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Belgian singer Gabrielle Ducomble began her recording career in 2003, after reaching the finale of French television's Pop Idol. After hearing Dee Dee Bridgewater Ducomble started to move towards jazz, relocated to London and graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. So, while J'ai Deux Amours is not her first recording, it is her jazz debut.
Ducomble's voice is lightly expressive, with a slight vulnerability that adds emotional depth to the more romantic or melancholy songs. Her sound and her choice of composers give her a resemblance to Stacey Kent and to Dutch singer and actress Mathilde Santing. All three are comfortable with the Great American Songbook but are also willing to explore elsewhereDucomble covers the songs of French writer Serge Gainsbourg ("La Javanaise") and fellow-Belgian Jacques Brel ("La Chanson Des Vieux Amants") with great sympathy here.
Any vocalist who decides to perform Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" invites comparison with Grace Jones' darkly erotic version of the song. Ducomble and guitarist Nicolas Meier's arrangement focuses on the drama and mystery of the song to create an original interpretation that complements Jones' own. Meier's guitar playing is exceptional, combining precision and drive to conjure up an air of tension that Chris Garrick takes further with his own powerful, almost threatening violin solo. Garrick's playing is also a highlight of "Mahna de Carnaval," but this time he picks up on the song's melancholy romance to create a beautiful solo filled with longing and regret. He creates a similar mood on "La Chanson des Vieux Amants," weaving in and out of Ducomble's emotive vocal.
On the opening verse of "Spring is Here" Ducomble sounds rather nervous and hesitant, and the lyric loses impact as a result. It's oddly uncharacteristic and, given the strength of her vocals on most of the songsespecially "Libertango " and "That's All"such a lack of confidence is also unexpected. On her own arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring"from the same '09 session that produced "Spring Is Here"Ducomble's joyously bright vocal is given terrifically upbeat musical support by the band, with pianist Alex Hutton and trumpeter Andy Davies both contributing solos that perfectly complement the singer's optimism.
J'ai Deux Amours is a welcome debut from a new European jazz vocalist. Ducomble's voice has charm, and her willingness to go beyond the standard vocal repertoire is to be applauded.
Track Listing: Haven't We Met; J'ai Deux Amours; Libertango; Spring is Here; My Little Boat; La Chanson des Vieux Amants; It Might As Well Be Spring; Manha de Carnaval; La Javanaise; Never Will I Marry; That's All.
Personnel: Gabrielle Ducomble: vocals; Alex Hutton: piano; Nicolas Meier: guitar; Nick Racal: double-bass; Saleem Raman: drums; Chris Garrick: violin; John Bailey: piano (1, 10, 11); Eric Ford: drums (2, 4, 7); Andy Davies: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 4, 7); Nathan Mansfield: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 5, 10).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.