Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sophisticated Ladies: A True Story. Swing & Latin Jazz

Year: 2012

Style: Jazz

Label: Self-Realeased

Musicians: Rachael Magidson - vocals, flugelhorn, percussion; Nolwenn Leizour - upright bass, vocals (8); Emilie Calme - flute, bansuri, vocals (8); Valerie Chane-Tef - piano, vocals (8).

CD Review: "Sophisticated Ladies" is a quartet of musicians of international flavor and rigorous musical training. In a word, they are simply: "good!" They come from very different backgrounds which spawn resplendent cultural heritages that infuse their music with excitement, vitality and originality.

Rachael Magidson is from the California Bay Area (San Francisco). She has lived in Europe, is very familiar with, and proficient on, African percussion. Valerie Chane-Tef from the island of La Reunion, is a prominent pianist in France, well schooled in African music, and has a superbly developed sense of rhythm. Nolwenn Leizour and Emilie Calme are both from South West France, and are considered virtuosos on their respective instruments.

Valerie Chane-Tef's opening piano chords and Emilie Calme's airy flute announce Rogers & Hart's 1937 show tune (The Lady Is A Tramp) like a forecast of artistic refinement and undeniable aesthetic appeal to be heard throughout Sophisticated Ladies: A True Story; and serve as a stimulating, preparatory musical aperitif for the frighteningly hedonistic impact of lead vocalist Rachael Magidson. Magidson is one of those song stylists that sits you down, head bowed, arms crossed, eyes closed and pretty much has her way with you emotionally. You could easily succumb to a state of bewitched, bothered bewilderment; this 'lady is no tramp,' but she knows a few tricks about the good art of trampling ennui and mindless tedium.

There is something to be said for a recording date with a play list framed by the song books Rogers/Hart and Claude Nougaro/Neil Hefti/Bobby Troup. In this case, the rest of the frame is filled with musical treasures from the pens of such venerated composers/lyricists as, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prevert/Johnny Mercer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Fred Coots & Haven Gillespie, and Allie Wrubel & Herb Magidson. This musical offering is blended with ideal stylistic balance and rich eclectic judgement. It arrives loaded with expectations that are transformed into delightful, exciting swing and Latin jazz music, by this group of confident, courageous, perceptive artists.

Sophisticated Ladies
L - R Nolwenn Leizour (bass); Emilie Calme (flute, bansuri);
Valerie Chane-Tef (piano, seated);
Rachael Magidson (vocals, flugelhorn).
Showing absolute conviction about their intent to epitomize elegance, poise, and savoir faire, the quartet raises Ellington's 1932 jazz standard (Sophisticated Lady) to a new standard of their own. It is Magidson's optimistic, panoramic vocal that adds gleaming, interpretive freshness, and vivacity that is hard to ignore.

The down reaching, hypnotic bass of Nolwenn Leizour leads Magidson's enchanting French lyrics and Chane-Tef's accompanying piano into Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prevert's 1945 popular song (Autumn Leaves), originally, "Les Feuilles Mortes." Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics a year later (1946). Magidson demonstrates profound sensitivity and consummate respect for the Hungarian French composer Kosma, and lyricist, French poet Prevert, by singing the entire song in flawless French, thereby returning the memory of the song to its compositional roots. She also pays tribute to Edith Piaf one of France's greatest national and international singers, who sang widely acclaimed versions of "Autumn Leaves." Turning this performance into a tour de force of versatility, Magidson adds effective percussive rhythmic color (congas) to Chane-Tef's pungent Latin keyboard, and Emilie Calme's aerial flute, to transform the song into an alluring, succulent Cuban Bolero to secure its place as a definite standout on the album.

"Sophisticated Ladies" is 'A True Story', about four artists, whose collective experiences and personalities resonate throughout their music, and like the vicissitudes of life, become windows into their theater of existential reality. Reflected in this musical experience is the realization and acceptance of the influence found in personal relationships (You Go To My Head), heard in Chane-Tef's poignantly melodic piano backing of Magidson's unpretentious reading of the lyric. As an emotional counter, an instrumental version of Charlie Parker's not often heard (Segment) is explored by flautist Emilie Calme, and defined as a flighty, intoxicated jaunt, which transforms the musical atmosphere with brisk, energetic, impetuous colors.

There are always those moments of loss (Gone With The Wind), where sadness is described in the bitter-sweet emotion captured in Nolwenn Leizour's crepuscular bass figures, and contrasted against Magidson's 'happy' percussion and vocal. But there must be a time in life for beauty, quiet joy and pensive introspection like that heard in Rachael Magidson's even, flowing flugelhorn salute to Antonio Carlos Jobim's beautiful bossa nova standard (Insensatez), on which the band makes a perfectly executed, collective pivot to raise their voices in unison for a release of celebration, with a romping version of the Claude Nougaro/Neil Hefty/Bobby Troup song (Dansez Sur Moi) also known as "Girl Talk," and as any celebration should be: a fitting finale to a variegated, telling event, especially one as exciting as a true story about one's life.

Track Listing: The Lady Is A Tramp; Sophisticated Lady; Autumn Leaves; You Go To My Head; Segment; Gone With The Wind; Insensatez; Dansez Sur Moi.

Recorded at Studio Berduquet.
Sound Engineer: Pascal Lapeyre.
Mixing Engineer: Olivier Oguez.
Mastering Engineer Studio 167.  

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