June 2003

Marc Vallee Trio - Hamadryade
Fidelio Audio FACD010
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2 *
Recording Quality ****1/2 *
Overall Enjoyment *****

Driving home from the Montreal Son & Image show this year, I reflected on the varied talents of Fidelio Audio’s Rene LaFlamme -- recording executive, A&R director, and sound engineer. Very few people can juggle just two of these roles successfully, much less all three, yet LaFlamme seems to manage very, very well. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing three of his previous efforts (A Tribute to Julie London, Shadows, and The Seven Last Words of Christ -- all available at www.fidelioaudio.com), each of which I’ve fallen for hard. LaFlamme's latest effort continues that trend.

Hamadryade (in Greek mythology, a deity of the woods) is a savvy, spicy mixture of musical styles -- everything from jazz improvisation and world music to folk and new age. Played by three simpatico musicians -- Marc Vallee on acoustic guitar, David Hughes on stick and didgeridoo, and Christian Pare on tablas and percussion -- the music demonstrates how easily they can meld multiple styles while still remaining totally enjoyable.

The disc begins with the Vallee-penned tune “Tandara,” a mixture of the Middle East, India and Appalachia. While Vallee’s guitar holds down the melody, it’s Pare on percussion who anchors the tune with a dizzying array of sounds. From that launching point, the trio travels onto the farther reaches of our planet for its inspirations. For instance, to those of you unfamiliar with the Australian didgeridoo, skip to “Harmattan.” What a most interesting sound and a track that you’ll have to hear for yourselves, as it’s difficult to describe accurately. Vallee, who wrote all the music on this disc with the exception of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (which serves as a wonderful point of musical reference, as most listeners will be familiar with the U2 song) has allowed plenty of room in his compositions for Hughes and Pare to add their own ideas to the sonic landscape, thereby expanding them from a specific point of view into an almost jazz-like improvisational experience.

Hamadryade marks Fidelio Audio’s initial venture into the world of SACD. And just as their CDs have offered state-of-the-art sonics, so too does this disc -- in fact, it’s their best-sounding effort to date. From the body of Vallee’s acoustic guitar, to the sound of Pare’s various percussion instruments, to the unique sonic signature of Hughes’ aboriginal trumpet-like didgeridoo and ten-string bass stick (guitar), this is a demo-quality disc. LaFlamme uses two of Fidelio’s custom-built vacuum-tube microphones (there’s a picture of one in liner notes) together with a Neumann U-47 to capture every nuance of the sounds of the instruments. For a quick demonstration of this disc’s sonics, pull up “Lights of Barcelona.” Listen to how clearly you can hear the buildup of the initial taps that lead to the ringing transient of the opening gong and to how detailed those harmonics are as they float off into the recording acoustic. You get a real feel for the instrument’s composition, size and power.

And if you’re still a CD-only listener, don’t feel left out. The sonics of the Redbook layer are very, very good too. They’re just not up there with those of the SACD. See, now you’ll have a reason to upgrade! Wasn’t that thoughtful of the good folks at Fidelio?

Hamadryade slakes a thirst I wasn’t even aware I had. I’ve never been a big fan of much that passes for world music, but this album transcends that term and passes straight into the realm of good music, period. It isn’t just a collection of type as much as a melding of style. Once again Rene LaFlamme mixes a heady brew of talent and sound into a disc that should satisfy the taste buds of audiophiles and music lovers. Its musical mixture combined with its great sonics make Hamadryade the proper sampler for anyone not yet familiar with Fidelio Audio.