Harmonium: Si On Avait Besoin D’une Cinquième Saison (1975)
Harmonium is highly regarded in progressive rock circles, those that is, those aware of the prog rock scene in Quebec. The band formed in 1973 with Serge Fiori, Michel Normandeu, and Louis Valois (basically handling guitars and vocals, except Valois who was the bassist) and in 1974 released their self-entitled debut, which was largely a folk-rock album, but earned them popularity in Quebec. Shortly thereafter, the band expanded to feature keyboardist Serge Locat and saxist/flautist Pierre Daigneault. There’s also two guests, Judy Richard doing some vocalizations on “Histoire Sans Parole”, and Marie Bernard Pagé providing some Odnes Martonet (an early electronic prototype) on “En Pleine Face” (Pagé was also a member of Et Cetera, a Gentle Giant-like prog rock band who released their one and only album in 1976, in which she puts the Odnes Martenot to good use on that album).
The band certainly had their ambitions put high on their second album (it took the Strawbs, another band with folk origins, although sounding nothing like Harmonium, about five albums in a three year time period before they became progressive) adding a progressive slant, adding a ton of Mellotron on two key cuts, but still remaining acoustic and without a drummer. The album in question is Si On Avait Besoin D’une Cinquième Saison, or simply Les Cinq Saisons for short, basically their take on the four seasons (much like Antonio Vivaldi, but without any references to his music), plus that imagined “fifth season”. “Vert” starts off with some echoey flute, but then the acoustic guitars kicks in and vocals (in French). Really great piece with some nice electric piano, and I really like the part where they give some nice sax and electric piano work. “Dixie” is a strange mixture of their unique progressive rock/folk sound and Dixieland (especially the clarinet) which works surprisingly well. Then comes the first epic on the album, “Depuis L’automne”. It starts off with more of that folk Quebecois singing, but then the Mellotron kicks in showing that the band was not another folk group. That Mellotron really blows me away! Certainly one of the big highlights of this album! Next is “En Pleine Face”. Wonder what that eerie sound that opens up this piece is? Well it’s Marie Bernard Pagé and her Odnes Martenot. After that, more folky singing in French with accordion, again this band showing they hadn’t abandoned their folk roots as they gone progressive. Then comes the 17 minute “Histoir Sans Parole”. This is regarded as the big highlight. This is all instrumental, except for some wordless voices from Judy Richard. It starts off rather in a lighthearted fashion, but the music gets darker and even a bit experimental as it goes on with some really stunning Mellotron passages. What’s also great is this band had a sound all their own, they didn’t need to borrow from the likes of Yes or Genesis.
And if you think that’s all, they managed two more albums, both double albums, L’Heptade (1976), where the band also included drums, electric guitars, and Minimoog, plus a real orchestra, and En Tournée (1980), a live rendition of L’Heptade, recorded in 1977 (the band already broke up by 1978, so this album was obviously released after they were history).
Many regard Les Cinq Saisons as simply one of the greats of progressive rock from Quebec, and I really can’t argue about that. If you’re not familiar with Harmonium, start here!
– Pierre Daigneault: flute, piccolo, Soprano saxophone, clarinet
– Serge Fiori: guitar, flute, zither harp, bass drum, vocals
– Serge Locat: piano, mellotron, synthesizer
– Michel Normandeau: guitar, accordion, vocals
– Louis Valois: bass guitar, electric piano, vocals
– Judy Richard: vocalizations on Histoire Sans Parole
– Marie Bernard Pagé: Odnes Martenot on En Pleine Face
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