Frank Ocean’s sophomore studio LP, Boys Don’t Cry, is one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year. After debuting strong with Channel Orange — which scooped up the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2013 — Ocean knows expectations are high. So he's been working on the upcoming release — it’s slated to drop in July — partially at the famed Abbey Road studios in London. It’s there that he worked with French pianist and composer, Christophe Chassol.
For the uninitiated, Chassol’s work is marked by innovation and arthouse appeal. That translates to: If you’re super into experimental jazz and music theory, he’s your guy. In his review of Chassol’s 2013 India-inspired album, Indiamore, The Guardian’s Robin Denselow called the LP “a set that is often easier to admire than enjoy.”
Frank Ocean and his pal Diplo are certainly admirers. That’s how he got to work on Boys Don’t Cry. He told Gilles Peterson on BBC Radio 6 Music, “Ocean invited me to Abbey Road to record on his album. I asked him when I came, ‘How he heard about me?’ He told me his friend Diplo was listening a lot to Indiamore, and they started to listen to it, and they were wondering how I was doing the speech harmonization, so he called me. He asked me to do some speech harmonization on a song with him. After a while, it was cool and he was like, 'Yeah, but we have to find another way because you already did it.’ ”
The son a saxophone player/bus driver, Chassol’s love of music started early. His father would go to the Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris to learn music and he began sending Christophe there starting at age 4. At 20, Christophe won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since then he’s pursued music as a vocation.
The fact that Ocean has chosen Chassol to collaborate on his album bodes well for Boys Don’t Cry. Ocean’s never been afraid to do something experimental and go out on a limb. Chassol’s all about experimentation, but with a sufficient amount of polish. His two albums, X-Pianos and Indiamore, are slick and well produced—far from the lo-fi bedroom recordings you expect when you hear “experimental jazz.”
As for working with Ocean, Chassol has only the best to say:
"The guy is smart. He’s really smart. The way he works in the studio is really cool. He has a printer, he has a lot of pictures of architecture, contemporary art, a lot of pictures of different kinds of things. So we start to work on a track and he says, this track is this—that car that you can see.
“He makes me work on a song, and I'm like, 'Oh this sounds like Pino Donaggio's score for Blow Out, by Brian Depalma.' I start to work on a song and five minutes later on the pro-tools screen you have the movie, the score, stretched to fit the song — just to try. I’ve never worked with that much money in music. It's good sometimes to have money, because you can try things."