Guillaume de Chassy: The Ugly and the Beautiful
"Before offering something very personal with my own compositions, I preferred, in the end, to do my homework, with various repertoires, taken on in a fairly personal way, with a coloring of my own, if you like. After that, I could offer my own universe, say, 'Look, here's what else I have in the shop.' As I see it, this approach is not calculated on my part; this is really the artistic path that I wanted to follow. Now I see that Piano Solo, which is not an easy record, has been well received, and perhaps that's because people have gotten to know me through the earlier records. [...]"
The "earlier records" include three albums of duets with bassist Daniel Yvinec, part of a multi-album project the two have devised. "I met Daniel for the first time at the worst gig you can imagine. It was Paris, in August, a drummer had asked us to do a truly rotten gig. I was playing electric piano. We played for two people. This was almost ten years ago. The gig was terrible, but Daniel said, let's stay in touch. He was playing electric bass at the time.
"Time passed, I was doing a lot of things, and I was contacted by a saxophonist, totally paranoid and a pathological liar, whose name I won't mention, who said, 'Guillaume, I'd like to meet you, why don't we do some rehearsals together, find a drummer and a bassist and we'll have a little rehearsal.' The rehearsal was a disaster, it didn't lead to anything. But the bassist was Daniel Yvinec, still playing the electric bass. When we were leaving the rehearsal, we said to each other that rehearsal was worthless, but we had a good time playing together.
"I met up again with Daniel in 2002. He called, he said, 'It's Daniel, I don't know if you remember me, I play the double bass'he had switched to double bass. 'I'm doing a concert at the Maison du Jazz, I'd like you to join us...' It was like love at first sight, a flash, it was super.
"We fell into the habit of working together, the two of us, informally, and he would show up here, in the afternoon or evening, and we would work together. We had sessions here almost every day, sometimes with other musiciansnotably the guitarist Frédéric Loiseau. You know him? You should check him out, he's really the French Jim Hall.
"One night, a really depressing night at the end of 2002, my wife was sick, it was cold, it was dark, there was no gig. I had dinner with Daniel, and we said, 'Okay, no one knows usno one outside a tiny professional communitythe records are not selling, etc., in sum, everything's going badly. Let's come up with a super project, a totally crazy project, ambitious, and we'll send it to some producers, and we'll see what happens.' And that's how we came up with our project, which we called 'Music for Troubled Times,' a three-album project. It caught on immediately. All of a sudden we had an offer from a label to make a first record. We accepted an offer from Juste une Trace, a tiny little label, we made a first record, entirely improvised, called Ghost of a Song. It was a bit outside the 'Troubled Times' concept. What we played was based on standards, but without playing the themes. We borrowed all the titles from Gary Larson, we both love Gary Larson. Well, people didn't really understand the record. But it nevertheless made the year's-best list for Jazz Magazine.
"So there was some interest. And then we began the series: Chansons sous les bombes, Wonderful World, and we're working on the third. And it is there that the collaboration with Daniel is really taking shape... The solo record arrives at this moment, and by chance I chose Daniel to be the recording director for the new record. He's always there in some way, never far."
The first installment of "Music for Troubled Times," and the pianist's first release on Bee Jazz Records, was the critically-acclaimed 2004 album, Chansons sous les bombesor "Songs beneath the bombs." De Chassy and Yvinec, with vocalist André Minveille on a handful of cuts, adapted French chansons from the World War II era. "It's between 1932 and 1950, 1955: truly around the Second World War in France. It corresponds to the Great American Songbook: that's to say, the French singers of that era were very much inspired by American musical comedy. In France, this music is called 'Music Hall.' That's why you find rhythms, compositional forms, harmonic figures that are very close to American standards."
Particularly affecting is "Le Petit Bal Perdu," a winsome recollection of lovers in a tiny, isolated dance hall that has fallen into disrepair. "The historical version is by a French actor and singer, who became very well known in the '40s and '50s, named Bourvil. Bourvil was really a comic actor. And very, very French, very much the average Frenchman. He spoke what you would call hillbilly; really the guy from the country with his little raincoat, his little hat. This really reflects post-War France, you know? You should really listen to Bourvil's version, accompanied by a musette orchestra, with accordion. That dance style is called 'java.' The singer, André Minvielle, had never sung that song. We had never rehearsed with him; we met in the studio, and I had the lyrics for him. He knew the melody. I had just written the chordsin fact, I hadn't written the chords, I had just written the bass note that Daniel had to play. And with that, pop! On the record, it's the first take that you hear."
L:R: Guillaume de Chassy, David Linx, Daniel Yvinec
Chansons sous les bombes draws its strength from a wealth of melodic material. "Jarrett said, 'Music is melody.' In fact, that's a little dogmatic, because there are other things besides melody in music. Fortunately [laughs]! But for me, that's what comes first, in fact. That's always what I'm looking for; if I find something that has a lot of rhythm, a lot of complicated harmony, etc., I always try to make a song emerge, at one moment or another. That's why I love so much the work of Bill Evans, or why I love so much the work of Bill Carrothers, for example: they are great melodists, and they always put a simple melody on top, and behind that there is an entire marvelous harmonic universe.
"That's why I love Prokofiev, for example, who's a specialist in very, very simple melodies. I mean, he's even composed a number of hit songs. Take Romeo and Juliet; for me, there are fifteen hit songs in Romeo and Juliet! With his facility for the concertante, and behind it, surprises of color, of harmony, surprises of orchestration, rhythmic surprises, and there is always that connecting thread."