Attente/Le Blé et le Mil [Reissue]

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This reissue offers on a two-CD set integral reissues of Toubabou's two albums (the 1974 live LP Le Blé et le Mil and the 1975 studio LP Attente), plus bonus video footage taken from a 1974 promotional reel. The material is presented in reverse chronological order, presumably to put the better-sounding studio album on disc one. Both of Toubabou's records are unique in Quebec music, but Attente is the easiest to get into and probably the most interesting in the eyes (and ears) of those who will seek out the band's music in search of some Quebec progressive rock. Attente blends elements of jazz fusion, '70s funk, progressive rock, and African worldbeat into a highly original sound. On the studio album, the band consists of members of the Ville Emard Blues Band, including singer Lise Cousineau, percussionist Michel Séguin, and keyboardist Yvan Ouellet, who form the core of the group's creative force (and writing team), but also guitarist Robert Stanley and drummer Denis Farmer, both soon to leave the group to join Harmonium for the recording of the epic album L'Heptade (Toubabou's influence is clearly felt in "Viens Danser," a song Harmonium performed during that album's tour and released on Deux Cents Nuits à l'Heure, the group's singer Serge Fiori's duo album with Richard Séguin). The music is characterized by Cousineau's singing (a cross between African chants and jazz scat), Stanley's inspired guitar work, stellar percussion playing, and odd-meter grooves. "J'Freak Assez," "Ambush," and "Pylône" are stunning attempts at a new form of world music and have aged surprisingly well, hinting at Santana and Fela Kuti, but also at the Quebec school of prog (mostly Contraction, VEBB, and a touch of Sloche). The live album Le Blé et le Mil is a slightly different beast. Recorded at the 1974 Superfrancofête, a huge outdoor event, it documents Toubabou's first performance. Put together for the occasion, the group was presented as a Ville Emard Blues Band offshoot with the addition of a dozen Senegalese and Togolan musicians, including the international star Doudou N'Diaye. The music is therefore much more percussion-laden and draws more heavily on traditional African music. The concert was recorded direct to two-track tape and the sound quality is thus significantly poorer, a flaw compensated by the energy of the music and a fabulous fusion of styles that is extremely similar to the direction Peter Gabriel will choose years later. "Yama Nekh," a song that was also part of VEBB's repertoire, is the clear standout, along with the exhausting jam with Doudou N'Diaye's band that concludes the album. The CD-ROM portion on both discs totals 28 minutes of salvaged black-and-white video footage, consisting of studio performances of five songs (including the short "Esmeralda," otherwise unreleased). The image quality is poor (with some serious warping) and so is the sound, but this is the only footage of the group in action and thus its addition is welcome. Some tracks have been remastered from the master tapes; others were carefully lifted from vinyl. Both of these gems deserve wider international attention.

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