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Harmonium - L'Heptade CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.10 | 312 ratings

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4 stars This double-album has seven songs (heptá is Greek for seven) segued with short instrumentals composed by Neil Chotem, a classical and jazz pianist, composer and arranger. The album's concept is "the seven levels of consciousness of a person through his daily life". The lyrics (in Quebec French) are philosophical and often introspective, and to me sometimes sound at odds with the music itself (possibly intended to be ironic or sardonic?).

By the way, the sleeve notes list a John Williams as responsible for artistic direction for the group's record label CBS. Is that the John Williams?

My overall impression is that the music sounds very dated, reminding me in several places of some of the mainstream music of the 1960s and early 1970s. But that is not a bad thing in itself and there are some pleasant tunes and sounds on these two discs. It makes for easy listening but I do find it unnecessarily long, even making allowances for the concept. I think the whole thing is rather pretentious, and that the group were overly ambitious and trying too hard to guild the lily (the lily being the group's previous album). If half stars were possible I'd award this double-album 3.5 stars but, as they're not, I'll bump it up to 4 stars (excellent addition to any progressive music collection) although I don't feel it is truely excellent. I'm happy enough to have this in my collection -- it is good -- but I'm not certain I would have bought it had I heard the whole thing before parting with my cash, and I find it a disappointment after hearing "Les Cinq Saisons".

Here's a rundown of the music on the two discs:

The short instrumental pieces written by Neil Chotem -- who also composes and arranges music for radio, TV and film -- are predominantly orchestral and sound like scores. These pieces are preludes to the songs (finale, in the case of 'Épilogue'). "Sounds like old movie music", commented one of my children. In fact 'Prologue' reminds me of the soundtracks of those 1950s Walt Disney nature films. 'Sommeil Sans Rêves' sounds very like atmospheric film music. The others are not as memorable. Anyway, in summary these instrumentals are OK but nothing special in my opinion.

'Comme Un Fou' is quite pleasant. Serge Fiori has such a good voice and fills it with emotion. There is a girlie choir and the track sounds rather like a Burt Bacharach composition and arrangement, in fact it reminds me a little of his score for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. There is a very dated feel to the track; in fact there is a very dated feel to much of the music on the two discs (rather a 1960s popular music style). In one place I hear what sounds to me like Ondes Martinet or Theramin, although neither are mentioned in the sleeve notes. The track has different moods; one part rocks up and sounds almost like 1960s Italian pop. There is also some pleasing, buzzing synthesizer and it mixes well with the orchestral backing.

Despite the lyrics, to me the music of 'Chanson Noire (Le Bien, Le Mal)' sounds anything but. Some of the music is reminiscent of Brazilian Bossa Nova and sambinha. 'Chanson Noire (Pour Un Blanche Cérémonie)' has Fiori sounding like a crooner in an upmarket cabaret. It's a pleasant, jazzy song nonetheless, with the girlie choir ooh-oohing in the background. Whistle-along stuff. The style of music, the alto sax and the girlie choir all make it sound to me like a Billy Joel song at times.

'Le Premier Ciel' starts as a slow, sad-sounding song with orchestral and bass backing, later becoming an upbeat 1960s/1970s pop-sounding number with girlie choir backing and vocalisations. The lyrics are certainly not poppy, though. Nice tune. Then it funks up and reminds me of Patti La Belle's 'Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi'. The guitar and other parts of the track also remind me of something: Fleetwood Mac, possibly. Anyway, it's pleasant too. Buzzing (but rather good) synthesizer adds a nice touch to the long instrumental part of the track; I'm a big synthesizer fan, so this, which is Emerson-like, is a treat. The drumming, synthesizer and orchestra give a big band sound to the end of the song.

'L'Exil' is possibly the best song on the two discs, and is nearer to the quality of the song writing on "Les Cinq Saisons". It's a melancholic number, and what sounds to me like Ondes Martinet or Theramin (although not mentioned in the sleeve notes) in one place adds to this mood. Then the song ups tempo and becomes a bopping circus-march (not matched by the lyrics), and rather nice it is too. The track draws to a close with a big band sound and finishes with the celeste simulating a musical box.

Disc 2 starts with 'Le Corridor' and the gorgeous voice of Monique Fauteux backed by equally gorgeous Rhodes piano. This could almost have been a Carpenters number, and I don't mean that pejoratively. The synthesized Mellotron later in the track is also gorgeous. The sweeping orchestra that fades out at the end sounds very like film music again (reminds me of Gone With The Wind, actually).

'Lumières De Vie' is a melancholic number backed by strings and some very nice acoustic guitar. The song and the orchestral backing give it a mainstream 1960s feel.

'Comme Un Sage' also has a mainstream sound, very like some of Bacharach's mellow stuff, complete with girlie choir (sounding gorgeous, it has to be said) providing Fiori with backing and the refrain. The orchestral backing is again present in places, also sounding very 1960s mainstream. Near the end, the track has a big band sound that could have come straight from a Broadway show. Although this track has a pleasant theme, it's no masterpiece and I find it the weakest song on the two discs.

Fitzcarraldo | 4/5 |


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