Va-et-Vient — which means “coming and going” en français — is trio of talented Addison County musicians with a shared love for, and an intimate understanding of, all sorts of French music. Their 2009 CD Porte Ouverte (“open door”) includes a mélange of French Canadian dance and vocal music, Louisiana two-steps, plaintive French ballads and a schotticshe — despite the Germanic-sounding name, that’s a French dance. It’s composed by Daniel Thonon, a Belgian-born master of many instruments who lives half the year on the flatland between the Richelieu and St. Lawrence rivers in Québec. The album is a testament to the wide variety of French-language music —not even counting all the francophone musique played since the 1970s in northwest Africa and Southeast Asia.
Va-et-Vient’s French roots run deep. Singer and guitarist Carol Reed, fluent in the language since the sixth grade, is a longtime French teacher at a local Waldorf school. Singer and percussionist Suzanne Germain was born into the music and has been singing French songs all her life. George Dunne has been playing French and Québécois music at contra dances for years and, in 1998, he was selected to play accordion and flute for Martha Pellerin’s production of “La Danse des Enfants,” which toured throughout New England and Québec.
The connection between central Vermont musician Pellerin and Va-et-Vient runs deep. Pellerin, who succumbed to cancer in 1998, brought Québécois and Franco-Vermont music out of the kitchens and into the public eye around New England. Her energy and dedication to French music is echoed and honored throughout the album.
Porte Ouverte was recorded at John Hadden’s Resting Lion Studio in Huntington, with mixing and mastering by Dunne as well as by Lane Gibson in Charlotte. The album’s overall sound is high and reedy. Almost all the instruments on this disc — including the voices of the lead singers — tend toward the “high frequency” end of things. Vermont musician Michael Corn guests on mandolin, cittern and guitar; he plays expertly, but his sound is also high and jingly. An electric bass or well-placed bass clarinet line now and then would add more bottom to the mix.
One of my favorites tracks is “La Belle Hélène,” a sweet song that showcases Reed’s lovely voice and Dunne’s flute work. But there’s much more to love. From Cajun country, there’s “Colinda” and the Balfa Brothers’ “Chanson de Mardi Gras.” From southern France, “Le Pont d’Avignon.” Call-and-response songs from Québec. Dance tunes from Brittany. Through a wondrous selection of styles, Porte Ouverte is a lovingly played celebration of the huge and varied folk-music literature that French cultures have contributed on practically every continent.
Va-et-Vient perform at Middlebury College’s Chateau Grande Salon this Tuesday, March 16. And, despite the proximity to Paddy’s Day, it’s guaranteed to be a “no green beer” event!