Thursday, April 26, 2007

Red Velvet Jazz Festival in St. Germain des Pres

Spent Tuesday night in the cellar of the normally 'members only' Castel club for the launch of the annual FESTIVAL JAZZ A SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRES (see our listings page for links and details). It was surreal scene of velvet wallpaper, vaulted ceilings and an open bar serving gin & tonics with miniature macaroons...not sure what all the cookies had to do with jazz but eventually there was a mini-concert by New Zealand pianist Aron Ottignon (who'll be playing the Fest) and a speech by Frédéric Charbaut, the director of the festival.

Congrats to Aron for pulling off an impressive little gig in spite of fighting a terrible thrashed electric piano--with the sound pumped through the house disco system. Aron's playing has been described as 'testosterone fuelled Rachmaninov-goes-jazz that will take your breath away'--you can decide for yourself at the Showcase (the bar under Pont Alexandre III) on May 17th.

What's exciting about the St-Germain Fest is its great mix of contemporary & traditional artists, including new talent showcases, daytime events (like the innovative Jazz Bus) AND a slew of free shows. Looking forward to spending some time in Saint-Germain starting next week...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blue Skies

The studio is booked, the rehearsals are on track, the arrangements are down on paper, some demos are up on My Space--which means I'm up & running for the recording at the end of May. At there are five rough mixes from the album (tentatively named The Sky Was Blue). I'll be re-recording them at Bopcity studios with Remi Amblard on piano and rhodes, Tomasso Montagnani on electric and standup bass, Benoit Gil on guitar and Thierry Tardieu on drums and percussion.

And you can bet there will be one hell of a party in mid-June when we're done recording!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Manda Djinn, jazz and gospel singer at the Swan Bar in Paris

Manda Djinn is a force of nature.
She sings a high energy vocal jazz styled with gospel and rhythm and blues, and boy, she puts on a show! There's a lot of singers who are so deep in their vocal technique they seem absent physically from the stage, but Manda right there... She covers all the territory... her technique is fabulous: she knows the style she wants, she can pull of the interpretation... and she's a 'showman', in the best sense of the term: she connects with the audience and makes them feel and understand the text and the meaning of each song, while looking like she's having the best time in the world doing it. She used to be a professional dancer and that sense of rhythm and comfort on stage comes through in her music and physical presence. I've spoken with her a little bit about her performing history and sometime's it seems like she's simply sung or performed with everyone, everywhere..

For the past years she's had an active career in Gospel music in Europe, and around the world (She told me she's heading off to Japan for a Gospel tour in the next few days) but now she's going back to the standards: and with a fine couple of musicians: Claude Carrière on piano and Stephane Boutrit on double-bass. Manda has a regular monthly gig at the Swan Bar. check out our What's On Now page for upcoming info...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Perfect Day in Paris - great food, great architecture, great jazz

Someone asked me last night what would be the perfect day in Paris. impossible question, there are so many perfect days in Paris--whether you're walking around with a dime in your pocket or you have a platinum American Express card. (As a musician I admit that I fall somewhere in the lower end of that range.) My nights out normally involve live music so I thought I'd try and take the challenge and put together what I think is an amazing day and evening out in the city.

So, the perfect day: well, for a start, it's Sunday: because that's the greatest day in Paris--people hit the streets at 2pm after a lazy morning in bed and the cafes are packed all afternoon with calm, happy and good-looking (or at least very relaxed) Parisians. And on this lazy Sunday we have to start at Bastille because we need to get a couple of things accomplished. First there's a coffee at the Cafe Industrie to get us going. We can sit among the palms and the paintings of Africa and Indochina (with some extremely politically incorrect images of dusky bathing beauties among them) and people-watch through the windows. Then, fired up by the caffeine we'll gather our strength and go down to the Bastille Market to buy the fixings for a picnic later in the day.

Bastille Market is one of the best of the innumerable daily markets around the city. It takes place over the covered canal that comes down into the Seine from the North of the city. There's almost always a Dixieland band playing or a jazz trio busking with some Django-inspired gypsy jazz. Perhaps we could pick up some wine from an independent vineyard, maybe a roast chicken, some bread and tomatoes and for dessert: an apricot tart. With that stored in our backpacks we could head up the canal and begin to prowl our way through the afternoon.

Now we could head for the centre of the city, join the tourists and perhaps get a bit footsore from walking up the Eiffel Tower, but if I'm the guide, we'll take an alternative angle and head up to the multicultural district of Belleville. After wandering through the artist studios that fill up every nook and corner of the neighbourhood we'd share the food and the bottle of wine in the sun sitting in the pretty modern park that tumbles down the hill into the winding streets of Paris's Chinatown. We'd be surrounded by like-minded people and families with kids running through the fountains of the stream that runs through the middle of the garden. And at the square at the top with the incredible view over the city we might find another jazz band, or even a string quartet.

Then, when the sun got a bit too much, in the late afternoon, and when we need a pick-me-up, I'd head downhill and downtown for the Marais, the old Jewish district. It's filled with narrow shady streets and there are cafes with terrasses on every corner. As we head through the trendy Oberkampf strip we might find Sunday afternoon concert at the Cithea. They have a pretty eclectic programming that includes everything from House Music to traditional Jazz. We have a while to make up our minds about the evening: music and events and clubs don't normally get started till late and continue on until the wee hours, so there's no hurry. In fact, even after years in this city I still automatically arrive 'on time' for events and realize that I'm going to have to kill a couple of hours waiting for everyone else in Paris to get there. So, I'll head for my favourite corner in the city and my favourite terrace at the corner of Impasse du Tresor and Vieille du Temple and we can chat away the hours till the early evening. And now we have to make a choice! Do we catch an early set at the 7 lezards cafe, which is only a stones throw away...or do we grab a table on the terrace of Les Philosophes Cafe and spend a few more hours over a meal and another bottle of wine, before catching one of the late sets in the bars nearby... hmmmm. That's a tough one. I think we'd have to send a scout round the corner to find out what's playing and give us the thumbs up or down before we can make that choice. So... let's say that tonight the early show doesn't tempt us enough to spend the first part of the evening in a jazz cellar bar then we'll take over a table on the corner and slowly make our way through the three or four courses that we need after our stressful day. I'd definitely finish with a tiny glass of Vieille Prune alcohol...which sort of tastes like an orchard exploding on the back of your tongue (and is supposed to aid digestion: but I don't know anyone who actually drinks it for that reason).

Finally I'd head off for the jazz strip on rue des des Lombards. In a three-block space you've got four classic jazz clubs: Duc Des Lombards, the Sunset, the Sunside and La Baiser Sale. All of them are going to have a late night show starting between 9 and 10pm, we know we can catch something contemporary, something traditional, a launch of a new CD, perhaps a jam of local and visiting musicians or a vocalist trying out a set of standards. Personally I head first for the Duc des Lombards: mostly because I like the ambiance in the tiny little club...classy & quirky at the same time with fine musicians.

And as a final perk for a perfect Sunday: when we head out of the club at 1am and find that the Metro has ground to a halt, we'll have no problem either grabbing a taxi home or walking back to our place through the calm streets unfazed by the madness of the Saturday night crowds...

there it is: if anyone feels like inviting me along then let me know here...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Remi and the Jets

So I go for a first rehearsal with Remi, the pianist who'll be playing for me on the recording, and we go through the songs and then get to chatting about some songs he's working on. We head into his tiny studio and he fires up his computer to show me what he's working on right now. Now this is the bit where I feel like I'm someone who was expecting to take a drive in a comfortable but rather predictable Toyota, (I mean I've been around home studios before) however, when I climb into the Toyota I actually find that I'm sitting in the cockpit of an F1 fighter jet and we're doing loop the loops over the Grand Canyon. Remi has enough technology packed into this tiny little box that he could compete with Sony! So we spend an hour or so going through all the ways that one mic in his tiny (and I mean tiny) studio can be used to record some really beautiful music and then play with it after.

For the album I'm not that interested in capturing a 'live quartet' sound in the studio. I've always been in love with more produced sounds. One of my favourite pop albums of 2006 was Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine: and I think every single instrument on there had been tweaked and produced. Since working with Brian Eno back in the 80's I've been an admirer of what a producer can do with a record. And frankly, I don't think a straight album is that marketable. Another singer, with another jazz quartet... my disc will languish in the 'slush pile' of Agents and Festival's around the world.....

So, the outcome of this technological revelation is that I wanted a producer for the disc and Remi has the goods and wants to do it, so he'll be on the editing, mixing, playing and tweaking side of things. However, because I head back to Canada in July and we need several weeks in the studio to make it work I'm going to have to move the recording up from the middle of June to the end of May!! Which leaves four weeks to work with the musicians and finish the arrangements.... Ayieee! May should be a fun month!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Julien Lallier Quartet at 7 Lezards Jazz Club in Paris

A cool Paris basement in the summer heat... Julien Lallier was at the 7 Lezards Jazz Bar in Paris on Monday night to play through the compositions on his latest album, "Tarifa", for an intimate, appreciative crowd. "Tarifa" was inspired by a trip to Spain (most of the pieces are names of Spanish towns, so you can retrace his route if you feel like a bit of geography). 

The album has a depth that's rare in a first album: Lallier's influences include Keith Jarret and Miles Davis and their sound can be heard lovingly echoed in the depths of Lallier's compositions. Working with a quartet of friends whose intimacy comes through on the album and in concert, Lallier has the typical light touch of contemporary French keyboardists, with unusual depth to the sound. The quartet --Benjamin Body on bass, Jeff Baud on trumpet, and Julie Saury on drums-- was solid, the drummer putting out the most energy in the two sets [the usual Quartet line-up features Donald Kontomanou on drums, but Saury more than held her own.] Julien tells me that other priorities came up this year to keep him off the festival circuit, but if you have a chance to see him in Paris or at one of the gigs listed on his website you won't be dissapointed by your evening. Lallier's playing has a virtuoso's touch in both the composition and the playing and that's a rare thing these days.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Copywrite Enfringement Anyone

Couldn't resist putting up this rather alternative version of Mickey Mouse that we saw at the contemporary arts museum Palais de Tokyo last night. I'm not sure how they get away with using the big eared one in such an 'excited' pose without Disney's lawyers come down on them like a ton of bricks. However for 2000 euros you can take one of these adorable mice back home with you! We sat out in the crazy 1920's courtyard cafe afterward and discussed possibilities...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My favourite jazz Bassist in Paris

Met with Tommasso Montagnani, the extraordinary bassist I played with last year to talk about recording my  my new jazz album in Paris. We had a coffee near his place in Montmartre, near Chateau Rouge Metro

(where they have cleaned up the street and kicked most of the junkies away!... I had to wait for him for 20 minutes and it makes it a lot nicer on the corner!)

He's a bassist and ethnomusicologist... which maybe explains some of his eclectic style... BUT he is going to Brazil to study the music of the Amazon Indians for six months and he leaves on the 6th of June and my dates for the recording are tentatively the 10th to the 14th! I have to talk to three other musicians still, since everybody left town for the Easter Vacations... so either I put it at the end of May for Tommasso, which gives me only four weeks to rehearse, or I find someone new (it's hard to find a good bassist!!) and put it even later in June to give us more time. The arrangements aren't easy, so it's going to take us a bit of work to get them together... I'll know more in a week when all the French musicians come back from Easter with the family....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rock Stars under the Bridge and some very tight dresses at Le Tango in Paris

Tonight I'll be seeing Benoit Gil play at the Mano Bueno, but last night was a non-jazz evening. We started off at the Rock Star Karaoke at the new hot club that has been built into the walls of the Quai under the bridge Alexandre III.... you know the bridge, it's in every tourist photo of the city!

I was lucky enough to be in the company of Lisa Pasold, Heather Stimmler and Nicole

We were treated to a club that looked like it had been decked out by Saturday Night Fever's set decorator... and even better it had foosball and a view of the Eiffel Tower.

And for the Kararock there was a series of hilarious cameo's by would-be rock stars.

The band was great and doing their best to make everyone look good. It's all organized by a promoter who appears throughout the evening in various disguises. As we were leaving he appeared in the complete white top hat Alice Cooper outfit and sprayed the audience with fake blood. His site is sort of unnavigable on myspace... but you can try and find his upcoming events at . Normally this happens on a Sunday evening and often the cream of french rock musicians turn up to jam along with the band towards the end of the evening..

after that a quick and spectacular taxi ride along the quais past the Gare D'Orsay took us to Le Tango at Art et Metiers. It's a venerable institution in Paris's gay lifestyle.

Saturday nights are open to all and for 7 euros you can enjoy the 1940's ambience, a truly amazing drag show

and music that ranges from waltzes to pumping disco to spontaneous 'Madisons' where the entire dance floor suddenly divides up and does a line dance to 50's french pop music. We had stumbled in on Eurovision night and so we were treated to a medley of every fabulously awful winner in the last 20 years....