By Robert Johnson Jr.
Manège â Trois is a French-American band whose work combines the liveliness of New Orleans swing and the vivid ambience of the Parisian world.
The band, composed of Susan Laurence (accordion), Mark Chenevert (clarinet), and Bertrand Laurence (guitar and vocals) performed a variety of songs comprised of French renditions of famous jazz numbers and pop chanson with blues-inspired flourish, on top of their brand of swing and waltz.
Before the group opened the 14-song set, Bertrand gave a brief history lesson on an instrument that none of them play on stage: the musette – which is what most people would know as the “bagpipes” – to provide context for their first instrumental piece serving as an “example of the musette sound.”
This performance was followed by two more instrumental pieces, both preluded with historical contexts of musical developments and styles, such as swing waltz – a style of music that made waves through France that made use of complex, three-four waltz timings.
“After World War I, music started to become more refined,” Bertrand told the audience before the trio showed the evolution in sophistication.
As the group wrapped up their opening set of songs, Bertrand began to talk to the audience about musical figures like Django Reinhardt and Èdith Piaf and how they were instrumental to the success of music and its development in France. Bertrand said Piaf had that “French gargling” singing style that became popular in the ’40s.
After the band performed another song, the first one featuring Bertrand’s vocal e\orts, the trio played “La java des bombes atomiques” (“The Atomic Bomb Java”), an anti-war-era song disguised as a speedy, danceable polka tune.
They took a break in the middle of the song, allowing Bertrand to not only collect himself after his blisteringly fast lyricism, but also to provide yet another history lesson, this time about France and its involvement with building atomic bombs. He also pointed out how there were two endings to the song, showcasing censorship laws in the government at the time.
“This is not the stereotypical French music you came here for,” Chenevert said after the trio finished playing their first non-waltz song, “Graine d’ananar” (“Seed of Ananar”), before immediately launching themselves into a cover of a Louis Armstrong song in French, complete with a clarinet solo by Chenevert.
During the last leg of the concert, the trio played a song from Bertrand’s childhood, Nino Ferrer’s 1971, “La Maison près de la fontaine” (“The House Near the Fountain”) in the style of how his father sang it to him in his youth. It gave everyone a chance to reflect on where they came from.
“I hope this reminds you of your childhood ... and the smell of gasoline,” remarked Bertrand, before plucking his guitar.
The set went into an encore once Bertrand asked the audience if they wanted “one more,” performing “Vieille canaille” (“You Old Rascal”). He said it was “a song about revenge.”
Freshman Nicholas Miranda enjoyed the performance. He said he “didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.”
The next Midday Performance in the series is on Oct. 29 at 1:30 p.m. in the Heineman Ecumenical Center and will feature Joseph Van Hassel.