits.