Nous N’Irons Pas a New York 2013

Patricia Myers By

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Nous N'Irons Pas a New York 2013
Duc des Lombards
Paris, France
July 23-30, 2013

Four American jazz stars performed as part of a two-month-long tribute to New York-style jazz at Duc des Lombards for its annual Nous N'Irons Pas a New York ("We're not going to New York") theme, indicating that New York/American musicians were appearing at the club.

Pianist Cedar Walton, 79, was walking with a cane, but he performed at top level from a repertoire of standards and originals with his longtime bassist David Williams and French drummer Mourad Benhammou. In the first set, Walton seemed to be in a reminiscent mood, playing pretty versions of "Young and Foolish," "Over the Rainbow" and a quote-filled "Body and Soul."

His melodic reflections continued on three originals, "Cedar's Blues," "Martha's Prize" (written for his wife) and "Dear Ruth" (for his mother). He gained energy with his most widely known composition, the dynamic "Bolivia," fusing Latin rhythm with hard-bop phrasing.

A highlight of the second set was an extended medley of Thelonious Monk hits that segued from "Bye-Ya" and "Ruby My Dear" to "'Round Midnight" and "Rhythm-a-ning," each filled with inventive harmonics and rivulets of runs. His final selection was the pensive "Every Time We Say Goodbye." When the audience encouraged an encore, he chose "On the Trail," the only one of five movements from composer Ferde Grofé's 1931 orchestral composition, "Grand Canyon Suite," that has become a jazz standard.

Earlier in the week, pianist Cyrus Chestnut swung his way through two knuckle-busting originals, "Spicy Honey" and "Soul Brothers Cool." The next selections prompted nods of familiarity with two totally different genres, the pianist playing Lionel Richie's 1980s hit "Hello" and then shifting into the classical catelogue with "Swinging the Toreador," first heard on guitarist Barney Kessel's 1959 reworking of composer Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen, on Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet's Carmen (Contemporary).

Chestnut returned to his jazz book with "Stompin' at the Savoy" that had every foot in the room tapping to the strong swing energy delivered with the aid of American expat bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Willie Jones III. Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" was conveyed in waltz tempo instead of the usual Latin rhythm, followed by the pianist revealing his early church-gospel influence in a deep-hearted rendition of "How Great Thou Art." He closed the first set with the wonderful 12-bar blues of Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove."

Chestnut unleashed a more rollicking second set, opening in bebop mode with leapfrogged octaves that made "Yardbird Suite" pop with energy. He switched form with Jones' tranquil original, "In Search of a Quiet Place," and then delivered a Mozart-style intro for "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

The pianist's interpretations of "Lover," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" were filled with rippling chord progressions and flurries of 32nd notes reminiscent of Art Tatum's sound of four hands playing. After "Blue Bossa" and Monk's "Blue Monk," the by-demand encore was a prayerful delivery of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," fully proving that Chestnut can play pretty or he can play hard, impressive in both styles.

Craig Handy's fiery tenor saxophone reflected his three decades of work, ranging from "In a Sentimental Mood" to "Bye-Ya." Early in the set, he reinvented the requisite tenor ballad, "Body and Soul," with pianist Cedric Chaveau playing sleekly lyrical as bassist Nicola Sabato (both from France) underscored the melody lines.

Midway through the first set, Handy kept the momentum going with unbroken segues that included his vocals on "Willow Weep for Me" and an original, "Baby Take a Chance with Me." His untamed style in the second set, playing "Cold Duck," "Straight, No Chaser" and George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark" seemed to please the crowd the most. Following his summer European tour, Handy will release an as-yet untitled CD later this year that features organ and sousaphone.

Paris expatriate pianist Kirk Lightsey staged an exciting quintet that opened with a 15-minute exploration of Ron Carter's abstract "81." Co-star of the set was Madrid expat Jerry Gonzalez, alternating on muted trumpet and five conga drums. Gonzalez, leader for 35 years of the Latin-jazz Fort Apache Band, reinforced Lightsey's high-energy keyboard style on the first two avant-garde charts.

Then the sound shifted into hard-swinging bebop and, although the ensemble frequently sounded more fragmented than cohesive, the delivery was full of fire. Gonzalez' original "Verdad Amarga" was marked by a stunning guitar solo from Simon Belety, supported by electric bassist Jerome Barde and American drummer Steve McCraven. At the end of the set, Lightsey invited adroit vocalist Ti Harmon to deliver the challenging lyrics of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March (Aguas de Marco)" in English and Portuguese. Lightsey's two nights closed the July themed focus, followed by a series in August of European musicians playing America's gift to the world.

The Duc has been a popular Paris jazz club since 1986, particularly since its remodeling in 2007-08. The club charges 30 to 35 Euros admission for each of two sets, 8:00 and 10:00pm. If the second set is not "complet" (sold out), those at the first can pay 25 Euros to stay, but must vacate the room until full-payers are seated. The Duc offers a menu of small plates but doesn't require food orders.

The club seats 75, with closest-to-stage seating at low tables with barrel-style chairs. An aisle for wait-staff access separates a line of high-top tables and stools against a wall that offers the best sound and views. Another row of low seating is in front of those, plus half a dozen seats at the nearby bar and eight high-stool seats at the far side of the stage. Many late arrivals head for the second-level café area or the side room of stools or low chairs, with access to flat-screens with live video to compensate for blind spots. Additional seating is in the narrow lobby, where only a few have a view of the stage, so the prevailing mantra is to arrive early for best seating choices, although the sound quality is good throughout the club.

In general, listeners at the Duc are respectfully focused on the music without side chatter, although listening was marred one night when the parents of two young children allowed them to continually run in the aisles, and three men talked and critiqued throughout the performance. On Fridays and Saturdays, Duc's midnight jam sessions for locals has free admission, so when second-setters leave, they're met by a long line along the sidewalk.

The Duc's 50-part series during two months featured 30 American musicians including saxophonists Lou Donaldson and Benny Golson, vocalist Diane Schuur, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, guitarist John Pizzarelli and pianists Gerald Clayton, Jon Batiste and Aaron Diehl.

July in Paris also offered other jazz series featuring Americans. Down the street from the Duc, Sunside presented "American Jazz Fest'Halles" (both clubs are in the bustling Les Halles area on the Right Bank) and brought in saxophonist Benny Golson, and trumpeters Eddie Henderson and Dave Douglas, for 22 to 30 Euro admissions.

The more spacious New Morning club booked one-nighters for trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Roy Hargrove, vocalists Roberta Gambarini and Rickie Lee Jones, guitarist Lee Ritenour and bassists Ron Carter, Kyle Eastwood and Steve Swallow (the last, with pianist Carla Bley) at admissions of 25 to 33 Euros.

On the higher-priced agenda, vocalist George Benson was booked at Olympia to promote his recent Nat King Cole tribute, Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole (Concord, 2013) (73 to 95 Euros); blues singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt played La Cigale (40 to 62 Euros); and bassist Marcus Miller performed at Theatre Mogador (45 to 76 Euros).

In addition, the Caveau de la Huchette, the oldest jazz club in Paris (continuous since 1946), once again booked American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. He performed two nights with longtime French colleagues pianist Philippe Duchemin, acoustic bassist Patricia Lebeugle and drummer Didier Doriz.

The underground club has nightly jazz that attracts dancers, so the requisite mode is swing with a sprinkling of ballads. Hamilton's legendary métier was demonstrated on easy-flowing improvisations of "Bernie's Tune" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" that filled the cellar's stone floor with couples. He shifted into his trademark lusciously smoky tone for smooth-as-butter renditions of "Tenderly" and "Sophisticated Lady." Then came more excitement on charts such as "Cherokee" and "I Got Rhythm," delivering the sound of effortless exuberance that comes from Hamilton's full command of his instrument.

Hamilton, who has released more than 40 albums and now is living in Tuscany, said he works regularly, year-round, throughout Europe. One element is the French summer jazz festival circuit with Duchemin and Huchette owner/vibraphonist Dany Doriz in locales such as Cognac, Abbaye de Fontdouce and Festival Villes sur Auzon.

Duchemin, whose agile keyboard command and dynamic style have rightly been compared to Oscar Peterson, also performed concerts and festivals this summer in Marseille, Toulon, Bordeaux, Nimes and Le Mans. He recently released his eleventh album, Swing & Strings (Black & Blue Records, 2012), featuring his jazz trio plus a string quartet.

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