A Meeting With Olivier Hutman by French Attack

The story of this meeting begins during a cold winter day in Chartres, in a very depressive industrial zone. Peeer and I was there, in the local records fair, looking for a miraculous lot that seemed to go away from us, the type of meeting with that typical lunatic record seller like every digger knows about: improbable and always postponed. So I was there, with a sad looking face and the humor of the bad days, walking through the fair alleys when I locate some good looking jazz crates. I told to myself: “maybe the game isn’t lost completely!”. The records ain’t cheap, but I find some really nice looking stuffs, particularly that 2 colours record recorded in France. I make a pile of wax and begin listening with the Fisherprice what I selected.

It was my first contact with Moravagine record, and undirectly with Olivier Hutman, the band pianist. You have to know that (well…nobody’s perfect), at that time, I didn’t know that Olivier was part of Chute Libre.

Back home and some internet researchs further, I know more about this jazzman. He’s the Chute Libre keyboardist, and a well known guy in the parisian scene as a respected sideman, who played with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Philip Catherine and a lot of great musicians.

But back to Moravagine, the type of obscure record like only the real dig, the one on the dusty record crates, not with mouse and screen, can really bring: the discover of a superb mood mixed jazz album that nobody (at least around me) ever heard about..

Then things went fast, I contact mister Hutman and meet him near the Sunside, a jazz club where he’ll gonna play few days after. The man is warm, classy, with easy manners and humility that surely will make a good interview. I will be aknowledge for sure!

So Moravagine.. It was an existing band before the LP?

Yes, the record was recorded thanks to a contest, organized by the Promophone label, owned by Michel Deveau. It was a time when you could create an independent structure and bring food to the table with it. The label lasted 4 or 5 years and ran down, the guy wasn’t a very good manager.

The funny thing is that Deveau had very straight tastes about jazz. So when we won, in front of a jury he composed, he was really disapointed, and probably told to himself “Oh shit, now I have to record that crap!” (laugh)… But well, he was a gentleman, so we won and we went for recording.

Do you know how many records were pressed ?

Good question, I would say around 1000, maybe more. We were paid with records, 100 per band members. The main first price was to be recorded, then broadcasted, sent to the critics and critized. It was huge at that time, you didn’t had any home studio and the possibility of home mastering. We also played in two festivals.

Before that, you played live often ?

Yes a lot, it was a hard working band. Even if we were students we had some popularity, cause some band members like Mino Cinelu, Denis Barbier or myself were part of the french fusion scene. It was a pretty tiny scene, you had CHUTE LIBRE, MAGMA, the Alain Mion band (CORTEX), Didier Lockwood who began to make stuff with his band, you had GONG, who was the first important group of this scene. We just plunged into, half students half living in parents home.

At that time you didn’t have any music school. We all came from different backgrounds. I have a classical formation. We just made music in a spontaneous way, without worrying about tomorrow. But in the same time we had a very strict work ethic. We played for Moravagine every sunday. Then for CHUTE LIBRE we played 3 or 4 times per week. We were really disciplined.

CHUTE LIBRE already existed ?

Moravagine existed before CHUTE LIBRE, who was created in the same time. Benoit Widemann was the band pianist before he left to join MAGMA. Then I quickly met Patrice Cinelu, Mino’s brother, to the favor of a one month tour in Tunisia with an african singer. Patrice proposed me to join CHUTE LIBRE, so I was officialy pianist for the two bands.

Let’s get back to Moravagine, even if it was a first group, did you had any direction, any focused idea ? Cause the album really have a sound.

I think it was the crossover between the different band members influences. We definitly didn’t came from the same music families. The drummer and I listened to Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Miles, and no rock at all. About Pierre Jean Gidon, who was a guy from Montpellier, he had a deep rock culture.. he listened to a lot of jazz rock like Weather Report or Mahavishnu Orchestra, I came to this later, same for Hancock and the Headhunters or McLaughlin. Denis Barbier came from a classical background, new classical, even pop. Bassist Jean Marie Laumonnier, who died in tragic circonstences, was a guitar player at the basis, and came from british pop, and stuff like Soft Machine or Robert Wyatt.

So finally, that band sound, is really what every members brought to the others. We were at an age when you just listened to music all the time, discovered music, ran after lost time.. in one word I would say a formative time. I remember some live in the MJC Mouffetard were we switched instruments, we sang, we did psychodramas.. (laugh). We told to ourself « what are we gonna play ? well…whatever. ». We were totally free.

Daniel Humair really liked our group, he always showcased us in the Paris Modern Art Museum. He was a big fan of Mino (Cinelu), who was a sort of a phenomenom, nobody played percussions like him. Personnaly I was lucky enough to start playing music with people like Mino, west indians, black people.

I do a little bit of teaching, make some teaching class in Didier Lockwood school, and I told to the young students that the problem with french improvise music from now, is that they don’t experiment a lot. And to learn that swing that I think I have, I told you that in total humility as I know there’s people who play piano much better than me, I acquire my rhythmic placement with people like them. It was a very important hybrid era… people don’t realize that west indians and africans brought a huge update to the musical scene of this time. People like Paco Seri, Moktar Samba, or other coming later like Karim Ziad.

And for the west indies ?

For the west indies you had Jean Francois Fabiano, the Gaumont brothers, Eddy Gaumont who played with Miles Davis and died from overdose some time later. Dominique Gaumont. Beside to this, an important thing, is that we always came to the shows of the only afro american funk band based in France : ICE (aka Lafayette Afro Rock Band). We were friends through Mino. Plus I really represented.. my parents were former communist activists, my father was part of the first MRAP comity (a very important communist french association), his parents were sent in I really felt close to this people, as a jewish musician even if I’m not religious, to this opressed black people.

So the political aspect was strong ?

Absolutly. It was the time. I was 14th during May 68 ! I was a rebellian, just look our faces on the cover (laugh). There was such an excitement, lot of people were hanging aroung orchestras and would be part of this scene, people who became artists or label managers. You didn’t had the passivity you have righ now, the technocratic aspect you find in the actual major labels. For CHUTE LIBRE, what’s incredible, we signed on EMI.. and we made one complete month of studio work twice ! It’s so weird when you listened the final result (rires) Beside our studio you had Telephone who recorded, and on the other one you had the Rolling Stones ! Charlie Watts came, watching us playing, and when we were in the restroom he was like : « So how’s Kenny Clarke ? », cause Clarke lived in France. Everything was possible, you had no bodyguards, no cops in front of the building..

Mick Jagger acted like a star ?

Not at all, we were just chilling in the restroom altogether, watching TV. These guys, they’re common people when you have nobody to watch them (laugh).

Back to the Moravagine influences, I heard that you made studies about Africa, you were interested by this music, and we could feel a sort of US afro jazz influence, labels like Strata East or Black Jazz. I hear in Moravagine hypnotic basslines and afrocentrist influences like we usualy didn’t heard in the “white” european jazz of this era (except maybe in some german records, but they often played with US jazzcats).

Yes it’s possible. We listened everything. And I came in London often, to bring back documentations for my studies. Then I went in Ghana, in Nigeria where I went in FELA RAMSONE KUTI home, he invited me to the « The Shrine ».


It wasn’t exceptionnal at that time. Well at least in France nobody ever heard about FELA. We were tuned with that. I met BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH south-african musicians, people who were connected to the London scene. It was like a mix of all. To that time (75) in Jazz, Be-bop was no more hype and you had only two main expression forms : jazz rock and free jazz.

We even heard in one of the tracks of the album, « Ruhenol »..

..Yes it was a medic. You should be able to get high with that. It was a psychedelic time (laugh).

You used sort of illicit substances to record ?

(laugh) we were young, not junkies at all, we just had fun, maybe it sounds obsolete, but we had some sort of valours, and the fear to go too far. The first Chute Libre sax, Eric Letourneux, died from an overdose at age 20, but it was unusual, we were shocked.

Jazz scene is known for that…

Yes, and I knew very well people who left us since then, but personnaly I came from a very structured family.

Back to « Ruhenol », the outro has a strong brasilian feeling.. The similarity with Cortex is weird, we fell the same influences..

Yes, maybe.. you know it’s a long time since I heard my first record.

(I had the good idea to bring the record and a Fisherprice with me, to let Olivier Hutman listen to his own record, which he hadn’t heard for 20 years!)

When you listen this record, does it sound aged or obsolete to you?

Not at all. When I listen myself right now, I can’t understand how I even… well.. I played quite good! Finally, I tought I played like shit (laugh) But I knew nothing, I didn’t have the “culture” I have right now, all the language. I wouldn’t say it was cheating, but some moments are easy play stuff you know.

When I interviewed jazzmen, they often didn’t understand why their 60s/70s records could appeal right now, that we could play them in parties..

No I wouldn’t say that. I’m just conscious of all the work remaining for me to be an accomplished player. I just began to play in jazz bands, with people like Jean-Lou Longnon or Jef Gilson. By the way it was JEF GILSON who recorded Moravagine. In his own studio in Paris. Anyway I knew nothing, no classics…We didn’t develloped our own harmony sense, it was experimentation ! I see it like that.

Of course, we feel you went in every directions.

It was an era… I don’t know what you think of but…jazz and improvised musics that were around jazz, and even rock music, came to the end of a cycle. We just arrived to a cross between two opposite music : jazz and rock. Since then everything you hear in jazz music isn’t really new. Since the HEADHUNTERS or MARAVISHNU, let me know what was really innovative? I don’t see. But there were a lot of..

…people who went beyond in an already existing style.

Exactly. Jaco Pastorius is maybe the last true innovative musician who appeared and it was at that time.

Are you interested in today’s musics, like hip hop?

About hip hop, it’s a music I really feel, I didn’t know well. And then one day at the end of the 80s I met DJ DEE NASTY, and we became friends. He was a huge CHUTE LIBRE fan. Since then I was featuring in two of his records playing keyboard.

Interview led by Bobwall

Rendez vous to the SHOP/JAZZ section for more infos and soundclips about the Moravagine first and unique LP!

By kind permission of French Attack – All rights reserved 2008