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AD VIELLE QUE POURRA "Menage A Quatre" Zenophile 4048

Hailing from Canada, this quartet boasts of its eclecticism, a liner note declaiming "Down with musical apartheid!". It's true they mix flavours from Quebec and mainland France liberally with more than a pinch of Balkan and Middle Eastern spice, and thrust together early music influences with distinctly modern elements, but the end result hangs together so well that you can hardly see the joins; no clumsily self-conscious "fusion", this.

Central to the sound is the hurdy-gurdy, played by two band members at times simultaneously (I think - even one of the things makes such a racket it's difficult to tell!) with its bitingly rhythmic melody lines and eerie drones. Pierre Imbert is the enfant terrible of the instrument, on one track amplifying it in the best traditions of distorted-to-the-edge-of-feedback electric guitar and coming on like Steve Hillage on a particularly bad trip. Fellow gurdyist Daniel Thonon doubles on melodeon - usually the smoothly cross-rowed French-style diatonique rather than the Quebecois one-row - as well as clarinet, bagpipes and so forth, and claims many of the composer credits, for while this is a traditionally-rooted band, much of the music is original. Colour and rhythmic backbone are supplied by very tasty guitar from Jean-Louis Cros, and mandocello or fiddle by Alain Leroux. Their instrumental skills are uniformly high throughout.

The seventeen tracks range across graceful waltzes and bourrees with more than a hint of swing and jazz, to tarantella, Jewish and Greek music, and not forgetting Quebec dance tunes; there's a glorious moment on "Un Froncas au Kebak" where an atmospheric hurdy-gurdy solo segues via some reflective guitar twiddling into a full-blooded reel with piano, foot-tapping, and flying gurdy leading the line. Elsewhere things get more abstract, with compositions like Imbert's hypnotic trance-music "Les Bois Noirs". Ad Vielle isn't primarily a singing band, indeed the vocals are a little stodgy in places, but the trad. adaptation "La Fille Du Marechal" works very nicely. It's a sophisticated. many-layered album that repays repeated listenings, and I don't hesitate to recommend it.

Brian Peters

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.