Robert Marcel Lepage has not released a quirky, playful album like this since Les clarinettes ont-elles un escalier de secours? back in 1998. In fact, La machine à explorer le tempo (a play on words on H.G. Wells’ novel, roughly translating to “The Tempo Machine”) arches back to the zany side of the Ambiances Magnétiques collective and deserves a place alongside Les Granules’ albums, Jean Derome’s Je me souviens, and Martin Tétreault’s Des pas et des mois. On this album Lepage leaves his clarinet untouched. Instead he conducts La Nef, an early period music ensemble with ties to the contemporary and new music scene. The 18 tracks are grouped into three suites, each illustrating a different fanciful time paradox. The instrumentation includes strings, flutes, trumpet, trombone, sackbut, banjo (Yanik Cloutier, impressive), live sampling, and percussion (Ganesh Anandan and Patrick Graham, who also play together under the name Ga Pa). Lepage leads them through a number of styles, ranging from Ballroom dance to Western ballad, Baroque, Polka and Rockabilly. His knack for graceful melodies — so often featured in his film soundtracks — pops in here and there (La villa des loups for example), but for the most part the music focuses on odd stylistic combinations, festive rhythms, and occasionally cartoonish playing. The album was recorded live and includes spoken presentations by Lepage. After a couple of listens they get in the way (coming from a reviewer who understands French, it will be worse for listeners who don’t), but you can always program them out of the track list. And in any case, La machine à explorer le tempo remains an unusually entertaining album.