Mike McLatchey 13-September-2002 Overview

Phil et Emmanuelle Fromont - La Maumariee (1974)
Parrenin Fromont Lefebvre - Chateau dans les Nuages (1976)
Emmanuelle Parrenin - Maison Rose (1977)

Progressive/cosmic Breton-styled folk of uncommon originality, the music of singer/instrumentalist Emmanuelle Parrenin is absolutely essential listening. The three albums reviewed here are of exquisite beauty, crystal fragility, great instrumental depth, and are notable for their increasingly not-so-traditional take on folk musics, a theme witnessed by the impressive number of unconventional folk artists for whom Parrenin would guest throughout the 70s.

La Maumariee is probably considered Emmanuelle Parrenin's first solo album, although she appears here with instrumentalist/vocalist Phil Fromont. Heavily traditional, the majority of the music here is well-played ancient folk music similar to early Malicorne or other bands in the Hexagone stable. Violins, violas, guitars, pipes, and many other instruments are handled by the two musicians with skill, performing the typically diverse array of traditionals from exciting upbeat instrumentals to somber ballads. Parrenin even gets to shine on the a capella solo piece "Le Jardinier du Couvent," demonstrating her unique and exquisitely beautiful voice. Already, the musicians were exploring the similarities between musical cultures with the aptly titled "Epinette et Darbouka," a piece that would foreshadow the incorporation of eastern music into European folk realms. However, of the three titles here, this one remains the closest to a traditional folk album, however creatively executed it is, and would likely only be appreciated by those who have no problem with purer forms of folk music.

On Chateau dans les Nuages, the duo of Parrenin amd Fromont is joined by Claude Lefebvre, all three playing a wide variety of instruments, both conventional and traditional, with occasional accompaniment by guest musicians on piano, tabla, and contrebasse. The title track "Chateau dans les Nuages" sounds like any one of 50 Breton folk bands, with violin and bombarde. "La Sirene" borrows from totally different musical influences, with prevalent tabla (by Patricio Villaroel) and modal vocals. It is squarely Middle Eastern and an exotically haunting song. "Voulant Cueillir la Rose" is a traditional folk piece, similar to early Malicorne, but its follower "Taffetas" is like a cross between Breton folk and cosmic music. The oblique atmospheric mix of cyclic acoustic guitar, bombarde, and violin takes the first part of this track far away from most conventional folk music. The effect is eery and poignant. The bowed bass and strange floating feel make up the middle section and end piece, the finale disintegrating on the fade-out. "Ballade en Foret" brings back Parennin's wonderful vocals, a beautiful song in a tradition similar to the second track "La Sirene," but with a nod to the English folk group Magic Carpet. This is a piece of ethereal beauty, one of the many high points of the album. "Berceuse pour Rosemary" sets up a drone, with wordless vocals in a modal fashion, hypnotizing and trancelike. It has a traditional feel, but the melodies are very unusual and incredibly captivating. "La Sorciere" portrays more of Parennin's incomparable vocals; her use of scales is totally unconventional and her delivery shows both talent and study, a virtual split between the traditional French and exotic eastern styles of the album. "Goura Badidai" is an oddly-rendered piece with a strong violin rhythm and heavy lyrical content. The final track, "Tango Emilio," is strangely conventional, a song that brings in many different elements of the musicians' combined world-music influences, featuring a strong east-european flair led by piano, vocals and violin.

Parrenin's solo album Maison Rose is a continuation of this amalgam of musical history, an album that for one side seems to alternate between a spacey ancient Breton sound and delicate ballads. It opens with "Ce Matin a Fremontel," a drone similar to "Berceause pour Rosemary" yet spacier and strongly Celtic. "Leiturge" and "Ritournelle" (tracks 3 and 5) are also in this vein, a really great blend of Teutonic-like spaceyness (like Between or early Deuter) and French folk tradition. Parrennin's vocals are clearer on this album, immediately noticeable on "Plume Blanche, Plume Noir" a song featuring nice acoustic guitar and touches from more exotic instrumentation. Of great beauty is "Chibault et l'Arbre d'Or" (track 4), one of Parennin's most notable vocal songs. "L'Echarpe de Soie" is a small instrumental piece with acoustic guitar, which goes by very quickly. "Copaze" reminds me of the weird pagan feel of Comus' First Utterance or Third Ear Band and is unique (for Parennin) in its use of drums. A very nice track, it shows clearly Parrenin's exploratory musical interests. "Belle Virgine" is another showcase for vocals, yet this track brings together both styles of the album in a cohesive whole. "Ballade avec Neptune" is instrumental with a crystal-like fragility. The title track is a multi-tracked vocal piece, totally extraordinary, with the lead voice surrounded by a dissonant wordless choral. "Apres l'Ondee" is absolutely awesome, a breathtaking almost indescribable ambient sound; like a weird trip back to early Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze on "Blackdance," the sound vibrates the walls with its intensity. It seems whatever tactic Parrenin takes, the results are stunning and visionary. The finale "Le Reve" is a flashback to the general area of "La Sorciere" from the prior album. It is absolutely resonant.

Of the three albums reviewed here, only Maison Rose is currently in CD format, having been recently reissued by Musea. Emmanuelle Parrenin would find her talents utilized on many a French folk-related release, including appearances on albums by Melusine, Gentiane, and La Confrerie des Fous, so these three albums are not the only places to witness her extraordinary talents. In a veritable treasure chest of French folk gems, these three albums (and particularly the latter two) are amongst the most valuable.

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