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
"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
"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