(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
This was the album that started it all for this brilliant Quebec group. The seeds for this project were initially planted in 1972 after the breakup of the band Lasting Weep. Jérôme Langlois and Alain Bergeron decided to stay together and piece-by-piece put together a formidable musical project and named it Maneige. Released on the Harvest label in 1975, the eponymous debut album changed the course of Quebecois music forever. For years this album went unreleased on CD but now after lengthy negotiations with EMI, the ProgQuebec label has released this amazing gem of an album.
The sound of Maneige relied heavily on classical inspiration. I believe that if someone like Stravinsky had put together a progressive rock band in the 70s it would have sounded something like this. There are several key elements that make the music here unique. Jérôme Langlois’ piano provides many of the central themes and he also plays the clarinet frequently. The percussion is another key; Gilles Schetagne is simply phenomenal, not only on the drum kit but also tuned percussion stuff like vibraphone, xylophone, chimes and tubular bells among other things. Jérôme’s brother Vincent was brought into the band to assist in the percussion department. Many folks will notice the Zappa influence in the percussion department; I think Maneige’s stuff may be even better.
Yet another major component is, of course, Alain Bergeron. His flute and sax playing is always imaginative and wonderful. While the other instruments may sometimes overshadow the guitar and bass of Denis Lapierre and Yves Léonard, they do get in a few good licks. The bass is especially prominent in some parts reminding me a bit of Jon Camp from Renaissance.
The CD opens up with the 21-minute Jérôme Langlois composition “Le Rafiot” which originally took up the entire first side of the LP. The track begins with some abstract noise and improvisation for a few minutes before the central piano theme comes in. The piece progresses very nicely and for me it’s one of those things that is over too quickly. Time just stands still when this one plays. There are lots of interesting themes and creative arrangements going on here. I really wish that today’s artists could be half as imaginative as this with the music. About the only downside to this comes at the end when the band goes into the “Frère Jacques” theme. It’s a bit anti-climactic but maybe that’s what they were going for.
The second piece is the dynamic “Une année sans fin” which has some heavier elements amongst the beautiful flute and percussion stuff. Léonard’s bass is particularly rockin’ in some spots. Speaking of Yves, next up is his composition “Jean-Jacques” which is the shortest track on the album but quite possibly the most complex. There are some nice intricate bass and piano parts here. The original album ended with “Galerie III” which was written by Gilles Schetagne and not only contains some grand percussion work but also some nice themes. This is the only track on the album with vocals but they are so brief that they are easily missed. There’s also a guitar solo and some prominent lead guitar work in one part. The album ends in much the same way as it began with the abstract improvisational stuff. Brilliant!
The CD contains two bonus tracks recorded prior to the release of this album and featuring Paul Picard on percussion. The great thing about these tracks (and almost all of the bonus tracks that are on ProgQuebec releases) is that they enhance the original album and are worth listening to for the pleasure and not the “historical value” which I guess they also have. “Tèdetèdetèdet” not only has a totally cool name but some very cool themes from the flute, piano and percussion. The disc ends with a live rendition of “Jean-Jacques” which shows that this band could pull this stuff off perfectly live. These two recordings from a radio broadcast aren’t as clear as the studio pieces but they are still very nice and they are a welcome addition to this release.
As with all of the ProgQuebec discs, this one contains a booklet with plenty of information (in French and English), nice pictures and liner notes. There is even a page with comments from Jérôme Langlois where he goes into various aspects of the band, their influences and the recording situation. If you’ve been waiting for a long time for this one to be released on CD, I probably don’t have to convince you to get this one. As I’ve said before, this band should have been much more popular worldwide than they were. The Maneige debut is a near-perfect album made even better for a modern audience. Don’t let this one go out of print again before getting your copy.