Undoubtedly one of the best French progressive rock bands in the seventies were Atoll. Back then the band recorded four fantastic albums: Musiciens - Magiciens (1974), L'Araignée-Mal (1975), Tertio (1977) and Rock Puzzle (1979). The music on these albums was second to none to all the great names in those days. People who fancy the music of bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd or Ange probably have one or more of these Atoll-albums in their collection. On these records André Balzer was the outstanding lead vocalist, who sang in the French language. By doing so he was able to express more emotion in his voice. At the end of the eighties the band made a restart with singer Raoul Leininger calling themselves Chris Beya's Atoll. However, they could never accomplish the success of the early days again.
The former singer André Balzer seemed to have vanished from the planet, until lately when he contacted me to review his first solo album. Well, I was really surprised that this amazing singer from one of my favourite French progressive rock bands contacted me. This was however, a good opportunity to ask him what he has been doing after he had left Atoll in 1980. He told me that he quit the band, because he was tired of getting no exposure from the media that were dominated by lovers of French musicals. After several recordings with different bands he moved to the South-East of France near the city of Aix-en-Provence. Here he met Michel Tallet, who used to play the keyboards in Atoll, and they formed Atoll Sud. After disbanding Atoll Sud he decided to start a career of his own. Strangely enough Raoul Leininger, the singer who replaced Balzer in Atoll, contacted him and suggested to record a CD in his studio. This marked the start for his debut album Entre l'Alpha & l'Omega.
The album contains songs Balzer composed a long time ago. He had waited for an opportunity to use them. He had seen a movie about the Polish resistance during World War II. The Polish had established a camp in a forest and lived there with women and children. This story would be a perfect concept for his solo album. Balzer chose several pieces out of his compositions to tell this story. The title of the album originally has a biblical connotation since God said: 'I'm the alpha and the omega' (I'm the beginning and the end).
When you listen to the 54 minutes of music on Entre l'Alpha & l'Omega you'll discover that Balzer makes a kind of music that partly differs from the music he recorded with Atoll. Some tracks aren't even related to progressive rock, but that doesn't mean he wants to gain commercial success with this release. Therefore his music doesn't meet the requirements of popular songs.'I let my spirit wander according to the wind which guides me', he told me! Well, I guess the wind blew in a direction that I enjoyed a lot, because all of the nineteen compositions are worthwhile listening to. Balzer hoped that I wouldn't be disappointed after listening to Entre l'Alpha & l'Omega. Well, I wasn't disappointed at all! Sure, you can't compare this type of music to the music he made with Atoll. You can neither compare the music of Peter Gabriel with the music he made with Genesis, can't you? The same applies to this album.
Just like Gabriel, Balzer switched to another style of music to explore new musical areas. Sometimes his music tends to French chansons; at other times to a style that can be labelled as folk music. However, I also noticed progressive rock elements on Lundi 5 Au Soir with some traces of the old Atoll due to Andre's strong voice that hasn't changed that much. The connection with Atoll is still present on Entre l'Alpha & l'Omega. The final track Le Cerf Volant is a rearranged version of an old Atoll-piece that appeared on Tertio. Maybe this song might be a start to recreate the strong Atoll-songs for a solo album. Mr. Balzer felt very positive with the idea to release an album containing only re-recorded songs from Atoll! 'Why not?', he said.
Entre L'Alpha Et L'Omega- Opus I is a wonderful return of André Balzer to the music scene. The album contains many musical highlights sung in the French language. Hopefully will Opus II of Entre L'Alpha Et L'Omega achieve the same high quality level.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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