Aquarelle - Sous un Arbre. 1978 Canada

* 1. La Magie des Sons 6:40
** 2. Francoise 4:54
3. Bridge 6:22
* 4. Sous un Arbre 4:38
* 5. Aquarelle (Part 1,2,3) 8:22
** 6. Volupte 4:37
7. Esperanto 5:53

Aquarelle's debut is far from a typical jazz fusion album. In the late 1970's, there were literally hundreds of albums that featured musicians showing off their technical chops. They couldn't help but parade their considerable talent on the latest synthesizer, while trading solos back and forth with the next Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola or Bill Connors. To many listeners, including yours truly, this was met with a big yawn. Might be great listening to those wanting to learn the trade, or were participants in the scene, but I want something more. Like songs for example. Or compositions. And Aquarelle delivers on both fronts. They are the antithesis to the normal fare of the era. As I review, I begin to think of band leader and primary composer Pierre Lescaut as some sort of genius. It's the blending of the instruments that make the album so special. Violin, flute, sax, female wordless voice, and mostly Pierre's piano that stand out, but in ensemble form. Guitar, bass and drums give it the rock feeling they were striving for, but only that - as an underlying structure.

Despite the profound statements from the last paragraph, I wouldn't say it's all that obvious on a casual listen. Read some reviews online and you'll see terms like "dated fusion", or "nothing out of the ordinary". Indeed, it is just that - out of the ordinary. I didn't recognize it myself for many years. In fact, not until the Gnosis review some 15 years after initial purchase, did I register in my memory banks that this wasn't a garden variety late 70's Quebec fusion band.

It was only for 1) that I recalled anything different. A smoking violin led piece, and what seemed to me to be the most progressive song on the album. Today, I scratch my head on why I would think that. Perhaps it's the most obvious song on the album. But on multiple spins, it's really 4) and 5) that are the truly progressive oriented numbers. 4) takes a bit to get going, but features a wonderful mid-track break with a complex meter and some fine rhythm guitar work. 5) gives off more than a whiff of classical chamber music all within the context of jazz and rock. Splendid really. It's only on 3) and closer 7) that there are any hints of the funky fusion of the day. Even still, these are far from cheap skeletons on which to solo endlessly on. And both are fine tracks, if only less exceptional than the others.

That leaves the two brilliant pieces in my estimation. 2) features a stunning flute melody, and is as happy a song as you will ever hear. The Caribbean festival bit on the last third of the track embodies the spirit of the mood, while adding a progressive twist to an already great song. But it's 6) that wins the grand prize. Words cannot describe the stunning beauty of this composition. How could I not hear it 20 years ago? Or even 4 years ago on a deep dive review for Gnosis? It's the kind of mid-album piece one would discover on an Italian progressive rock album. The moment that hits you and you can only utter "it's brilliant!". Ah, the beauty of discovering what you already have.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Atlantic
CD: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan)

I found a sealed LP in a Kansas City record store back in 1991. Ah, the days when the classic Midwest cities all had cool record stores with import gems like this - all for under $10. KC was one of the great record store towns, with many excellent stores in the Westport district alone. No more of course. I miss those days of traveling to cities for the sole purpose of buying records (and eating the local cuisine and drinking the local swill - fortunately we can still do this!). Oh sure, some of these stores still exist, but are a mere skeleton of what they once were. Until 2010, no other LP or CD presses existed. So I was much surprised when I heard that Belle Antique managed to obtain the licenses for both of the Aquarelle albums. I know there had been some talk of ProgQuebec reissuing these, and they still might. But I decided not to wait and pulled the trigger for the higher priced mini-LP. This isn't the type of album I typically collect in this format (single sleeve, rather boring cover), but I'm not chancing the fact it may never come out legitimately again. Not the kind of title that is likely to sell much anyway. Also, note that this CD is taken from vinyl (licensed from main songwriter and keyboardist Pierre Lescaut).

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