Café Universel, Paris
January 16th, 2010
As a treat for my 40th birthday, I went for a weekend in Paris to hear Margeaux Lampley. And a treat it was... Margeaux Lampley, born in New York, raised in California and, after practicing law in the U.S., starting her second (artist's) life by coming to Paris, where she has studied and performed jazz for the last two years.
Lampley recorded her debut album Love For Sale (Fuchsia Jazz, 2008) more than a year ago as testimony to her love of jazz standards as sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Like the aforementioned jazz divas, Lampley's voice and approach offer a warm and personalized take on these standards. She also composes her own tunes, such as "Building Walls" and "Still In The Mood," on which her singing alone proves she owns the songs on a personal level.
Relatively quickly, Lampley has become a regular on the Paris jazz scene, accompanied, moreover, by some of the best jazz musicians the city has to offer. She is showing constant progression and growth in the two years she's been singing jazz, becoming more relaxed, learning how to take liberties within the tempo of any given song, and allowing herself maximum creative and interpretive freedom.
On this evening, Café Universel supplied a friendly setting that was an ideal fit for Lampley's style of singing. Beginning with a medium-up version of the Victor Young standard, "Weaver Of Dreams," a Nat "King" Cole / Carmen McRae classic later embraced by John Coltrane, she used the song to establish intimacy as the ambiance for the evening. Lampley has learned to take her ballads expressively slow, increasing opportunities for freedom of interpretation through a "less is more" approach to her material. Soon to follow was another standard, Harold Arlen's "Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea," raising the beat slightly, with pianist Olivier Hutman delivering a thoughtful solo while demonstrating his total control of the instrument, playing just the right notes and chords at the right timecall it "straight-ahead," or simply "no-frills," jazz at its best. Bassist Blaise Chevallier laid down solid bass lines and, when given a turn, contributed attention-holding, inventive solosall the more impressive, since the drummer-less instrumentation required that he be THE rhythm section for the evening.
Continuing with "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," the first slow ballad of the evening (and a tune often regarded as an essential part of a jazz singer's repertory), Lampley demonstrated the storytelling and emotional qualities she has to offer the listener, especially when presented with a melody and lyric requiring sensitive phrasing and close attention to overall development.
Next was Jerome Kern's much-performed "All The Things You Are," with a beautiful intro by the vocalist, soon giving way to her spot-on inventions during the familiar melodic line. Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," featuring an arrangement with a funky rhythmic line, was a unique take on this well-known standard, combining R&B phrases, exquisite phrasing, and the imaginative use of space by Lampley, with pianist Hutman all the while delivering alert and supportive accompaniment both rhythmically and melodically. But the most impressive tune of the evening was Rodgers and Hart's clever "You Took Advantage of Me," on which Lampley's story-telling skills as a jazz singer once again shone through.
The second set began with another theater piece, made famous as a jazz standard by Miles Davis, Frank Loesser's "If I Were Bell," from Guys and Dolls. Lampley's immaculate phrasing was sufficient reminder of the song's dramatic origins. Another mention-worthy tune: "Once In Every Life," sung very slowly and thoughtfully. This is an unknown gem, recorded only once in jazz style (much as the title suggests)by Johnny Hartman, and perhaps known to a few listeners from Clint Eastwood's use of it in the soundtrack of the actor-director's The Bridges of Madison County (1995).
"Still In The Mood," a Lampley original, was rendered superbly if not to perfection. And why not? It was her song, it was her night. It was also my night in Parisa night to remember, with Lampley supplying the silky and loving setting for my personal celebration.