(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
The clarinet wouldn’t exactly be the first instrument most people would think of associated with progressive rock music. It’s not even one of the big mainstays of jazz or classical but it is an absolutely beautiful sounding thing with an almost perfect tone and many times I’ve wondered why it isn’t used more often. Fortunately, Jérôme Langlois did not shy away from using the instrument to great effect in the band Maneige. Along with the flute and vibes, the clarinet was one of the defining ingredients in the band’s style. As you may have guessed if you aren’t already familiar with the band’s music, Maneige weren’t your typical progressive rock band.
Formed in 1972, this band took the Montreal music scene by storm and is now one of the legends of Quebecois progressive rock. Many members of the band (including Langlois) were classically trained and this gave them a unique chamber rock/classical fusion sound. The music is really not as highbrow as it sounds; the band had a very down-to-earth approach to composition and playing.
Maneige released a handful of albums in their all-to-brief lifespan and now this, which is an archival recording made by the band from a series of live shows that they put on at the Hotel Nelson (L’Evêché) in Old Montréal, November 1975. The band had numerous lineups and for these performances they were Jérôme Langlois on clarinet, piano and guitar; Alain Bergeron on flutes, piccolo and saxes; Vincet Langlois (Jérôme’s brother) on percussion and piano; Denis Lapierre on guitars and synthesizer; Yves Léonard on basses; and Gilles Schetagne on drums, percussion and synthesizer. Paul Picard contributes drums and percussion to the two bonus tracks at the end, which were recorded in 1974.
It’s very difficult to convey the sheer beauty of this band with mere words. There are softer passages that suggest a pastoral, almost classical feel, and other moments when they just wail in a heavy jazz style. Some of the heavier jazz bits remind me of the early kraturock bands like Brainstorm or Embryo. Every member gets to show off his particular skills but this isn’t a showcase for soloists; all of the elements fit together seamlessly. A few of the pieces are in the extended range of 20 to 30 minutes in length but they always keep my attention throughout. The shorter tracks are just as powerful. Although there are jazz elements, the pieces have more structure and seem to be composed rather than improvisational. When a band has this much talent it’s hard to tell sometimes.
This is another CD from the outstanding ProgQuebec label. For a company that’s only been around a little over a year, they’ve been able to release some very intense stuff. They’ve become one of my favorite labels and everything they have out is worth checking out. Hopefully their succession of excellent reissues and archival releases won’t end any time soon.