Amérikois is a very deceptive album. It starts with "Petit Michel," which sounds very much like light jazz from a French movie, but then grows deeper in both emotion and musicality. The instrumentation changes with more use of the bass clarinet, a fabulous sound, in music with more intricate structure.
Being a vibraphonist, Vanasse is subject to the prejudice that seems to dog such players: their instrument is for some reason not taken seriously. While not easily placeable stylistically within the vibes pantheon, his compositional and arranging skills actually outweigh his playing.
Belanger's bass clarinet is a wonderful asset, and he plays it in such a manner that his facility and smoothness are both taken for granted and ear-catching at the same time. His reed partner, Savoie, also gets a very nice sound while contributing many interesting musical ideas. Provost complements the soloists with some fluid guitar, not taking the lead very often, but mostly providing a shimmering background to the proceedings. Guilbeault and Tanguay in the rhythm section play as one and really ground the group.
Clearly, tracks three, four, and five ("Amérikois," "Lumineirs," and "Zaz") are the important ones, reaching the peak of intensity. Acquelin recites a poem in both Spanish and French (and possibly other languages that I could not make out)which means that I could not understand it (or for that matter, the liner notes)as the band, led by Vanasse on marimba, provides an ethereal background. "Lumineire" starts with a boppish melody that leads down haunting paths, while "Zaz" begins with an outburst followed by mysterious sounds that build gradually behind the alto sax's plaintive motives, until it takes off for a rather hot trip, led by Provost on guitar using a faintly fuzzy sound.
The other tracks are also very good, and the album closes with a quiet, beautiful duet between Vanasse and Guilbeault that finishes things off like a sorbet after a spicy meal.
Very well done, deceptive in its seeming simplicity, Amérikois is very easy to enjoy many times.
Track Listing: Petit Michel; Brises Bises; AAmérikois; Lumineires ; Zaz; Voyage; Aux Piles; Aiken Hill; Sur les pistes.
Personnel: Jean Vanasse: vibraphone, marimba; Mathieu Belanger: bass clarinet; Richard Savoie: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Norman Guilbeault: acoustic bass; Pierre Tanguay: drums; Sylvain Provost: electric and acoustic guitar; Jose Acquelin: voice.