June 5, 1971
By Richard Williams

One's initial reaction to the appearance of  MicheI Colombier's 'Wings' might be summed up in a paraphrase of one of Frank Zappa's better slogans, "Just what the world needs: another rock cantata."

Unfair, unfair. Colombier, although you may not have heard of him (yet), is a most interesting musician, a man of many parts who has much to say, both musically and verbally. 

"Wings," an album which A&M will shortly release, was written by Michel, with words by Paul Williams (who does the same for the Carpenters) and features singers Herb Alpert, Lani Hall (ex-Brasil '66, and Alpert's consort), Bill Medley (ex-Righteous Brothers), and Vermettya Royster (lead singer with the Sister Love). 

If there's something of an A&M "family" flavour about the whole thing, then that's not unnatural, and in fact Medley was contracted to MGM at the time fie was invited to sing on "Wings." He, too, is now with A&M.

Firstly, though, a word about Colombier's rather unusual background. The son of a classical violinist, Michel spent some of his school years in the Conservatoire at Mulhouse, France, before moving to Paris when he was 18, also to attend the Conservatoire there.

But he was growing more and more interested in jazz, and left the academy when he realised that It wasn't giving him the kind of instruction he needed. He took jobs in night clubs as a jazz pianist, and later began to make a name for himself as an arranger and writer of movie scores. 

In 1968 he became Petula Clark's arranger, and travelled to America with her for TV shows, where he began scoring movies at Universal In Hollywood. It was while Petula was recording her segment of a show called, 'The Brass Are Comin' that Alpert, the show 's star, first heard him, and liked what he heard. 

In fact he liked it so much that he invited Michel to write something which would combine all the elements of his musical background - pop, jazz, and classical - and the Frenchman was given a virtual carte blanche. 

"After Herb had asked me," he says, "I spent two or three months doing nothing. He'd given me too much freedom, and when that happens you just don't know what to do. I didn't know what to write ... in fact I began to think that I had nothing at all to say. But then I thought 'Herb wants me to spend so much money on it, so I must have something to deliver.'
"I got very depressed and nervous; I sent my family away on a trip to Israel, because I can't work In the situation of normal life. It was Spring, and Paris was very beautiful, with the sun and the birds and the trees, and that stopped me working too, so eventually I had to close the shutters on the windows to get some kind of nighttime atmosphere.

"I even insulted the maid; she wanted to cook beautiful meals for me, but I told her to go away and just leave a plate of bread and cheese. She's no longer with us. I listened to Stockhausen . . . and got very bored. It was a fiasco, but eventually I started to find melodies and chords and patterns, and finally I had some sort of a basis on which to work. 

"I decided to book the musicians and the sessions here and then, because that forces me to work, when I have that fear of the sessions getting closer. Then I felt much freer." 

All the instrumental sections were recorded in France, some with an 87-piece symphony orchestra - in particular a track called " Emmanuel," which is wholly classically-orientated. The pressure of work was so great that he says It was like he "was dreaming within a dream, like dreaming you're dreaming, you understand?" 

Well, just about . . . anyway, the background vocals (yes, you guessed: Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews, and - believe it or not - Rita Coolidge) and the jazz horns were recorded in Hollywood. The horns will be familiar to anyone who reads the personnel on big-band albums. Lanny Morgan, Tom Scott, Don Menza Kai Winding, and Benny Powell are just a few of the stalwarts. 

When it came to writing the lyrics, Michel merely indicated to Paul Williams the scope of feeling he was after, rather than any kind of story-line. "I didn't want 'I love you, you love me' words - I wanted something much more personal, and I told him not to get afraid of writing anything erotic. Like the beginning of 'All In All I - that's very ... personal, yes?" 

Err, yes. But what about the whole concept of fusing these different types of music? Doesn't that kind of thing tend to bleed the individual forms of Michel was quite upset by the question. 

"No, it's natural to use all the good things about each kind of music. It would be ridiculous to have a symphony orchestra playing pop, or to have Miles Davis playing classical music. It's easier to use everybody in their own bag. I used Jean-Luc Ponty on this album and I recorded him in front of one of the best symphony orchestras In the world. He was frightened, but afterwards many of the straight, string players came up into the booth to hear the playback." 

Yes, but doesn't it dull the edge of classical music to juxtapose It with pop, and vice versa? "I don't see how. You couldn't kill Aretha Franklin by putting her in front of the LSO. I think It's important that music will he one - all music is one, and If you let that separation go on, already you see musicians who are not helping music to progress. They'll laugh at Xenakis, as If it were insincere music, and that doesn't help their profession. If you play always the same thing, the music will be dead in no time." 

There's one thing that's for sure - if the day of Fusion Music (did I hear someone call it Consensus Music?) is coming, then Michel Colombier will be up in the vanguard. And "Wings" might just be the prototype.

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