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Harmonium - Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison CD (album) cover

SI ON AVAIT BESOIN D'UNE CINQUIÈME SAISON

Harmonium

 

Symphonic Prog

4.39 | 859 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 10/15P.: a very good album with huge Mellotronic input, but with too unconsistent a sound to be regarded as a masterpiece. There are three shorter folk/jazz pop tunes and two huge progressive epics, and the harmony between these two types of music isn't too continuous

Si On Avait Besoin D'Une Cinquième Saison is one of the forgotten gems of progressive folk and I would surely not have found this album if it hadn't been presented in the top 10 of the Progarchives. Everyone who knows the French language a bit can understand what the general concept of this album is: the musical performance of the four seasons, plus the portrayal of an imaginary fifth season, an epic which takes the most of the total running time and is evidently the center piece of the record. Overall, the music is kept acoustically: besides the omnipresent steel string acoustic guitar and the French vocals we get to hear several wind instruments (flutes, clarinets, saxophones etc.), a plucking bass guitar, some nice tape fooling-arounds, occasional electric and acoustic pianos and - which makes the LP especially interesting for me - the Mellotron. In the short pieces (Spring, Summer and Winter) we do not get to hear it at all, but the two main pieces (Autumn and the fifth season) are nearly brimmed with Mellotron strings. I deliberately didn't mention the drums until here, and this is because there aren't any to be heard here at all, except for some rare percussion. Perhaps you know Principe di un Giorno by the Italian group Celeste: both albums are quite similar in mood and composition, and if you like one of them you will like the other one as well.

The first piece, Vert (Green) - a collaboration of band leader Fiori and guitarist Normandeau - represents the spring and is a dreamy and mellow opener starting off with a leaping flute until the acoustic guitar and the bass guitar enter. Already at this place we can hear that the French-Canadian band is clearly influenced by the French chanson music although the jazzy electric piano which later consorts with the other instruments is somehow more reminiscent of the Canterbury scene, somehow like a mix of Hatfield&The North, Simon & Garfunkel and Genesis in French. Serge Fiori's vocals which have some superb solos in this song are always great and perfectly blend in with the music; in this song this groovy flow of the vocals and vocalizations, like the acrobatic improvisations around the text, is just awesome and creates a positive and happy mood. The second half of the song consists of a jam of the soprano saxophone, flute, the acoustic guitar and the vocals - never without the tape echo effects - on a cool funky and folksy riff.

Dixie, the summer song, is the finger-picking exercise on this record. After some short vocal verses the piece, easily the fastest one of the five seasons, becomes a good-mood-jam with some swift acoustic guitar and zither harp playing (superb backing and solo!), virtuosic piano and clarinet improvisations, one of the finest spoons which I have ever heard and even a short piece of Slavic sounding folklore in the very end.

Depuis L'Automne (Since The Autumn) is the song which touched me most on this LP and is actually a thoroughbred prog folk piece. The beginning, after some somber and creepy synthesizer sounds, attracts as little 'progressive' attention as the other two pieces, starting off gently with an intricate, picking acoustic guitar and Fiori's vocals. But already the second verse is somehow hectic, and who knows about the band's 'sovereignistic' attitude ("We wanted to sing in the street, not to be as lost anymore, pity that this is the street that we have lost") will also know that this is not going to be a singalong song: a strained piano prelude discharges into a celestial mellotron bridge with superb harmony vocals, one of those very short moments - just like parts of Genesis' Trespass - which can transport and express plenty of different feelings problemlessly. The next stanza is acoustic again, but more rhythmical and with a loping bass accompaniment while the next one contains dense, Anthony Phillips-like multitracked guitars and beautiful piano arpeggios. Afterwards the mellotron resumes full power, the restrained bass guitar keeps the rhythm (a very clever idea which saves the piece from disappearing in mist) and an echoed acoustic guitar and a superb soprano saxophone swirl around: classy and entrancing King Crimson feeling without sounding like a rip-off. A reprise of the mellotron bridge leads us to the last part, at first in a slowly crescending instrumental part where an exciting bass/electric piano-riff (does anybody remember Circles by Manfred Mann's Earth Band?) and textless vocals turn around some simple acoustic guitar strumming. The restless coda consists of angry questioning (the same question which in the originaly poem was situated right in the middle of it) where I consider the vocals - or the harmony between the lead and the backing voice - as very exciting.

After this masterpiece the listener gets a short rest with the winter piece of this record, En Pleine Face (On the plain face), for me the most beautiful one of the three shorter pieces on this LP. At first we hear the same melody that was also to be heard before Depuis L'automne, albeit in the higher and faster originally-sped version, played by Marie Bernard on the historic synthesizer instrument Ondes Martenot which is similar to the more popular Theremin and creates a floating tone. This instrument is present in the whole piece and again is the important 'spice' which makes the very good ballad become especially compelling. The chanson can be divided into two parts, the first being a beautiful guitar-vocals part which shows Fiori's undeniable talents as a poet and songwriter ("Another turned page, what a shame for this day. Melt away the ice, or better go away, for it's me who has fallen flat on his plain face"). The winter correlation is self-evident, and the discreet accordeon backing as well as the icy synthesizer wavering do the rest to create this chilly and cold mood. The stomping second part, with a very French-sounding accordeon solo, leaves the singer asking wistfully "Where are you, I don't hear hear you anymore, where are you?" on to the fade-out. Quite a nice ending!

Actually the year would be over now, but si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison, i.e., if we needed a fifth season, and - at least on this record - we do, the big opus follows.

Histoires Sans Paroles (Stories without words), la plâte de résistance of this record. This one may have the biggest prog relation of all, an instrumental epic which is Mellotron-drenched all over. The storyline seems to deal with the isolation and reunion of a couple and a grand prom afterwards; quite interesting to express this merely instrumentally.

Again, the beginning ("L'Isolement (Isolation)) remains charming and beautiful with sea sounds, acoustic guitar and a fine arrangement for two flutes. Then secretly the mellotron and a sparkling piano appear in the background, but after two and a half minutes the mellotron starts to lead the whole piece in majestic windrows, pulverizing into a flaky, more driving and accelerating part (L'appel (The Plea)) with piano arpeggios and well-divided acoustic guitar arrangements which somehow always reminds me of the "Fortuna" part of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. But when the dissonant zither and flute lines enter at 5:04, the opus completely drifts into surreality and takes the listener into a symphonic and slightly psychedelic dream-scape, again with the mellotron as the lead stallion which leaves all the other instruments behind at 6:53. Not later than at this place the Mellotron fanatics will surely float on cloud nine, but again the group doesn't sink down in kitsch, but goes on to a short vocal part (La Rencontre (The Meeting)) featuring Judy Richard who does some beautiful vocalizations to a romantic piano backing. The mellotron and a low-register-recorder enter again and Mme Richard heightens her voice more and more - a very fine moment of this piece. At 10 minutes 30 the band prepares the last part of the piece, a fast, swinging 3/4-waltz (L'union (The Union)) which begins with some very fine, dissonant and mellow Robert Fripp-like guitars while the sea sounds of the beginning add more texture. In general this piece reminds me of King Crimson's Lizard quite a lot. Gradually, the acoustic guitar which virtually sounds like a harpsichord at this place, the flute, the piano and the saxophone come in and dance around this rhythm while especially the improvisations of the soprano saxophone are incredible and not short of those which Mel Collins did for King Crimson.

The big finale starts at 14:40 where Le grand Bal (The Big Prom) begins: just like in "Lizard" the piece ends with carnival-esque music, although here it isn't as strange - at least the band stops at the place where the Mellotron accompaniment starts to become quite surreal. After some new themes the leitmotif from the very beginning, played by two flutes, is also reprised in this 3/4-measure until the end.

Overall this album is a very fine one which I really like listening to. Yet, I wouldn't call it a masterpiece. The band achieves a celestial standard with Depuis L'Automne which the other pieces cannot really maintain. Especially Histoires sans Paroles is, though being quite nice, a bit too 'loose': the autumn track (Depuis L'Automne) touches me more - probably because it combines the infatuating soundscapes with the poetic chanson beauty. Perhaps I also didn't listen to the "Histoires" as frequently as I actually ought to. Anyway, at this moment this is a really good three star rating overall; this album is a fine addition to listeners of acoustic symphonic prog (Celeste, Anthony Phillips, King Crimson). Mellotron lovers will of course love this record, and as well the others - if they do not necessarily need the "rock" in "prog" - will be satisfied. Compared to Celeste's "Principe di un Giorno" the shorter tracks on this album are closer to pop music. The problem isn't that these pieces are worse or more boring, but there are simply two different types of songs - i.e., epics and 'chansons' - which can be found on this album. In my opinion, this record is simply hyped too much: it's a good addition to any progressive record collection, but not the real masterpiece. But listen to "Depuis l'Automne" and decide for yourself if this is what you like.

A hint from my side: also look for this album at Amazon or somewhere else under the name "Les Cinq Saisons", it may be a bargain - at the moment (2009) the price is about $11. It is completely the same album, but the missing of a band and album title resulted in some naming problems so that there is more than one title for this record.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |

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