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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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From Billie Holiday to Edith Piaf

Futur Acoustic F 209



1. La Foule
2. Them There Eyes
3. Padam...Padam
4. What a Little Moonlight Can Do
5. Billie
6. Sailboat in the Moonlight
7. L'Homme ŕ la Moto
8. Strange Fruit
9. La Vie en Rose

Wynton Marsalis - Trumpet
Richard Galliano - Accordion
Walter Blanding - Tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet
Dan Nimmer - Piano (tracks 1-8)
Hervé Sellin - Piano (track 9)
Carlos Henriquez - Bass
Ali Jackson - Drums


The album title may seem puzzling, as Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf had such different vocal styles. Billie was a laid-back American jazz singer; Edith was "the little sparrow" from the Paris streets, whose repertoire drew much from the dramatic chanson. Yet they both had tortured lives, which they expressed through their often plaintive singing. And this CD plus DVD pays tribute to both vocalists, mainly by means of songs associated with each of them. These recordings were made in August 2008 during Wynton Marsalis's annual appearance at the Marciac Jazz Festival. Wynton's quintet was joined by special guest Richard Galliano, whose accordion playing I have hailed several times on this website. So the two leaders were both superb musicians - but so were the other members of the group. As with most Marsalis bands, this one contained only virtuosi.

You might think that Wynton Marsalis (an American) and Richard Galliano (a Frenchman) could be as far apart in style as Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, yet they work together empathically here. Both men obviously appreciate the emotional similarities between the two singers. and they are both are capable of communicating this instrumentally. One delight of this package is that the CD is accompanied by a DVD of the concert, so you can see what the musicians are doing as well as hearing them.

The concert opens with La Foule, a jolly piece (although it was ultimately sad when Piaf sang it) with a swaying rhythm and Gallic ambiance (at which Galliano is expert). Marsalis and Galliano contribute fine solos, and pianist Dan Nimmer adds a Latin-American flavour in his solo. The seemingly unstoppable Galliano stretches out the ending by repeating the tune's basic riff.

The mood switches to jazz for Them There Eyes, the melody stated by the tenor sax of Walter Blanding, who slides into a gliding solo. With brilliant fingerwork, Richard Galliano shows he is as adept at jazz as every other form of music and Marsalis plays games with the beat in his solo. The tenorist rounds off the number with an adventurous cadenza. The waltz Padam...Padam again evokes Edith Piaf. Blanding plays a finely ornamented solo on soprano sax, and Marsalis flies high in his improvisation. The pianist changes to 4/4 for his solo before settling back into waltz time.

What a Little Moonlight Can Do - forever associated with Billie Holiday - is taken at a fast tempo. Drummer Ali Jackson solos on the rim of his snare drum and on hi-hat before Wynton takes a coruscating solo. The focus on Billie Holiday continues with Richard Galliano's composition Billie, a poignant tune which pays the singer heartfelt homage. Galliano's playing tugs at the heart-strings. Sailboat in the Moonlight is another of Billie Holiday's specialities, here focusing on pianist Dan Nimmer's Garneresque pastiche. Dan stays the right side of parody but he makes me smile broadly. This truly is a musician to watch - but then so are all the other members of the band.

L'Homme ŕ la Moto - actually written by Lieber & Stoller - is accompanied by appropriate motor noises from the scratchy bowed bass and the hooting trumpet and saxophone. After their impressive solos, Marsalis and Galliano duet together in good-humoured dialogue before a skilful drum solo. This is the longest track on the CD and DVD (nearly 11 minutes) but it has no longueurs.

After the high spirits of this piece, Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday's most historic song) has extra seriousness, with Wynton's tortured trumpet squealing out, and funereal drums accompanying his mournful theme statement, while the clarinet weaves in and out. Using a plunger mute, Marsalis makes the trumpet sob and scream: this is clearly a tune he feels deeply, as it encapsulates the brutal experiences of African Americans over the centuries.

La Vie en Rose strikes a happier note to end the concert. It's the sort of bitter-sweet song you can imagine Billie Holiday singing as well as Edith Piaf (did Billie ever record it?). Richard Galliano's accordion is beautifully lyrical here - even the previously solemn bassist is moved to smile.

No regrets? Non! Je ne regrette rien. In fact, this is already one of my albums of the year.

Tony Augarde

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