Cult Classic: Airto Fogo-Airto Fogo.

During the seventies, Paris born drummer and percussionist Sylvain Krief was one of France’s top musicians. He was also a talented composer, arranger and producer who founded and lead two bands. The first of these bands was Rupture, who released the spiritual jazz classic Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue in 1973. 

Three years later in 1976, Sylvain Krief had founded a new band Airto Fogo, who had recorded a new album at Studio Davout in Paris. Little did they know that when Airto Fogo was released by Decca in 1976, it would go onto to become a cult classic. 

Nowadays, Airto Fogo is regarded as one of the greatest instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums committed to vinyl in Europe. However, while Airto Fogo was popular within the jazz-funk and rare groove community, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. As a result, copies of the original album are extremely hard to find, and nowadays, change hands for upwards of £250. What is a  timeless cult classic transports the listener back to Paris, in 1976.

Three years after the release of Rupture’s critically acclaimed debut album Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue in 1973, drummer and percussionist Sylvain Krief was working on a new project, Airto Fogo. It would be an album of jazz-funk, which would feature some of Paris’ top musicians. Already, Sylvain Krief who had adopted the moniker Airto Fogo, had penned five tracks, Right On Bird, Tuesday In Jackson, Satine Dog, 1973 Carmne Avenue and Just Over. Three other tracks would feature on the album, including Lee Smocky’s High Stakers and On Tip Toe. They were joined by Shadowy and So Be It, which were penned by Gil Pawnee which it has been rumoured is an alias for bassist Gilles Papiri. These nine tracks would be recorded at Studio Davout, in Paris in 1976.

For the recording sessions, Airto Fogo had hand picked a band that featured some of Paris’ top musicians. Joining drummer and percussionist Arto Fago in the rhythm section was bassist Gilles Papiri. They were joined by Michel Coeuriot who switched between piano, keyboards and synths, while Jean Schultheis played percussion. The horn section featured saxophonist Jean-Pierre Thirault, trumpeter Kako Bessot and trombonist Christian Guizien. Lead by drummer, Airto Fogo the multitalented group combined jazz-funk with elements of Blaxploitation and Latin. Airto Fogo was a potent and heady brew, that should’ve proven successful.

When Airto Fogo was released later in 1976, it was to the same critical acclaim that accompanied Rapture’s Israel Suite/Dominante En Blue. However, while Airto Fogo found an audience amongst the jazz-funk and rare groove communities in France, Britain and Canada, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. It was an underground album, at a time when disco was growing in popularity. As a result, many jazz, funk and soul albums weren’t finding the audience they so richly deserved. That was the case with Airto Fogo.

It was only much later that Airto Fogo started to find a wider audience. Partly, this was due to DJs at jazz-funk and rare groove club nights spinning tracks from Airto Fogo. Suddenly, dancers wanted to know what was the track they were dancing to. Many DJs were reluctant to reveal what was one of their secret weapons, reluctantly revealed that it was Airto Fogo. Soon, dancers and DJs were searching for their own copy of Airto Fogo. Meanwhile, the internet introduced record buyers across the world to Airto Fogo. However, finding a copy was almost impossible. Those who had a copy of the album weren’t selling, and collectors had bought up remaining copies. Suddenly, original French copies of Airto Fogo were changing hands for upwards of £250. Records collectors were desperate to add a copy of Airto Fogo to their collection. No wonder, as it’s one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums. Here’s why:

Right On Bird opens Airto Fogo, and finds Airto Fogo toying with the listener. Tough keyboards join with a funky bass before a blazing saxophone soars above the arrangement. Soon, so do the rest of the horns, while thunderous drums power the arrangement along. Still, the keyboards and bass add a tough, funky sound. It’s omnipresent as the blazing horns dominate the arrangement. Then the saxophone breaks free, it unleashes a scorching solo. When it drops out, the drums nudge the arrangement along before the horns return. That’s until the saxophone breaks free one last time, and reaches new heights, as Airto Fogo powers his way around his drum kit accompanied by the tough, funky sound that comes courtesy of the bass and keyboards. All too soon, this blistering, blazing slice of jazz-funk is over, but it’s set the bar high for the rest of the album.

A dark pulsating keyboard opens High Stakers before the rhythm section, machine gun guitar and blazing horns are joined by stabs of shimmering Fender Rhodes. Soon, Airto Fogo is in full flight, and are unleashing their musical arsenal. This includes synths, choppy, funky guitar licks and glistening Fender Rhodes. Later, a growling synth takes centre-stage, adding a proto-boogie sound, while horns soar above the arrangement as the rhythm section power the cinematic track along. It sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a seventies cop show. Meanwhile, horns and synths continue to play a leading role as Airto Fogo fuse jazz-funk, funk, fusion and proto-boogie before this uber funky and memorable cinematic opus reaches a crescendo.

Straight away, the rhythm section lock into a groove and provide the heartbeat to Tuesday In Jackson. They’re joined by growling, blazing horns,  while a guitar wah-wahs and keyboards add a tough sound to the arrangement. By then, the rhythm section and horns are playing as one. They’re augmented by the guitar and  keyboards who play important roles. Then midway through the track when a funky synth takes centre-stage, and is augmented by percussion. As the arrangement rebuilds,  the synth still enjoys its moment in the sun. When it drops out, blazing horns,  funky guitar and keyboards unite and Airto Fogo are in full flight. That’s still the case when the synth returns, and adds the finishing touch to  this uber funky track.

Gradually, the arrangement to Satine Dog builds, with instruments being added at just the right time. At first, a lone bass plays and is joined by stabs of growling horns, a Fender Rhodes, drums and a funky, chiming guitar. The final part of the musical jigsaw is the synth which again, takes centre-stage. It’s played slowly but effectively adding a cinematic sound as Airto Fogo jam. When the synth drops out, stabs of synths add an element of drama before the Fender Rhodes makes a brief appearance. Dramatic horns signal the return of the synth, which at one point, is joined by the Fender Rhodes, before this jam reaches a memorable and cinematic crescendo. 

A dark piano is joined by Latin percussion On Tip Toe. Soon, the rhythm section and searing guitar are joined by the horns. They play as one, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, and are joined by keyboards and a rocky guitar. When Airto Fogo apply the brakes, all that remains is percussion. That’s until Airto Fogo kick loose and a searing guitar, rhythm section and horns power this soulful slice of Latin-tinged jazz-funk towards the finishing line. In doing so, they create one of the highlights of Airto Fogo.

Stabs of horns, the rhythm section and a funky guitar open 1973 Carmen Avenue. They’re determined to grab the listener’s attention. Having done so, keyboards join with a jazz-tinged guitar and the Fender Rhodes. It’s the guitar that takes centre-stage, and unleashes a fleet finger solo. Fingers fly up and down the fretboard, while keyboards, horns and the Fender Rhodes join with the rhythm section which provides the heartbeat. However, it’s the guitar that steals the show, with what’s akin to a breathtaking musical masterclass. It encourages Airto Fogo to reach new heights.

Horns growl and climb slowly above the arrangement to Shadowy.  They’re joined by a rasping synth, chirping, chiming guitar and deliberate keyboards. Meanwhile, the rhythm section prove the heartbeat as the horns and synth play leading roles. Later, a blistering guitar enjoys its moment in the sun. So too do the  keyboards, albeit briefly. After that, the horns dominate the arrangement, and the rest of Airto Fogo play a supporting role, before Shadowy reaches its dramatic and memorable conclusion.

There’s an element of drama to So Be It, as a snarling synth joins with percussion, keyboards and rhythm section. The arrangement meanders menacingly along. When the horns and funky guitar enter, it’s all change. Suddenly, the darkness is gone. However, when the horns drop out, the dark, menacing sound returns as the arrangement prowls along. That’s until the return of the horns, and darkness gives way to light. Midway through the track, there’s a brief detour via jazz and Latin as the ever progressive Airto Fogo showcase their versatility. Seamlessly, they switch between genres, and at one point there’s a nod to the Blaxploitation soundtracks of early seventies. Later, an effects laden, funky guitar joins with keyboards and percussion before the horns soar dramatically above the arrangement. The guitar returns and joins with squealing horns as this innovative, genre-melting track reaches a dramatic ending.

Closing Airto Fogo is Just Over, where the thunderous drums anchor the 4/4 arrangement as a squawking bass, chiming guitar and tough keyboards join with the Fender Rhodes. Soon, the horns are added, and it’s obvious that they’re the final piece of the jigsaw. Airto Fogo lock down the groove and jam, playing as one. That’s until a scorching saxophone solo is unleashed. Soon, though, Airto Fogo is playing as one. While the horns play an important in Airto Fogo’s sound, the keyboards, guitar and bass all play starring roles in this melodic, memorable and dance-floor  track. It seems that Airto Fogo have kept the best until last.

Just Over is one of nine reasons why Airto Fogo is, without doubt, one of the finest  European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums ever released. That may seem like high praise, but Airto Fogo is an almost flawless opus, where some of Paris’ top musicians create a cult classic in 1976. Sadly, Airto Fogo was the only album they recorded.

There was no followup to Airto Fogo, which was released by Decca, in 1976. Sylvain Krief who founded and lead Airto Fogo, decided not to record a sophomore album. Maybe that was for the best? After all, it would’ve been almost impossible to improve on Airto Fogo. The starts were all aligned when Airto Fogo was recorded and they had recorded an album that forty-one years later is regarded as the holy grail for collectors of European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums.

That is no surprise given the quality of music on Airto Fogo. It’s primarily an album of jazz-funk and rare groove, but also incorporates elements of funk and fusion to jazz, Latin and rock. Seamlessly, the multitalented and versatile Airto Fogo switch between and combine disparate genres. In doing so, they create music veers between dark and dramatic, to joyous and uplifting, to melodic, memorable and dance-floor friendly. Sometimes, the music has a cinematic quality and on a couple of occasions sounds as if it belongs on a seventies police drama. Having said that, the music on Airto Fogo is truly timeless and forty-one years later, sound just as good as the day it was released.

Nowadays, Airto Fogo is receiving the recognition they so richly deserve for releasing one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums. Having received the recognition it so richly deserved, there’s been another resurgence of interest in Airto Fogo. However,  it’s almost impossible to find a copy of Airto Fogo nowadays, and those that become available, change hands for upwards of £250. It’s an epic album and a cult classic that is also one of the greatest European instrumental jazz-funk and rare groove albums ever recorded. 

Cult Classic: Airto Fogo-Airto Fogo.


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