Tag Archives: Paris

MUSIC TO OUR HEARTS: HETTY KATE’S “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

 

It’s been suggested to me that I might write too much, so here is my compact review of singer Hetty Kate‘s new CD, UNDER PARIS SKIES: “When I finished listening to the closing track, I wanted to hear it all over again.  I cam completely charmed.”  And you can buy it here   — $10 digital, $18 tangible.

Might I need to explain more?  This is Hetty’s ninth CD, and I first encountered her — on disc and in person — in 2014, and was charmed.  I wrote about her here and here.  The venue she performed at was terrifically noisy, so my videos were unusable, but Hetty was delightful — not, to quote Mildred Bailey, a bringdown.

UNDER  PARIS SKIES is mostly — but not completely — a CD of “French songs.” I put the phrase in quotation marks because for some singers it will might have been a selling gambit.  “What shall we do, now that I’ve done my Disney album and my holiday album?  I know, ‘French songs’!  That’ll sell like [insert appropriate French delicacy here]!”  But in a world of lovely (Photoshopped or otherwise) and beautifully styled young maids who present themselves as chanteuses, and create discs where the best thing is the cover, she is happily free from artifice.

Each song is its own particular pleasure.  There are a dozen, harking back to the records of my earlier life, reassuring.  But before I say another word about the music, I would ask Hetty to tell us about the genesis of this disc.

In January 2017, I moved by myself from Melbourne, Australia, to Paris, France. I can’t tell you one particular reason why, but I can tell you I was ready, and it felt right. Moving to Paris was, and is, one of the most rewarding, and challenging, things I’ve ever done.

I love to sing standards, and I chose these beautiful songs to represent the myriad emotions I felt before, during and after my arrival. I flew away from the people and the things I love to try something new, and as I tumbled into France, brave, joyful, hopeful and unprepared, I broke my heart and fell in love again a million times. Sometimes great distance allows us to see clearly, and sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I must add that many of these songs are for friends who were kind to me, friends who have inspired me, and friends I miss when I’m in either France or Australia. So, it’s fitting to think of this album as a love song, to two cities, to new and old friends, and to being brave.

This album took a somewhat meandering path along the boulevards of Paris before it reached its final destination. Now that it’s here I hope you enjoy it.

That says a great deal about Hetty — not only her peregrinations, but her attitude, gracious, open-hearted, and warm.  That attitude comes through the songs, but the CD is not simply a swoony paean to the city of the most formulaic sort.  Rather, Hetty, without melodrama, has a splendid intelligence about the way to set each song off to its best.  You might think of her as an intuitive jeweler who knows how to present even the smallest stone so that it gleams memorably.

In this, she is aided immeasurably by guitarist James Sherlock and string bassist Ben Hanlon — neither of whom I’d heard of before, but in this three-quarters-of-an-hour CD I came to think of them as modern masters, subtle, gently incisive  soloists and accompanists.  UNDER PARIS SKIES becomes in the first minutes a gratifying conversation among equals who never compete for our attention.  As an aside, the recording quality is a joy, and I understand that James and Ben have made their own duo CD.  Meaning Hetty no disrespect, I would like to hear that as well.

Hetty herself has a very mobile voice and vocal texture: she can be passionate but she avoids aiming for Piaf, or, for that matter, the conscious little-girlishness of Dearie.  Her sound is sweet but she can be tart, and her phrase-ending vibrato seems emotive but never melodramatic.  Her voice has a slight reediness, which is very endearing.  At times, she has a speaking directness, but she is always singing.  Her phrasing intelligently follows the contours of the lyrics, but it’s never a rigid up-and-down.  Her diction is superb (and her vowels are deliciously cultured) even on the most elaborately treacherous set of lyrics, and she makes each song completely believable . . . but with layers that emerge as we listen and listen again.

The disc begins, and woos us, with AZURE-TE, which some singers have so dampened with unshed tears that the result is soggy.  But Hetty, James, and Ben realize that it is a song about songs about Paris — every cliche Velcro-ed in place — so there is an amused lightness about the performance.  I was reminded slightly of Jean Sablon, warning us about the wolf, but more subtly, the way Basie would play a very slow blues, reminding us that playing sad music didn’t mean he had to be sad himself.  ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE rocks from the first note, the three voices enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the longest track on the CD ends in a flash.

I said that each song was a small drama shaped by Hetty, and ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME has a great deal of emotional energy, as Hetty, rubato, begins in duet with Hanlon’s arco bass for the first chorus — shifting into waltz time for the second chorus, then to rubato for Hanlon (who is a string quartet on his own): quite amazing.  Should you think I exaggerate, listen:

A hilariously energized GET OUT OF TOWN follows — where Hetty’s second chorus is resonantly wittily convincing (I remember thinking, “She must be a powerfully charged opponent in a romantic argument, winning points while smiling broadly”): Sherlock’s playing is a lesson in spare orchestration.  Guitar fanciers in the audience may fuss over who he Sounds Like; for me, I hope he and Ben are accepting the best students and transforming lives.

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, a song flattened by over-performance, is uplifted here, because of Hetty’s sweet deep understanding of the lyrics, her understated yet vibrating sincerity.  How gentle yet compelling her voice is; how unerringly warm and — to make the cliche apt — how “pitch-perfect”!

We have to come down from such a peak, and DARLING, JE VOUS AIME BEAUCOUP is just the thing, where Hetty can gleam at us, savoring the unspoken comedy of the English speaker who wants better French to charm the Love Object.  It is a sly soft-shoe dance of a performance, even though you won’t hear a foot being moved, unless they are your own.  UNDER PARIS SKIES is, to me, sweetly trite, but Hetty, Ben, and James move through it at a brisk rocking 3/4.  Since it’s the chosen title of the CD, I have to take it with generosity, and Hetty’s light approach rescues the song, as does the dancing playing of Ben and James, and the ending made me smile.  “Stranger beware,” but we aren’t afraid.

LA BELLE VIE, is, I recognized immediately, THE GOOD LIFE, rendered in bright capital letters by Tony Bennett a year after Sasha Distel’s original version: Hetty’s French falls lightly on the ear, which is no surprise:

Hetty wrote above that a few of the songs on the disc were favorites of friends, and since AFTER YOU’VE GONE has no French connection, I must assume it has a place for that reason.  I dreaded hearing this song, because it has been obliterated through a century of performance, but Hetty makes it come alive from the verse to her final improvisations, and Hanlon’s gorgeous accompaniment: arco and pizzicato, one of the tracks overdubbed but I couldn’t tell which, give this elderly tune a complete makeover in the name of Play and Playfulness.  TOUT DOUCEMENT returns us to French, reminiscent of Dearie without coyness.

DOWN WITH LOVE comes across like a fusillade of pistol shots as every word explodes at the listener — not volume but precise enunciation, mixing hilarity and exasperation.  “Take it away” is the most delightful rapid-fire triplet: all of Hetty’s shots are in the center of the target, and the performance is a lemony chaser to the amorous sentiments in other songs.

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE is both a favorite song — another one perilously over-familiar.  But here, with Hanlon trotting alongside, after Hetty’s frankly impassioned reading of the verse, we are in the middle of the most seductive “rhythm ballad,” passions in swingtime:

For the first time in my listening history, I actually believe that the streets were “paved with stars.”  The enchantment Hetty, James, and Ben create is flawless.

You can purchase this CD here.  And I urge you to for purely selfish reasons: if this disc sells well, she will create more.  Gifts to those who can hear.

May your happiness increase!

SUITE DANCES: WILL HOLSHOUSER, MATT MUNISTERI, MARCUS ROJAS

Musette003_med

A delightful new disc.

The three creators.

The three creators.

I appreciate the comfort of improvising on familiar themes: I haven’t tired of the blues or BODY AND SOUL. But even the most “traditional” of listeners can find that venturing beyond one’s fenced front yard can be uplifting.  A new CD, INTRODUCING MUSETTE EXPLOSION, is a happy, bracing exploration of fresh fields and pastures new (the lively cover art, befitting the music, is by Na Kim). The three impish yet serious improvisers on this disc are Will Holshouser, accordion / compositions; Matt Munisteri, guitar and banjo; Marcus Rojas, tuba.
The music they are exploring is French musette — dance-based pop music of Paris that flourished in the last century.  A listener new to the form will hear some Django-connections, both literal (one of the compositions is the Reinhardt-Grappelli SWING 39) and whimsical — some songs are by the virtuoso accordionist Gus Viseur, others by guitarist Baro Ferret.  But this isn’t another by-the-numbers Django-and-Stephane tribute, and the music has its own vivid energies, its own quirky turns.
Each track seems a small musical drama all its own — not simply an attempt by jazz musicians to pretend to be French strolling street musicians, but their delightful variations within and around the form.
Some performances instantly suggest films that haven’t yet been created (and there are a few neat aural interpolations — witty surprises that don’t feel hackneyed) but each track is its own dance.  In fact, it is easy to listen to the whole disc at a sitting as if one were at a chamber-music concert with ten movements in a suite.  (This variety, never forced or abrupt, is something few discs offer.)
This isn’t to suggest that the music is “contemporary classical,” with all the intellectual rigor implied by that name, because this trio swings. The performances are affectionate but I wouldn’t call them sentimental: no berets and striped sailor shirts are audible in this hour of music.
I first heard accordionist Holshouser on a Matt Munisteri CD, and was immediately impressed with the easy grace he brings to an instrument that, in other hands, can be melodramatic and rhythmically constrained.  Munisteri shines wherever he is; he consistently improves the landscape — enough said.  Tubaist Rojas is not only a splendid player who makes his instrument as light-hearted and melodic as any French hornist, but he is also a deft musical impersonator: the bird songs or whale murmurs heard on this CD come from him. (I was reminded of hornist Jimmy Buffington, and that is not small praise.)
In his notes, Will writes that he and Matt “got hooked” on French musette music — seduced by the “dark beauty and thrilling virtuosity” they heard in the classic recordings, “passionate and sweet, but played with a fierce edge — like jazz.”  But rather than create a repertory project, another set of old records in contemporary fidelity, they brought jazz players’ vigor and willingness to explore to the songs and conventions they had grown to love, finding new ways to improvise on the material.
And as brilliant as Will, Matt, and Marcus are as soloists, they come together marvelously as ensemble players — something is always going on in every performance, and this combination of instruments that would seem odd or unbalanced in other hands sounds complete and rich here.
You can hear brief samples of the music on Will’s site here. The band has been captured on video, playing SWING VALSE:
and GITAN SWING:
Those who are members of the Terry Gross Fan Club have already heard Will play and talk about this band and their music on NPR’s FRESH AIR, but that fascinating segment can be heard here. The band’s Facebook page is here. And the disc itself can be found in all the old familiar places: CD BabyAmazon (may I gently urge readers to investigate Amazon Smile, where a percentage from one’s purchases goes to a charity one selects), or iTunes.
I find this music happily atmospheric, so I offer a suggestion that is part challenge.  I hope some creative film-school or drama-school type finds this music and begins to make short films, no dialogue needed, with each track as a central character in a theatre piece or a short film. Those who aren’t making films, writing, directing, or acting in theatre can simply buy copies of the disc or download it — rare pleasures are in store.
May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS with BILL COLEMAN

No other trumpeter sounded quite like graceful Bill Coleman, who should have put his profession as “aerialist” on his passport.

It wasn’t a matter of playing high notes, for other trumpeters have gone higher, but the ease with which Coleman accomplished his arcs in the sky.  Most astonishingly, he made the whole thing sound so easy, which even non-trumpeters will know is a great feat of magic. And his sound!  Not brass and valves and air pressure and force, but “gold to airy thinness beat.”

Here he is in glossy form in late 1935 in Paris:

The band was billed as “Garnet Clark and his Hot Club’s Four,” with Bill on trumpet and vocal; George Johnson, clarinet and tenor; Clark, piano; Django Reinhardt, guitar; June Cole, bass.

Here’s Bill in 1972 — playing fluegelhorn, his sound heavier, and darker, but still masterfully light.

We have this clip from a French television program, “Jazz Harmonie,” thanks to trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig.  Bill is joined by Marc Hemmeler, piano; Jimmy Gourley, guitar; Pierre Sim, bass; Michel Silva, drums.

And — thanks to eBay — Bill signs in, too:

Postscripts: I realized, perhaps too late, that this blogpost was seriously indebted to that of my friend Michael McQuaid, hot musician from Australia, who had recently paid homage to Bill with THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  The evidence of the borrowing is here, but the theft was purely imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.  And — also from Oz — the trumpet player who most reminds me of Mr. Coleman is the equally dazzling Bob Barnard.

SWEET RHYTHMS in PARIS: NICOLAS DARY / LUIGI GRASSO / EHUD ASHERIE 2011

That’s Luigi Grasso (alto saxophone), Nicolas Dary (tenor), Ehud Asherie (piano), Mathias Allamane (bass), and Philippe Soirat (drums), playing BEWITCHED (Luigi) and SERENADE IN BLUE (Nicolas) — recorded at the Sunside in Paris, February 2, 2011.  Lovely!

SWEETNESS DESERVES SWEETNESS: CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER

The music historian ANTHONY BARNETT does nothing halfway, and his enterprises are never predictable. He is a scholar — a term I do not use casually – on the subject of Jazz violin who has published extensive bio-discographies of Eddie South and Stuff Smith. He has also done remarkable research on less famous players (Harry Lookofsky, Ginger Smock), and published a journal devoted to violin improvisation. But Barnett does not restrict himself to print: his AB Fable CDs are full of marvels: airshots of Stuff Smith leading a band of Fats Waller alumni; homemade 78s of Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, and Sonny Greer jamming; a 1966 home recording of Rex Stewart and Stuff Smith chatting and playing. Scratchy one-of-a-kind acetates are restored carefully and annotated superbly. And all of his research is presented in lively, witty, and sharp-edged prose. I would expect no less from a poet who has also been a percussionist with Don Cherry and John Tchicai.

Barnett’s newest project is unusual even for him, and its lengthy title doesn’t even begin to explain it: LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER: A MONOGRAPH ON HIS ALMOST LOST MUSIC with the poems and music of Henry-Music (Allardyce Book / AB Fable Recording, 2007, paper, 128 pages, with CD). I had never heard of Crowder or his music, but that is the point. The most superficial way to explain Crowder as a fit subject for Barnett’s investigations is that Crowder (1890-1955), a Jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader, recorded with Eddie South’s Alabamians in 1927-28. The “almost lost” of Barnett’s title first becomes comprehensible when we learn that all discographies prior to 2000 incorrectly stated that Antonio Spaulding was the pianist on these Victor sessions, unwittingly erasing Crowder in his two most accessible musical appearances.

But this is not simply a book about “finding” Crowder, a Jazz legend; readers should not hope to discover a homegrown Tatum, for Crowder was a capable player and improviser on the basis of the limited evidence we possess. But his pianistic talents are only a small part of his portrait and of this book. No other study justifiably intertwines Ezra Pound and the singer Bee Palmer (“The Shimmy Queen”), Jelly Roll Morton and Nancy Cunard, Samuel Beckett and Sidney Bechet (a felicitous although unlikely pairing). Crowder, the book reveals, was more than a little-known African-American musician and sideman whose band Morton fronted for a 1927 tour. He and Cunard had a seven-year relationship, with Crowder the inspiration for and a contributor to her 1934 Negro: An Anthology. Henry-Music, a tantalizing part of Barnett’s title, was a 1930 folio of poems by Cunard, Richard Aldington, Beckett, and others, with musical settings by Crowder. He is thus a tangential but intriguing figure – someone who visited Pound in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — in the cross-continental modernist culture of the period.

Barnett’s book contains everything knowable at this distance about Crowder: a forty-page biographical profile, an itinerary of the places he played, press clippings, many photographs, reproductions of letters, record labels, drawings, articles written by and pertaining to Crowder, the poems and musical settings in Henry-Music, a discography of recordings and piano rolls and more. Crowder was, it should be said, a fine prose writer: his “Hitting Back,” published in Negro, should be far better known. And – sensibly and graciously – the book has its own CD, broad in scope but exceedingly relevant, containing not only the thirteen 78 sides on which Crowder plays and sings, but the half-dozen 1926 piano rolls he made (restored and played on modern equipment), new recordings of Crowder’s compositions – sung beautifully by Allan Harris, and four sides by orchestras with whom Crowder was associated although he did not play on these sessions.

Here, I can imagine readers muttering their version of poet Philip Larkin’s Law of Reissues, which (paraphrased) is “If you haven’t heard of this musician or these recordings before, he or they can’t be worth your interest,” which is amusing but reductionist and illogical. Crowder himself is not the sole subject of Barnett’s book, although his life, alternating between highly illuminated and shadowy, is. It isn’t one of those pretentious books about My Search for Some Famous Recluse where the author’s ego becomes the subject. This book and the accompanying CD provoke philosophical stirrings on the chord changes of “What can and cannot be known about anyone’s life?” followed by “How can anyone assemble – properly and doing justice to the subject – the posthumous fragments of evidence anyone will leave behind – to make some valid overview of what has been lived?” This book may not be Barnett’s Citizen Kane, but it awakened some of the same concerns and speculations. Because his research is so scrupulous and diligent, his delight in fact over conjecture so enlivening, I would like to see this book in universities – not just on the library shelves – because it is an essential text for anyone interested in the culture of the last century and its implications. I am also certain that readers who would profess no interest in Crowder or Cunard will delight in its perceptive, stubborn, inquiring ways.

(Copyright 2008 Cadence Magazine: www.cadencemagazine.com.)