In a nutshell, Maneige was Quebec's answer to Pierre Moerlen's Gong. But before reaching the relative commercial success of its percussion-driven jazz-rock recipe, the group went through a period of complex, free improv-tinged progressive rock that ended with the departure of clarinetist/pianist Jérôme Langlois in 1976.
All members of Maneige are classically trained musicians. Langlois and flutist/saxophonist Alain Bergeron fronted the semi-pro prog rock group Lasting Weep in the early '70s. In 1972, they dissolved the band and teamed up with drummer Gilles Schetagne, percussionist Paul Picard, and bassist Yves Léonard to form Maneige. The name of the band is a misspelling of the word manège, which means carousel, or more appropriately, roundabout, and of course the title of an influential Yes song released that year.
In its early days, the music of Maneige was highly original. Based on acoustic instrumentation and a contrasting interplay between Bergeron's pastoral flute lines, Schetagne's complicated rhythms, and Langlois' efforts to push the band into atonal territory, the music was a lot more challenging than what the other local prog rock outfits had to offer at the time. Yet Maneige found a considerable audience. In 1974, they opened for Ekseption in Montreal, allegedly stealing the show. A record contract was signed with Harvest and the group entered the studio, recording Maneige and Les Porches, released only a few months apart in 1975. By then, percussionist Vincent Langlois and guitarist Denis Lapierre had been added to the lineup.
Disagreements over musical direction led to the departure of Jérôme Langlois, who continued as a film and TV score composer. The "new" Maneige signed with Polydor, shortened the songs, got rid of the avant-gardist side of things, and focused on tight jazz-rock numbers on Ni Vent...Ni Nouvelle (1977) and Libre-Service (1978), by far their best-selling title. Now led by Bergeron's catchy flute melodies and the bouncing rhythm section, the group enjoyed FM airplay and even recorded themes for TV shows. A Canadian tour took the musicians from coast to coast in 1978 and yielded the live album Composite (1979).
A music festival in France and showcases in the United States that year gave the impression that the group's career was reaching a new height, but things disintegrated with the end of the decade. Schetagne called it quits and Polydor dropped the group (the fate of many acts associated with prog rock at the time). The group recruited drummer Pierre Gauthier for Montréal 6am, released on the small imprint Intérim in 1980, and performed at the celebrations for the 350th anniversary of the city of Boston. But a plague of departures left only Bergeron and Léonard on board. Schetagne was brought back, along with session keyboardist (and ex-Pollen) Claude Lemay, and guitarist Michel Le François to record Images in 1981. It took two years to find a channel to release the album, by which time UZEB was taking jazz-rock to new heights, making Maneige sound outdated. The group disbanded shortly afterwards. ~ François Couture