Monday 11 May 2015

Cyrille at Ronnie's

No, not a bout of megalomania.

You see, French artists taking some of their roots in Gipsy jazz have been in view of late at Ronnie Scott's.
Biréli Lagrène in March, and six months after I finished a post about Stacey Kent with these words: "Now, if we could bring Cyrille Aimée to Ronnie Scott’s.", she was indeed the star of the show.
Admittedly, I had suggested in October that it would be fun to pair her with Esperanza Spalding playing bass, and that did not happen (although it really would be the ultimate curly hair match), but I was not going to complain.

It was her debut at the club, apart from her joining in the jam session a few years back, and she was touring with her band. 
I had last seen her at another debut, when she sang at the Django Reinhardt festival for the first time, in Samois, where she grew up, a concert at the end of which I heard a new friend who had been following them for a while mention how they had by now gelled into an incredibly tight band. This had been a great, unforgettable moment. I jumped on the chance to book my tickets, but prepared myself for a concert that could never quite live up to that of course.

However, while nothing could ever match the incredible emotion of Cyrille telling her life story in front of an adoring crowd in Samois, what quickly transpired was that, over the last 8 months, they had just got better. As I briefly talked to her before the show, I also remembered how her voice is not made for talking, it is made for jazz singing. It is so full of the special harmonics that make her so expressive and credibly stand for a whole brass section that it brings a little oddity to a simply spoken phrase. Add to that Ronnie's is a very nice scene and the elements were there for a breathtaking show.

Breathtaking it was from the get go. You could feel the extraordinary complicity on stage. Soon they were performing Nuit Blanche and I found myself wondering how it felt for Michaël Valeanu to be playing alongside a song that is so clearly about him (although he was also exchanging so many playful glances with Adrien Moignard during their guitar soloes that one of my friends joked that maybe it was them who were an item).
Ah, Nuit Blanche... I have been fortunate enough to hear it several times and I feel safe in saying that there can never have been a better rendition. Somehow, from the first time I heard it, for some reason the verses have sounded to me like English translated into French -I know this is silly and the author is a French woman who often sings in English, but that was the impression. The song seems to explode with the chorus and the variations. And explode it did! I challenge anyone to listen to the Ronnie rendition and not conclude that scat is the most advance form of art. Actually, move over Ella, however much I admire you, at the moment I cannot think of a more accomplished scatter (and there were many other such displays during the concert) in the history of jazz than Cyrille Aimée.
And straight after that, when Michaël Valeanu followed with his delicate guitar solo embodying the time passing in that sensual all-nighter, I found myself refraining from even drinking from my glass, fearing that there would be some sound disturbing the exquisite music. I could not see anyone moving in the whole club.
"He makes a woman out of me" say the lyrics of the song. Well, I'll have to take your words for that -though I doubt you needed much help- but they sure make the artist in you, and in each other, blossom.

It was the show that had everything. The audience sometimes broke into spontaneous applause not even at the end of a well made solo - but during them, such was the impression they were making. And -and I hope she won't mind me saying that- while the show was advertised as Cyrille Aimée, you felt that it would be totally fine at times to call it "Her band and Cyrille Aimée". Many times she morphed into a dancer bopping along for long sections of an instrumental band of incredibly high standards, exhuding a powerful, contagious joy to be there together.

In this a special word must be said of Adrien Moignard. They are not a Gipsy jazz band, but have the lovely touch of having a Gipsy jazz style guitarist in the band -and an awesome one at that. His playing was the perfect blend of virtuosity, musicality, inventiveness and humour. A very nice moment came when the two guitarists were exchanging challenges. Soon enough, Moignard on the acoustic guitar would play a riff that Valeanu would then mostly replicate. The next one would be more challenging, until Moignard really let loose and Valeanu audibly let out in a laugh "Oh putain!" (of fuck, in French). He found a way to provide a perfectly musical answer, but there was no replication this time.

All in all, an incredible experience, and probably the most claps I heard after a concert at Ronnie Scott's. I happened to notice a a senior colleague of mine at the table behind us just before the concert started. He has been a member for some time and the next day emailed me "your namesake was exceptional".

Yes. She was. They all were.
Don't settle on CDs. Go see them live.

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