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Chassol’s jazz games are deeply human and satisfying

Few albums that I’ve heard this year give such clear insight into the creative process of the artist as Chassol‘s Ludi. Chassol hears everything as music, from a basketball bouncing (“Dribbles and Beats”) to conversations (the excellent “Your Hands”) to spoken word monologues (“I Think the Game, pts. 1-4”) to children’s games (“Savana, Celine, Aya, pts. 1-2). And the 30 (!!!) songs on Ludi demonstrate that by layering the sound of the inspiration over the music it inspired, with a sentence of a person’s voice becoming the tone, rhythm and meter of a jazz run on piano or a drum fill or bass riff. This happens over and over: “Ouverture,” “Sirine”, “Esatabemakuru,” “Tetris Crystal,” on and on and on. It is an absolutely fascinating deconstruction and reconstruction of the sonic world we experience all the time.

To be clear, these are not often people singing; these are people talking, laughing, conversing, playing around. Chassol mimics these sounds, tones, and rhythms with instruments and then builds songs of all lengths (fragmentary, short, medium, long) out of these bits of inspiration. Chassol sees this whole process as an unusual sort of game: strange games appear everywhere in the album. People-who-are-mimicked-into-music try to explain hand games (“Your Hands”), play hand games (“Savana, Celine, Aya”), try to explain RPGs (“I Think the Game”), and teach a word game (“Game Rule”), among the more obvious examples. So Chassol sees the world as musical inspiration, and it’s a game to turn that musical inspiration into songs. (I imagine that Ludi is related to the term “ludic”, which means “of, relating to, or characterized by play.”)

With those keys in mind, the rest of the album clicks into focus; the album isn’t held into place by genre as much as it is by the lived experience of that process. “Rollercoaster, Pts. 1-2” open with a herald-like vocal celebration before cascading into a manic Electronic Light Orchestra piece; it evokes the excitement of the rollercoaster climbing its initial hill and then plunging into the rest of the ride, signaled by found sounds of the rollercoaster that point the way. In some ways this isn’t a very subtle record: almost every map has a clear and obvious key. But the lack of subtlety allows for an immediately accessible joy: this is a hugely relatable album, a celebration and honoring of everyday life. I can see and hear myself in this record, hands up on the rollercoaster, playing basketball, playing word games.

It’s that hugely relatable factor that does the final trick of the record: if you took out the vocal clips and just left the musical work in, you’d have an impressive album of speedy, funky, piano-and-bass-led jazz. “I Love Vertigo” without the sung vocals is still a rad piece of punchy, funky work. “Your Hands” would be a novel, staccato, challenging piece without the vocals, but the challenge of it is cut down significantly by having the spoken vocals over it. The record’s concept grounds the work and reveals the treasures of the songs.

Ludi is an album unlike any I’ve ever heard. It is a testament to the immense creativity of Chassol, the confidence he has in his vision, and the perseverance needed to make a 30-track album that spans 62 minutes. This is a fascinating, impressive, deeply comforting and human record. It’s amazing. Highly recommended.