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Melanie Dahan: La Princesse et les Croque-Notes

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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There is a certain something about La Princesse et les Croque-Notes, and it is the same je ne sais quoi that exists in the first blush of wine and in the beguiling smile of Mona Lisa. It is that mesmerizing something filled with duende and saudades. It is Spanish and African and Brazilian all rolled into French, but above all it is, tantalizing, memorable, chanson and jazz.

Melanie Dahan is a vocalist of the highest order and on this record she connects the art of chanson from its earliest times through modern chanson turning the music of Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel and Leo Ferre into contemporary standards swirling in a powerful vortex of jazz. Blessed with a gymnastic contralto Dahan stretches her lithe voice to leap and dart and soar across a vocal stratosphere as if she were painting a canvas delicately with sound. Whether she is channeling pathos or being heraldic, Dahan appears able to pirouette across space, glide subtly between tones and she can vault from rhythmic precipice to rhythmic precipice, always seeming to recover enough to take flight again.

Her vocals are deliciously dainty on "La Salle et la Terrasse," feminine yet sinewy on "L'enfant Maquille" and majestic on "La Princesse et le Croque Notes," all the while being the model of precision in her interpretations of the inner rhythms and slurring gentility of the chansons of Aznavour and Brassens. On Claude Nougaro and Aldo Romano's "Rimes," she hits the rhythmic center of the music with aplomb and she shows she can skit puckishly on Pierre Bourouh and Francis Lai's "A Bicyclette." On every other song, especially "La mer a Boire," she finds the heart of the piece from the very first notes she begins to sing.

This is contemporary chanson at its very best. There are moments though when Dahan steers her song through the heart of the polyphonic song, conjuring up spirits of rondeau, virelai and chanson baladee—just a hint though, enough to praise the art and worship at the altar of its high priests and priestesses—from Daufay to Piaf.

In a miraculous manner, Dahan—the producer—has also managed to bring just that perfect musical balance to the instrumentation of each song with the core group of bassist Marc-Michel le Bevillon and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc. But the most magnificent interplay is between vocalist and pianist. On songs like "La Salle..." and the title track, when vocalist and pianist get into the heart of the song, it feels as if medieval sorcery is at work.

Not since Chick Corea and Flora Purim on Light As A Feather (Polydor, 1973) and specially on "500 Miles High," has there been such a sublime, symbiotic relationship between singer and pianist. And now Melanie Dahan and Giovanni Mirabassi on La Princesse et les Croque-Notes intertwine in a marvelous relationship of music and lyric poetry. The art of chanson cavorts sensuously with the art of jazz in an unforgettable way.

Track Listing: La Salle et la Terrasse; L'enfant Maquille; La Princesse et le Croque-notes; Les Poetes; J'aimerais tant Savoir; Rimes; Le Hais les Dimaches; Si tu me Payes un Verre; A Bicyclette; La Mer a Boire; Je me suis fait tout Petit; Le petit Bal Perdu.

Personnel: Melanie Dahan: voice; Giovanni Mirabassi; piano; Marc-Michel le Bevillon: contrabass; Matthieu Chazarenc; drums; Pierrick Pedron: alto saxophone (5, 9).

Title: La Princesse et les Croque-Notes | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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