With Les Clarinettes Ont-Elles un Escalier de Secours? (Do Clarinets Have an Escape Ladder?), Robert Marcel Lepage succeeded in putting together an album that illustrated the scope of his talent, remained cohesive, daring yet accessible, and constituted an ode to his favorite instrument: the clarinet. This album marks a return to the clarinet (absent from La Plante Humaine and Les Choses Dernières) and to the joyful tongue-in-cheek writing Lepage is mostly known and appreciated for. Picking up where he left with Adieu Leonardo! in 1992, Lepage is witty and funny. These 22 pieces show as many sides to his instrument, backed by various musicians (mostly Ambiances Magnétiques regulars, but also session guitarist Rick Haworth and bassist Mario Légaré). Les Clarinettes Ont-Elles un Escalier de Secours? takes the listener on a trip around the world: Czech Republic ("1229 Clarinettistes à Prague"), Ireland ("Clar'ilette Noire"), Mexico ("Tortillas pour une Clarinette"), the Sahara desert ("Saharinette"). There is also a trip around musical genres: rock & roll ("Rock Around the Cloche"), techno ("Techno Pita"), waltz ("La Valse des Épouses"), etc. Some of this music was originally written for various Quebec movies, but was all newly recorded in order to hold together -- and it works. From the Egyptian-like "Les Clarinettes du Pharaon" to the duet with experimental turntablist Martin Tétreault, "Il Parlait avec les Poissons, les Oiseaux, les Mammifères" (these two would soon record an album together, Callas: La Diva et le Vinyle), and the clarinet choir of "1229 Clarinettistes à Prague," this CD is a must for the avant-garde fan and the casual listener. The only requirement is to like the clarinet. Song titles are all puns around the clarinet, and Lepage published in 1999 a companion book of "plays on words/images," drawings around his instrument entitled Le Robert Illustré de la Clarinette.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture