During a tour of Europe last summer, a number of American-based jazz musicians of Jacky Terrasson's generation settled in a small remote town in France to record an album. The studio had been converted from a winery. The camaraderie of the musicians developed from the fact that the closest town was 20 miles away. The result of the collaboration is Á Paris, Terrasson's tribute to the music he heard while he was growing up in the City Of Light.
After a stunning and influential recording debut on Blue Note in 1994, Terrasson has proceeded to thrill audiences with his percussive and seemingly conflicted style on the piano. Combines force with sudden quietude, rumbling percussion with rubato ruminative stretches, melodic sweetness with angular improvisation, perambulating relaxation with unpredicted acceleration, Terrasson teases with anticipation and surprise.
Such is not the case on Á Paris.
Instead of surprise, Terrasson honors the melodic form of French songs popularized by singers like Edith Piaf, Barbara, Jacques Brel or Charles Trenet. Such a deference includes containing the songs within the three- or four-minute length of the typical recordings he heard on the record player in his home. One of the songs spanning the longest track length is Terrasson's first recorded composition, "I Love You More."
In contrast, Terrasson's interprets chanteuse Barbara's song, "Nantes," as a music-boxed, childhood song of only two minutes that slowly envelopes the listener and then abruptly ends.
Terrasson's now-classic arrangement of "I Love Paris" has evolved on Á Paris into a funkier version with a strong bass line from Ugonna Okegwo. Yet, after starting on the piano, Terrasson performs the slowed middle section on Fender Rhodesan instrument gaining more of his recording attention lately, especially on his last album, What It Is.
Terrasson has assembled a diverse group of musicians for his project, including his original trio of Okegwo and Leon Parker on three tunes. However, the bulk of the recording is done by French bassist Remi Vignolo and Stefon Harris' drummer, Terreon Gully. Since Harris was performing in Europe at the same time, he was able to appear on Á Paris' final track, Métro, a medium-tempo, minute-and-a-half imitation of the sound of the Parisian subway as it careens through the tunnels beneath the city. In fact, Terrasson is scheduled to appear on Harris' next CD.
The salient ingredient of Á Paris, though, is the singability of the music. Terrasson's trio calms down the chauvinistic French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," into a waltz that could be sung soothingly without bombast or force. Terrasson's (as well as Little Jimmy Scott's) harmonica player, Gregoire Marat, adds a sense of melodrama to Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" ("If You Go Away"). Interestingly, Terrasson opposes the urgency of the harmonica with blues-influenced modulations and exploding bombs of unanticipated strikes before calming into a straightforward melodic exposition on the piano.
French guitarist Bireli Lagréne joins Terrasson on three tracks, most notably leading the development of the title tune, "Á Paris." Performing a gorgeous ballad unfolding over Terrasson's half-note changes before the two of them glide into a middle-section blues. They delicately trade phrases in gypsy-like references of flatted fifths and flatted seconds in a minor scale. Terrasson and Lagréne have fun with "Que Reste - T'il de Nos Amous?" ("I Wish You Love"), as Lagréne assumes the rhythm guitar part behind Terrasson's light-hearted improvisation on Fender Rhodes.
The first two tunes on the album convey the variability of Terrasson's styles. He adds a spiritual element to Edith Piaf's "Plaisir d'amour," somewhat akin to the hand-clappable "Oh Happy Day." And yet on Francis Poulenc's "Les Chemins de L'amour," Terrasson substitutes horizontal flow over bar lines for startling percussiveness to reveal the melodic potential of the song.
Unlike any other Jacky Terrasson album to date, Á Paris reportedly inspired him to continue presenting the beauty of French music to audiences beyond France's borders. Another album of French songs is planned.
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