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China Moses & Raphael Lemonnier: China Moses: Crazy Blues

Mehdi El Mouden By

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Pouring old wine into new bottles has become a specialty of vocalist China Moses and Pianist/Arranger Raphael Lemonnier. Rejuvenating classics with a pint of spirited innovation is a landmark of the duet, who, for their first encounter revisited the best of Dinah Washington, This One's for Dinah. For their second collaboration they pay tribute to great dames of blues and soul, and reexamine how 'blues' can be so jazzy. As such, Crazy Blues is unchained and blurs the dividing line between blues and jazz.

The powerful presence of Moses, as well as her vocal flexibility, combined with Lemmonier's exploratory vision confers verve to the takes. Comparison with the original songs is useless, as Moses and Lemonnier do not borrow. Rather, they capture a song's essence.

Ranging from Mamie Smith, Lilian Smith, Dinah Washington, Little Esther and Nina Simone, to Etta James, the remakes trace roots of female blues singing, passing the pop and rock of Janis Joplin and Donna Summer along the way. The entire variety is worth rediscovering, and sheds light on the songs' jazz possibilities.

The album opens with a slow, rhythmic yet funny ballad, "Resolution Blues," where Moses cries out in longing. 'Why don't You do Right" follows, to raise the beat and display each musician's talent and flexibility as they turn a tender song into bebop. In call and response style, "Closing Time" is a gentle ballad featuring Hugh Coltman. Similarly, "Crying" is contemplative and touching. The fifth song, "The Mailman, the Butcher, and Me'' is an original where Lemonnier and bassist Cedric Caillaud navigate through drive and rhythm while Moses punctuates pauses to pave the ground for impulsive starts. Sixth on the album, "Crazy Blues," sounds similar to Dixieland, with a horn section orchestrated with finesse.

By far, one of the album's most cheerful songs is "Cherry Wine," a second duet featuring vocalist Sly Johnson. The song recounts a couple's fight over a bottle of cherry wine and abounds with saxophone solos. The lustful "I Just Want To make Love To You" is played with a pint of suspense. The refrain is slowed and repeated several times until Moses improvises, and pushes for an ascending climax. Simone's "Work Song" is a wonderful percussion exercise, and an opportunity for the saxophone players to display their talent. Trumpet player Renaud Gensane blows his top at the end of the tune.

On the other hand, "Hot Stuff" is one of the familiar hits that displays the band's creativity to twist disco with rock influences into masterfully arranged, orchestral blues in Chicago colors. In Simone's "Just Say I Love Him," Moses unleashes dramatic contralto singing, infused with Bastien Ballaz's trombone to reinforce the poignant lyrics. To liven up the album, the last song is a groovy version of Janis Joplin's "Move Over." With an ostinato on piano and rolling drums, Moses smooths out Joplin's original ascending rhythm to make it sound warmer.

These covers by Moses and Lemonnier have all been re- imagined to sound fresh with creativity. They shine, intense and loud!

Track Listing: Resolution Blues; Why Don't You Do Right; You're Crying; The Mailman The Butcher And Me; Crazy Blues; Cherry Wine; I Just Want to Make Love to You; Work Song; Hot Stuff; Just Say I Love Him; Move Over.

Personnel: China Moses: vocals; Raphael Lemonnier : piano; Jean-Pierre Derouard: drums; Fabien Marcoz : bass; Guests Luigi Grasso: alto & tenor sax #1,2,4,6,7,8,10; Anne Paceo: drums #2; Pierrick Pedron: alto sax #2,10; Cedric Caillaud: bass #5; Hugh Coltman: vocals #3; Daniel Huck: alto sax #6,7; Sly Johnson: vocals #7; François Biensan: trumpet #6,7,8; Renaud Gensane: trumpet #2,9,10; Bastien Ballaz: trombone #2,10,11; Frédéric Couderc: baritone & tenor sax, clarinet #2,6,7,8,10; Jean-Claude Onesta: trombone #2,6,7,8,10; Claude Egea: trumpet #2,10; Nicolas Dary: tenor sax #2,10; Jean-Claude Tartour: violin; Camille Verhoeven: violin; Nicolas Galière: viola; Vincent Catulescu: cello.

Title: China Moses: Crazy Blues | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Madeinchina Productions

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