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Cyrille Aimee Brings Her Vibrant, Upbeat Style to Benefit Event in West Hartford

Apr 1, 2015

This fancy-free performer has Reinhardt in her heart and a Gypsy spirit in her soul.

Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice climbing through the looking glass, Cyrille Aimee, a future jazz princess, was instantly transfixed after scrambling through her bedroom window as a child in France. Quite magically, the little girl found herself in a fantastical cultural kingdom of Gypsies from all over Europe happily encamped nearby at a festival celebrating the legacy of the legendary Gypsy jazz guitar genius, Django Reinhardt.

What Cyrille (pronounced “surreal”) discovered by secretly exiting through the window on those summer nights back then was a dazzling alternative world of joy and freedom embodied by the Gypsies who had transformed a nearby meadowland into a wonderland. It was for her a brave, new world alive with marvelous music and magic, campfire cuisine, polyglot languages and a startlingly new way to view the reality of the ordinary world.

Here was an alternative culture that Aimee, the much-loved daughter of a French father and a Dominican mother, could never in all of her happy, music-filled childhood, have imagined. Especially the omnipresent, mesmerizing Gypsy jazz guitar music resonating through the camp, a distinctive sound inspired by Reinhardt (1910-1953), the virtuoso master mixer of Gypsy folk music and swing.

Cyrille Aimee.
Credit Steven Sussman

Now 30 years old, Aimee, who’s one of today’s hottest, young jazz singers, grew up in Samois-sur-Seine, a place where the immortal Django himself once lived and where an annual international festival pays homage to his legacy.

Aimee, who’ll perform songs from her new CD, It’s a Good Day (Mack Avenue Records) on Saturday, April 11, in West Hartford, has never forgotten those dizzying, mind-expanding cultural encounters on those dream-like days of her childhood when she fell madly in love with Gypsy music and culture and, above all, with the hedonistic, Django guitar style, one of the greatest, certainly most celebratory sounds of the 20th century.

When Aimee, who speaks French, English and Spanish, starts spreading her special brand of vocal fairy dust in West Hartford at the 18th annual Jazz for Juvenile Diabetes benefit dinner/concert, patrons will see that this fancy-free performer has Reinhardt in her heart and a Gypsy spirit in her soul. It’s also obvious that the French jazz singer wants her audience—her co-celebrants in her communion of delight-- to know what it feels like to have no cares, no strings and a heart that has wings.

Cyrille Aimee (Aimee is pronounced M-A) has traveled far and wide from those early formative days of immersing herself in the music and liberated philosophy of Gypsy life. Besides donning a backpack and busking with friends on street corners throughout Europe and studying jazz in the United States at SUNY-Purchase, her winding musical journey since then has earned her wide acclaim for her early international recordings and performances from cafes to clubs and festivals.

Along the way, she’s swept up coveted first-place prizes at the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Vocal Competition and the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. And now in a major breakthrough in her promising career, she makes her scintillating debut on a major label with It’s a Good Day.

Characteristically, her agile solos are powered by her band of fellow travelers with flashy, swinging guitars, just like back in that Gypsy music-filled meadow of her childhood days. A free-spirit, she loves to play with kaleidoscopic rhythms, tempo surges that shift into hard-charging, four-four time and a host of spicy elements including French Gypsy swing, Dominican rhythms and multiple genres ranging from Brazilian samba and bossa nova to other Latin varieties and pop. Her versatile power band at the West Hartford concert features guitarists Michael Valeanu and Koran Agan; bassist Sam Anning and drummer Rajiv Jayaweera.

Variety abounds on her aptly titled, intoxicating CD. There’s even a cocktail brew rooted in Hawaiian sun and surf, served on a cool, sun-kissed original called Bamboo Shoots. Aimee’s partying potpourri ranges from the title track (as upbeat as Peggy Lee’s classic, miraculously light-filled rendition) to originals and such standards as "Where or When," and "Love Me or Leave Me," including even an original take on Michael Jackson’s "Off the Wall." Plus there are swinging re-imaginings of such classic jazz pieces as Juan Tizol’s "Caravan," and Oscar Pettiford’s "Tricotism." Resurrecting the piece by Pettiford, a groundbreaking double bassist, is a genuine coup, an album highlight and happy occasion for Aimee’s fine scatted duet with her bassist, Sam Anning.

Cyrille Aimee.
Credit CyrilleMusic.com

Aside from her nuanced jazz phrasing, sense of time, spontaneity and amusing originality, what sets Aimee apart from many other singers today is her natural, totally unstrained delivery, fluent and, mercifully, never going for overkill even when scatting or grooving wordlessly while wittily interacting with strings and drums. Although a true original, she can, at times, be reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald (an early idol) or Peggy Lee or the French and English singing Madeleine Peyroux. Despite her upbeat, youthful, girlish sound, soulful soupcons of a worldly wise Edith Piaf sometimes peep through all that charming sunshine, sweetness and light.

Light, in fact, is one of Aimee’s signature effects, a kind of vocal Impressionism. In this warm, light-filled, life-embracing mode, joy trumps all. It’s all joie de vivre, or voix de vivre, luminous, lyrically lilting yet free of the syrupy sentiments or sediments of lite jazz.

All 13 of the CD’s animated Aimee pieces are, in fact, robust journeys or peppy picaresque tales she recounts as a troubadour traveling easily through diverse eras, musical styles, countries and moods. Her road maps for her partying peregrinations are the upbeat charts that guide her merry way.

That ongoing aura of being on a journey applies not just to songs with obvious travel titles like "One Way Ticket" (an original inspired by her trip to India) or "Caravan," an especially bright, brisk, yet mysterious showcase of pure exotica mixed with glints of erotica. On "Young at Heart," yet another example of Aimee’s surreally effortless legerdemain, she brings an elfin touch to the standard, displaying her uses of enchantment that complement her engaging stage presence and deft delivery.

Besides high-quality music, the event features dinner catered by Billy Grant. The event begins at 7:00 pm at West Hartford Town Hall, 50 South Main Street in West Hartford Center. Tickets: $150.00 per person. For tickets and information call the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at (860) 470-0020 or Dr. Steven Sussman at (860) 614-0770.

Portrait of the Artist’s Coming of Age

Perhaps providing a sneak preview of his much anticipated release, Coming of Age, the rapidly rising, 30-year-old bassist/composer Ben Williams leads his adventurous Sound Effect band at 8:30 and 10:00 pm on Friday, April 3, at New Haven’s Firehouse 12.

Ben Williams.
Credit Ben Williams

Coming of Age, set for release by Concord Jazz on April 21, is the encore CD for his acclaimed, 2011 debut album, State of Art, which led to successful tours with Sound Effect and a public confirmation, a jazz equivalent of the laying-on-of-hands, when he was handpicked by the iconic guitarist Pat Metheny to join the fold in the guitar hero’s elite band, Unity Group.

Williams’s Sound Effect contingent for the Firehouse 12 shows features the noted saxophonist Marcus Strickland and the phenomenal pianist/keyboardist and New Haven native Christian Sands, along with guitarist Matt Stevens and drummer John Davis.

A giant turning point in Williams’s dramatically unfolding career occurred in 2009 when he emerged triumphant as the winner of the prestigious Monk Institute Competition. As a musical alchemist, he’s likely to mix multiple stylistic elements of both the past and the present, blissfully blending anything from jazz to hip-hop, rock and soul.

His many ideas on how to innovate musically are echoed by his willingness to translate his thoughts on politics and current events into his compositions, using music as the medium for his messages on such issues as war, or even great tragedy right here in Connecticut.

Powerful messages, in fact, ring out on Coming of Age.

On "Toy Soldiers," for example, he marshals such compositional forces as martial rhythms and a chant-like motif as part of his applied tactics in his overall strategy to express his reflections on the sacrifice of war.

At times, events can have such an immediately overwhelming emotional impact on him that his inspiration comes quickly when he attempts to express the inexpressible or reflect humanely on the unspeakable. His sorrowful yet uplifting "Strength and Beauty," for example, was written on the same day that he first heard the heart-wrenching reports of the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“The tragic news hit me hard, and this tune came to me as a way of feeling my way through the tragedy,” Williams said. “The title was inspired later, when I saw how Jimmy Greene (the great tenor saxophonist and Hartford native) and his family responded to losing their daughter at Newtown. Their pain is something most of us can’t even imagine, but the way Jimmy held it together and became a beacon of light and true strength was an inspiration to everyone,” he said. Tickets: $20.00, first set; $15.00, second set. Information: firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468

Inner Diaspora Wends Way to Amherst

Multi-instrumentalist, cosmopolitan artist and ecumenical embracer of world music Ned Rothenberg explores his Jewish heritage and his life’s intellectual, cultural, spiritual and artistic odyssey in his album, Inner Diaspora, through his panoramic use of rhythms, colors, textures, modes and moods, creating something new, nuanced and emotional. His melting pot of pan-cultural elements bubbles over with everything from Sephardic scales to free jazz and 20th-century classical music, a memoir mixing melancholy with lonely, lovely, and lyrical expression.

Ned Rothenberg.
Credit NedRothenberg.com

Rothenberg’s term, inner diaspora, he has explained, is “a place of learning and growth” in one’s journey away from the starting point, or alpha of your early formative years. It’s a personal journey he portrays throughout Inner Diaspora, his widely-traversing album on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, created as part of the label’s Radical Jewish Culture Series.

Rothenberg, a one-man band who plays clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and alto saxophone, leads his inner circle of collaborators from Inner Diaspora when he performs at 8:00 pm on Thursday, April 2, in The Magic Triangle Jazz Series at Bezanson Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His four fellow explorers questing for quintessence are: Samir Chatterjee, tabla; Jerome Harris, bass and guitar; Mark Feldman, violin; and Erik Friedlander, cello. Admission: $10.00, general public; $5.00, students. Box office: 1-800-999-UMAS.

Suite Savors Brass City Memories

Mario Pavone, a native of Waterbury who has achieved international acclaim as a cutting-edge bassist/composer/bandleader, returns to his hometown to perform with his nine-piece ensemble, Street Songs: The Accordion Project, at 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 2, at Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum, 144 West Main Street.

Mario Pavone performing in Geneva, Switzerland.
Credit Juan Carlos Hernandez / MarioPavone.com

Pavone’s nonet, whose instrumentation embraces accordion, two basses, a brass quartet, piano and drums, will perform music from his latest, groundbreaking album, Street Songs, a celebration of his Waterbury roots stretching back to his boyhood days after World War II when “the Brass City” was renowned as a manufacturing power with an industrious, multi-cultural, all-American work force laboring in its thriving mills and factories.

Pavone’s Street Songs suite was inspired by his early memories of growing up on lower Baldwin Street, just a mile or two away from the museum, where as a child he’d sit on the his front stoop listening to the festive sounds of Italian, Portuguese and Polish accordion music played on the street by neighbors in his ethnically mixed, melting pot of a working class neighborhood.

At the beginning of the event, attendees can participate in a pre-concert conversation with Pavone. Tickets: $20.00, general admission: $15.00, museum members. Information: mattatuckmuseum.org and (203) 753-0381.

New Orleans Gumbo Served with Wine and Roses

If you’re hungering for a delicious brew of trad jazz with a Crescent City flavor, The Ridgefield Playhouse is serving the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, on a French Quarter-like bill that also features the Funky Dawgz Brass Band as a special guest.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Credit preservationhalljazzband.com

Prior to the concert, there’s a wine tasting and cheese social in the playhouse’s lobby at 6:45 p.m., as well as a reception and exhibit of works by the artist Carmelo Blandino, celebrated for his never bland portraits of flowers exuding visual splendor and what critics call a marriage of earthly sensuality and the transcendental. Tickets: orchestra, $50.00; mezzanine and balcony, $45.00. Information: ridgefieldplayhouse.org and (203) 438-5795. The playhouse is at 80 East Ridge in Ridgefield.

On Track at Former Freight House

Flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Joe Carter, a consummately cool chamber duo, interact with fluency and feeling on a repertoire ranging from straight-ahead jazz and balladry to breezy Brazilian grooves as they perform at 7:00 pm on Thursday, April 2, at the Windsor Art Center, 40 Mechanic Street, Windsor. Ryerson, who’s played in venues around the world, loves the nuance-sensitive acoustics, wooden beams and high ceiling at the Art Center, which is housed in a former freight house adjacent to the Amtrak line in downtown Windsor. Information: windsorartcenter.org and (860) 688-2528. 

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.