By Megan Routledge.
Out of Montréal, Québec comes a new visual album by fiddler Alexis Chartrand and multi-instrumentalist Cédric Dind-Lavoie. Au Chemin 4, comprised of nine unedited musical long takes of Québécois and Acadian traditional melodies, hearkens back to the very roots of French Canadian folklore with a careful selection of tunes arranged for fiddle and piano.
These two extraordinary musicians came together after Alexis heard Cédric’s masterful work with archival recordings on his 2021 album Archives; and was eager to hear his colleague’s take on live interpretations of that repertoire. This fruitful confluence of Chartrand’s intimate and extended relationship to Québec’s traditional repertoire, and Dind-Lavoie’s eminent sensitivity to its inherent qualities, led to the making of Au Chemin 4.
Paying homage to the constant reinterpretation of one’s folklore through an introspective vulnerability, the album features nine unedited performances, captured both sonically and visually. "Mimeault" reveals one by one the instruments and instrumentalists, propelled by the sustained rhythm of the piano. "La Rachoudine" reaches into the unexplored gentleness of a very famous dance tune from the Gaspé Peninsula. "C’était une biche", "Partir pour un voyage" and "Par un dimanche au soir" strip three folk song of their words, showcasing the fascinating effectiveness of these disconcertingly simple melodies. Finally, tracks such as "Le Brandy" and "La danse du barbier" revel in the contagious groove of French Canadian step dancing tunes.
Au Chemin 4 is named after the legendary folk music studio where it was recorded, in the Lanaudière region of Québec, over fours days in October 2023. Thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, cinematographer Olivier Arseneault was present for the entirety of the recording sessions. Every track was filmed and recorded as a live long take, through the lense of Arseneault’s handheld camera. As a traditional dancer, Arseneault’s intimate knowledge of the musical characteristics of the repertoire allowed him to follow the performances with a natural sensitivity. Nicolas Babineau, a frequent collaborator of Chartrand’s, expertly recorded, mixed and mastered the album. The audio tracks are also unedited live long takes, emphasizing the intimacy of the interpretation, revealing the richness of Dind-Lavoie and Chartrand’s strikingly delicate and restrained use of their instruments.
“I’ve really wanted to film the recording of a whole album for a while," says Chartrand. "I come from a background of live dance and concert music, where the music has to work on the spot, in the moment, you don’t get a second chance! That approach led me to record live tracks for my previous albums, and I thought it would be great to have a cinematographer present to film it all. Field recordings of 20th century folk musicians, our sources for this music, are generally unedited performances, so it seemed fitting to document our playing in that way.”
Dind-Lavoie’s musical background covers a wide range of influences, ranging from classical boy choirs to jazz, along with many years of focus on West African Mandingo music. He brings a soft touch on a felt upright piano revealing a minimalist sensibility. Unburdened by the familiar trappings of Celtic music accompaniment, his approach cuts through any expectations, reaching directly for the intrinsic beauty of the traditional melodies, and enshrining them in an introspective soundscape, respectful of their mesmerizing simplicity.
Chartrand’s upbringing as the child of baroque and folk dancers, and his training from an early age in the accompaniment of Québécois traditional dances, come together in his use of baroque instruments for the interpretation of Québec’s fiddle music. Though anachronistic, his approach allows for the unique melodies Alexis grew up hearing and playing to reveal an unexpected tenderness, carried by the warm tone of the gut strings and the light touch of the baroque bow.