L'Ensemble Rayé

Quelques Pièces Détachées

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Quelques Pièces Détachées is in many ways an extension of L'Ensemble Rayé's first disc, Même en Hiver/Comme un Pinson dans l'Eau, while at the same time it is also a step forward for the group. The whimsical and charming qualities of Même en Hiver/Comme un Pinson Dans l'Eau are once again present and are even reflected in the fanciful cover art that, like the debut CD, features a dreamy and surreal tableau of floating cartoonish images, including the reappearance of the quirky little mascot with striped trousers, round eyeglasses, and a guitar neck sprouting from his forehead. L'Ensemble Rayé still take a generally lighthearted approach to Rock in Opposition-influenced instrumental avant rock and folk-jazz, but this time the zany sense of experimentation is a bit less prominent, traded for a somewhat more serious attitude toward mood-setting and displays of instrumental virtuosity. Guitarist Jean 20 Huguenin proves to be particularly virtuosic, displaying fingerpicking abilities akin to Leo Kottke on several tracks, including the blazing "Rag'n Râle," parts of which conjure up images of trains rolling across endless prairie wheat fields (think of Kottke's contributions to the soundtrack of Terence Malick's cinematic masterpiece Days of Heaven). Huguenin's Ensemble Rayé partner, Cédric Vuille, is no slouch on guitar either, although generally favoring electric guitar and more rockish settings. While Huguenin multi-tracks his guitar, bass, percussion, and piano on his compositions and no one else appears on those tunes, Vuille assembles groupings of up to six musicians for his own pieces, including a lineup of three guitars (none of them Huguenin), bass, and drums on two particularly successful tracks, "Migrateurs" and "Une Colère Bleue." "Migrateurs" winds through rock, ska, and reggae tempos as the guitarists embellish their chords, riffs, and melodies with sonic treatments from the Henry Kaiser and Phil Manzanera schools; "Une Colère Bleue" rocks heavier and even mixes a bit of twisted funk into its country twang. Notable also are the contributions of other musicians, two of whom -- guitarist Julien Baillod and reedman Pierre Kaufmann -- would appear on subsequent Ensemble Rayé recordings as full-fledged members of the group. With his moody saxes and clarinets, Kaufmann in particular adds a chamber jazz quality that was missing from the band's first disc, although Vuille's clarinet work was always capably quirky and remains so here. As Quelques Pièces Détachées touches on Gypsy swing, country hoedowns, circus music, and neo-classical miniatures amidst its rock and reggae, one might expect cohesiveness to be sacrificed. Yet L'Ensemble Rayé somehow manages to project a singular identity, based in part on the uniformly excellent production (including subtle electronic, percussive, and noise embellishments), but mainly on fine musicianship and a sensibility that skirts the avant-garde edge without stepping off a cliff. However, with Huguenin and Vuille scarcely appearing simultaneously on the entire CD (after each took responsibility for composing half of the band's first album), it might seem fair to ask if these two had problems sitting in the same room together for the length of time it would take to get through a tune. That less-than-serious question would be answered definitively on L'Ensemble Rayé's next CD, En Frac!, recorded live in the studio with a five-person lineup and Huguenin and Vuille appearing together on nearly every track. Finally, togetherness.

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