A big mover and shaker on the Geneva music scene, guitarist Robin Girod is an inspired hyperactive. For the past three years he has been at the head of Cheptel Records, the label which has already released 31 records.
He is also the instigator of Duck Duck Grey Duck whose new record Traffic Jam boasts 25 tracks and has earned him praise from the French press as "the new blues-psyche-soul sensation." As part of Duck Duck Grey Duck, Robin Girod rubs shoulders with bassist Pierre-Henri Beyrière and drummer Nelson Schaer. But since this is not quite enough to fill up his schedule, Robin Girod is also the guitarist of L'Orage, Nelson Schaer’s group that plays a no less energetic jazz, influenced by hard bop as well as the current trend of speed-jazz. The two groups, like their respective leaders, have a resolutely independent approach, favouring collective work and seeking to stimulate a community of committed artists from Geneva and beyond.
By pure calendar chance: Duck Duck Grey Duck have been booked to play on 20th April 20 Le Club as part of the "Off" programme of Cully Jazz Festival, while L'Orage are scheduled as the warm-up for Fatoumata Diawara and - M- (Mathieu Chedid) on 21st April on the the final evening of Cully Jazz. In other words, a 36 hours musical marathon for both friends.
4pm Cully, Le Club. Duck Duck Grey Duck's musicians arrive at the Cully Jazz Festival Le Club tent for the soundcheck. They have just plunged into the lake, a way of freshening up after a l’Orage rehearsal in a Cully vault.
« We don’t have time to rehearse », explains Robin Girod. « Besides, we don’t even have a rehearsal room. Most often we rehearse on the spot, during the scales". Baba Konaté, the l’Orage percussionist that the group brings over from Burkina Faso for each tour, shows up. He places his djembe next to Nelson Schaer's drums, smiling. "I love the energy of this group, I'm looking forward to tonight". The freestyle communication has no boundaries between l’Orage and Duck Duck Grey Duck.
7pm Cully lakeside. I look at the mountains that cut the sky, the lake is as flat as an oil stain. I turn around : Robin Girod, Nelson Schaer, Pierre-Henri Beyriere, Baba Konaté and Fabien Iannone (L’Orage bass player and bassist for the jams at the Caveau des Vignerons) are standing behind me looking (almost) rested, dressed in colourful, freshly-ironed shirts. A sailboat is almost motionless a little further ahead on the water. "I usually take four days off each year to go around the lake by boat and de-stress," says Robin, smiling. Nelson also has the sea bug. I do not dare say that for me personally, the boat makes my stomach travel in all sorts of directions.
7.30pm Cully Festival restaurant. Between the two courses, Robin Girod cuts the labels of plum and peach liquor bottles, the group's new home-made produce that acts as "merchandising". This represents a link between his two worlds, because yes indeed, despite two groups and a record label, he still has to earn a living : Robin Girod works in a distillery ! Plum is therefore the official alcoholic beverage of Duck Duck Grey Duck, while fishing is the trademark of L'Orage. Robin puts down his scissors, rummages in his bag and pulls out a flyer for a Swiss evening at the Rocking Chair club in Vevey the following week (with L'Orage, Cosmic Fields and Mélissa Kassab).
A lively debate ensues on the importance of indicating or not the geographical origin of the groups. « For me, what matters is the music. Music is not defined by its nationality. I have never been a fan of this craze for world music either ». The discussion evolves abruptly towards money: "If we want to get out of Switzerland and develop the group in Europe, we’d have to invest a huge amount of money in promotion for each territory in order to have a decent distribution. Last year a grant of 15'000chf was swallowed up for this purpose » resumes Nelson Schaer. An essential job if musicians want to find gigs. Melissa Kassab, Cheptel Records' new signing, arrives with a friend. A photographer asks the group for shot by the water’s edge. The three musicians get up and leave before dessert. Duck Duck Grey Duck are like this: we do things as they come, in order or in disorder, and it’ll be fine.
9.30pm Cully, The Club. The Duck Duck Grey Duck are on the Club stage in a tent filled with young people pogoing. The energy is incredible. Robin Girod is in tune with his audience, Nelson Schaer signals start and stop to Baba who seems to find all this extremely natural. Pierre-Henri Beyrière holds his bass at shoulder height and backs up the rhythm, incisive and groovy. Fortunately the band also play tracks from their first album, Here Come ... which are a bit more bluesy and allow them to calm down the game for a few minutes. The concert lasts an hour and a quarter. Pause. And then off again for another hour and a half of madness. I don’t stay for the second set, having not yet tasted the miracle elixir that allows these three to hold up on just a few hours of sleep and so much energy already spent. The doors of Le Club are not due to close before 2 o'clock in the morning ...
12pm Lausanne, Disc-à-Brac, Record Store day. The musicians of Duck Duck Grey Duck show up in single file. Nelson and Robin are wearing the same Wu-Tang Clan t-shirt. They play a small set just to get their feet wet and a thank you to the Lausanne record store that’s selling their record like hotcakes. We go out into the sun. I speak to Nelson Schaer of these music fairs where it is so hard to stand out, the joy of playing at Cully and to be received with dignity, (unlike some of the summer festivals where a Swiss group often rhymes with tiny fees). The record store owner arrives, he wants to pay the musicians. Categorical refusal. Mutual aid is vital for the independents, as is integrity and coherence. « Nestlé offered us a fee of 15,000 francs to play at one of their private parties. We refused. We can’t defend the values we believe in and then go and play for Nestlé. This simply doesn’t hold water». A HEMU student enters Disc-à-Brac. He hands back a used guitar that Robin lent to him during a visit to his cellar where he collects instruments, second hand amps and audio accessories. Robin is happy. This guitar has the ideal sound for L'Orage, and therefore for this evening’s concert.
5pm Cully, backstage at Le Chapiteau. Team changeover. The keyboard and sax player Mael Godinat is wandering about with a small hat screwed onto his head. Ganesh Geymeier is squatting on the stage adjusting the settings of his sax. Baba Konaté is installing his percussion set next to Nelson Schaer's drums in the center of the stage. It’s an unusual configuration that is quite remarkable. Robin is floating around somewhere in the area. - M - and Fatoumata Diawara have just left the stage to do an interview on Couleur 3 (national radio). The marquee is almost deserted.
20: 30 Cully, Le Chapiteau. In a few minutes the venue is filled with an excited crowd, waiting for the latest musical revelation from Mali, Fatoumata Diawara, but especially her guest of honor - M - and his enchanted guitar. Instead, it’s the spiritual and majestic sound of Ganesh Geymeier's saxophone that fills the tent up slowly and calmly, but with a power that is all his own. We spend a few moments suspended in time and space. The audience, surprised, looks at the six musicians on stage and wonders. This is the moment that the two drummers choose to ignite. L’Orage launches into a feverish set, charging on ahead, sounding very good. Everyone is in their rightful place, everything seems ordered and at the same time a little crazy. The pulsation is there at each end of the stage, sometimes an instrumentalist flies off alone, sometimes Mael Godinat grabs an alto in reply to Ganesh Geymeier’s tenor. It’s a kind of jazz that’s accessible to all audiences, even that of - M-. Last track is Shake, Shake, Shake followed by a brief encore.
L'Orage - Shake, Shake, Shake @ Musiques en été, Scène Ella Fitztgerald, 2017
And that's the end. Fatoumata's team has invaded the backstage area. They’ve just come off stage and the six friends of L’Orage return to free the space. It’s 9.30pm and they have to be on the Espace 2 JazzZ radio show at 10pm before returning to Geneva by car around midnight.
Epilogue (Day 3)
I get a text message from Robin: "I am in a situation of exhaustion that I did not know existed... but I’m happy". Did you know that Nelson Schaer and Robin Girod also play in the Space-age-sunset-exotic. That way, when there are breaks between Duck Duck Grey Duck and L’Orage, there is something left for them to do.
Duck Duck Grey Duck - Frelon