Photographs of Motels

The new jazz album from Dr. Marigaux…

I don’t usually play jazz, so this album is probably a bit of an exception.

Get the album on Bandcamp…

The plot of the 1957 film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud turns on a set of photos taken in a motel room. Photographs taken at the scene of the crime. A while ago, I started taking photos of every motel or hotel room I stayed in. The set is strangely evocative – empty rooms, usually with a double bed, sometimes at night, others in the morning with the bed unmade. When you look at them for a while they start to feel spooky. What else has happened in that room, on that bed?

This album started with me listening almost obsessively to Miles’ soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. As a record it is seriously flawed: the tunes don’t really develop, some of them don’t end properly, and the album is really a bit of a mess. This was never intended to be an album, and was only ever intended to be used in the film, and it’s not Mile’s regular band – a group of French pickup musicians. But it’s damn cool.

This album ended up being a sort of dry run for Kind of Blue, but actually, I prefer it. Maybe I’ve just heard Kind of Blue too many times. Ascenseur pour l’échafaud has a more consistent emotional tone, and feel is the epitome, the apex, of cool. I wanted to try and get that kind of emotion.

At the same time I was listening to Billie Holiday’s second-to-last album Lady in Satin. This is another album that should be dreadful, but somehow rises above the sum of its parts to become genius. Billie was on her last legs when she made this record, drinking from a pitcher of gin through the recording sessions (which were set to start at 10 pm, but Billie never showed before midnight). There’s syrupy strings all over it –  in 1959 they thought this was classy.

It’s Billie’s voice that saves it. She doesn’t have much range, and the songs were all new to her, but her natural musicianship pulls her through. Her voice is cracked and broken, but full of soul, and she floats through the melodies, turning sows’ ears into silk purses. For many people I think the backing will be off putting – but when you focus into her voice, and the way she shapes and re-shapes the melodies, well, there’s gold in there.

These two albums are deeply flawed, but both speak to me in a way that “better” albums do not.

So that was the inspiration for Photographs of Motels. I started by watching the film that Miles’ album was intended for, and worked at re-imagining what I would do for that film. I used some of the titles of Miles’ album, but also drew inspiration from the feel of the scenes that they belong to. Several of the tunes (Jeanne Moreau, Citroën DS, Night on Champs Élysées) are based on the scene where Jeanne Moreau walks through Paris at night.

There’s a couple of Billie’s tunes (Don’t Explain and Love for Sale) as well as a song about her (Lady Day was the nickname Lester young bestowed on her).

So this is a bit of a departure for me, a trip back into mainstream-ish jazz. I’m already close to finishing the next album – Voodoo Soul which will head back into the genre of weird and twisted R&B. I’ve tried to keep this one fairly mellow (because the next one is not mellow at all). Hope you like Photographs of Motels.