For most people, the lineage of DJ scratching begins about 1982 with artists like hip-hop DJ’s Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. Those are the roots of French DJ/Producer Wax Tailor. But he’s also part of a much longer DJ tradition that goes back to fellow Frenchmen, Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer. In the 1940s they created their own records with locked grooves for loops, mixing sounds and instruments from the real world on multiple turntables. That tradition mostly died out in the 60s, but was revived via tape manipulation in the 1970s by artists like Can’s Holger Czukay. I hear Wax Tailor as more a descendant of that tradition, even if he doesn’t know it. Over the course of four albums and numerous live performances over the last decade he’s forged a rollicking smash-up of film dialogue, jazz grooves, John Barry’s suave orchestral aplomb and hip-hop scratching. On Phonovisions Symphonic Orchestra, Wax Tailor expands that sound creating a hyper-retrospective of his career in a double CD plus DVD of a live performance, all beautifully wrapped in a book package with lots of photos.
Wax Tailor is Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, a French musician who started as an earlier kind of DJ, a radio disc jockey before he got into breakbeats and spinning live. As Wax Tailor he began scouring old films for sound clips, lifting scores and dialogue and mixing them with beats and other samples into layered tracks that made his albums sound like films. Bringing this to the concert stage with a full orchestra, choir, band, singers and rappers couldn’t have been easy, but Wax Tailor has worked this into a magical mix both as a live concert and a more intimate listening experience.
He pulls from across his recorded career, opening with two dynamic instrumental tracks with spoken word samples, “Phonovisions” and “Sometimes” which serve as something of an overture to the album. Then it settles in to the meat of the matter with a pair of songs featuring singer Charlotte Savary. She’s the perfect trip-hop chanteuse, sultry and chilled as she sings about an “Alien in My Belly,” and as fragile as a waif on “Dry Your Eyes.” On “Heart Stop” she moves from imperious declamations to a child’s voice that recalls Lana Del Rey.
On “Until Heaven Stops the Rain”, the album executes a shift that might throw Echoes listeners. Wax Tailor’s roots are in hip-hop music and he brings in FP, Green T and especially Mattic who launches his kinetic verbal riffs to Wax Tailor’s equally kinetic grooves, interacting with the film dialogue and giving shout-outs to the DJ. The raps are interspersed throughout the album. Watch the DVD and you’ll see how it pumps up the energy in a live setting. It’ll sound good in the car.
Nowhere is the power of Wax Tailor’s samples more evident than in the juxtaposition of the Le Saoût and Savary penned “Seize the Day,” based on a sample of Galt MacDermot’s loungey “And He Will Not Come Again,” with “Que Sera,” his adaptation of Doris Day’s rendition from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. On “Seize the Day” Savary’s filtered voice intones her lyrics of ennui. “I don’t care what happens” she sings, answered by a stutter-scratched-in voice innocently inquiring “What is going to happen now?” Poignant and humorous at the same time, the voices are pulled out of context, yet still dragging a level of meaning and history behind them that wouldn’t be possible with actual lyrics. “When words become syllables will you remember our dance?” sings Savary on “Our Dance.” She’s answered by a voice from another era, “I ask myself that question all the time.”
Because of his sources, there’s a film noir quality to Wax Tailor’s music, a sound of shadows and fog shrouded street lamps and headlights turning down shadowy alleys and across boulevards. The live horns give it a different kind of punch and the occasional saxophone and flute solos reveal Wax Tailor’s other passion, Blue Note-era jazz. Wax Tailor shifts from intense grooves to serene, Hollywood Middle Eastern moods on “Hypnosis Theme,” opening with the film line “You know what I think you’re trying to do? You’re trying to hypnotize me.”
It worked on me. Phonovisions Symphonic Orchestra is a major statement from Wax Tailor, and it’s also an album that will continue putting a smile on your face. Throw the CDs on your iPhone or droid so you can listen to it cruising city streets at night, but make your first encounter with this album on the DVD, which is beautifully produced, spinning you inside the live experience.