When I last reviewed a Maneige disc it was for their brilliant recording Les Porches Live. At the end of my review I mentioned that I had hopes that the folks responsible for these excellent Québec music re-issues, ProgQuébec, would be releasing the bands first two albums in the near future. Well they have indeed finally made this a reality, and by getting the self titled debut, as well as the group's second album Les Porches out to the public, these long out of print treasures can now be enjoyed once again by music lovers everywhere. If you're new to the band and aren't necessarily aware of Maneige's rich musical legacy, not to worry because here, at the beginning is a perfect place to start.
After band founder, pianist and clarinet player Jérôme Langlois disbanded his previous band Lasting Weep in 1972 he continued composing material and working with Weep alumni, flute and sax player Alain Bergeron, developing themes for a song entitled "Le Rafiot". Afterwards Langlois asked drummer Gilles Schetagne (another guest musician with Lasting Weep) as well as bassist Yves Léonard to join his new project. After just one show as a quartet Langlois quickly realized that this ambitious new material would require more than one person to handle the complex percussive elements, so Paul Picard was drafted into the fold, eventually replaced by the time of this debut recording by Jérôme's brother Vincent (piano, percussion). The band's soundman Denis Lapierre signed on, becoming the group's guitarist and thus Maneige was born in 1974.
The aforementioned side long Jérôme Langlois composition "Le Rafiot" certainly starts things off in a rather dramatic and original fashion. After approximately four minutes of experimental sounding wind like effects set the opening stages, the piece kicks into high gear with some brilliant, tandem flute and piano work which sweep and dive, clearly defining the early stages of this twenty minute plus epic. While in many regards this track probably owes a lot more sound and style wise to Lasting Weep then to what Maneige's overall sound would eventually develop into, this was to be somewhat expected as Maneige were still in the early stages of finding their musical legs as an outfit. Nevertheless all Lasting Weep comparisons aside, this track is an absolutely engaging and musically diverse composition which keeps the listener enraptured for all twenty one minutes and forty nine seconds. While Langlois readily admits the band was influenced by such British progressive outfits as Soft Machine, Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull to name only a few, you'd be hard pressed to find them blatantly exploiting these influences here, instead the musicians relied on their classical musical backgrounds to propel them forward in their pursuit to create original sounding music. "Le Rafiot" is a perfect example of this in that it's a completely diverse musical voyage which possesses a bold amount of almost cinematic like tension which is full of both high and low moments. For arguments sake you cannot knock this track for originality as it stands proudly on its own. After such a captivating and grand opening statement you'd expect that possibly the next three songs could be a bit of a letdown, well it's not the case. The second track "Une Année Sans Fin", a Gilles Schetagne penned track, features not only more of Bergeron's delicate flute work, but also plenty of very chunky and meaty sounding bass and guitar work overtop the light and vibrant percussion. "Jean-Jacques" is up next and this is another splendid flute driven track which explodes towards the end into an almost King Crimson Islands-era, jam with an abundance of Fripp like notes as well as some fervent sax work. The last track on the album proper is another Schetagne composition which once again relies on complex and intricate arrangements and plenty of abstract reed work both at the beginning as well as the end of this seven minute song.
As with all of the recent Maneige re-issues a few bonus tracks are tacked onto the end of the disc. The two songs included here are live in the studio recordings recorded in 1974 which actually predate the album. You not only get a live rendition of "Jean-Jacques" but also one of the bands first ever compositions "Tédetédetédet", a percussive tour-de force that was never released on any Maneige album. It's no secret that the band absolutely flourished in concert as they enjoyed not only being able to stretch out musically, but they directly fed off of the audience's reactions to their music, which give it much of it's improvisational feel. That being said, even though this was the first studio recording for the band, and they were not used to breaking down their songs and recording the sections of each song separately, the music captured here doesn't sound restrained or the least bit stifled. If anything it's great to hear this music, which remarkably still sound fresh and original today over thirty years after it was originally recorded.
1) Le Rafiot
2) Une Année Sans Fin
4) Galerie III
5) Tédetédetédet (Live Bonus Track 1974)
6) Jean-Jacques (Live Bonus Track 1974)