CYRILLE AIMÉE: “LET’S GET LOST” (Mack Avenue 1097)
In a way, Cyrille Aimée’s new CD, “Let’s Get Lost” is the exact opposite of her previous album “It’s a Great Day”. On the new album, the mood is darker with a greater emphasis on ballads. Aimée retains most of the band members from her previous album, featuring guitarists Michael Valeanu (who contributed several of the arrangements) and Adrien Moignard, bassist Sam Anning and drummer Rajiv Jayaweera, and they display a wide range of styles throughout the album. On the opening track, Stephen Sondheim’s “Live Alone and Like It”, the arrangement alternates between a slow blues and a medium tempo gypsy swing (neither germane to Sondheim!) There is a folkish quality to the setting of “There’s a Lull in my Life”, and it sounds like one of the guitarists doubles on ukulele during the giddy version of “Three Little Words”. Aimée sequenced the album to document the story of a relationship, and as the tale progresses, she uses an intriguing mix of American, Dominican and French standards to represent the arc of the love affair. Unfortunately, there are no English translations of the Spanish and French lyrics, so some listeners may miss out on some of the narrative. Aimée’s eternally sunny vocal presence permeates most of the tracks, but she finds ways to shade her sound, as in the off-handed way she launches into her scat solo on the title track or in her understated manner of singing the French lyrics on her original “Samois a Moi”. The narrative breaks down temporarily with the placement of the scat feature, “Laverne Walk” between the wistful “Nine More Minutes” and the heartbreaking “That Old Feeling”; however, these three tracks also reveal the impressive breadth of emotions that Aimée can evoke. The following track, “Each Day”, lyrically brings the cycle full circle, but the sudden introduction of Aimée’s duet partner Matt Simons and the pop style of the track makes it seem out of place. Ironically, the “bonus track”, “Words” might have smoothed out the narrative had it been sequenced earlier in the track list. Nevertheless, “Let’s Get Lost” marks a new maturity in Cyrille Aimée’s work, and it will be interesting to see the directions her art makes in the coming years.
STACEY KENT: “TENDERLY” (Okeh 15677)
Despite being born over three decades apart, Stacey Kent and Roberto Menescal shared passions for American Popular Song and Brazilian music. Their chance meeting five years ago at a concert in Rio led to a friendship and an invite for Menescal to play on two tracks on Kent’s previous disc, “The Changing Lights”. Now the two musicians have reunited for Kent’s Okeh debut, “Tenderly”. Kent’s breathy, intimate vocals are ideally matched to the reduced ensemble featuring Menescal on guitar, Kent’s husband Jim Tomlinson on tenor sax and flute, and Jeremy Brown on bass. Her subtle methods of interpretation are especially well-captured on ballads like “The Very Thought of You”, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Embraceable You”. While Kent does not engage in any vocal gymnastics on the album, her occasional leaps into melodic paraphrase show that she has a gift for creating new melodies when the situation calls for it. And on lighter tracks, like “No Moon at All”, she demonstrates a finely-calibrated sense of swing. Menescal seems quite content to be Kent’s primary accompanist, playing electric guitar throughout the album, evoking the understated tones of his early idol Barney Kessel (and on the duet version of “If I’m Lucky”, another great guitarist/accompanist, Joe Pass). Tomlinson’s tenor appears from time to time, like a ghost of Stan Getz (his alto flute seems less attached to his influences) and Brown’s sturdy bass lines act as a cohesive glue to connect all of the various elements. With the exception of Menescal’s gently-swinging original “Agarradinhos”, all of the tunes are American pop standards, and Menescal’s simple, unfussy arrangements keep the focus on Kent’s delicate voice. This intense, personal album is one to treasure.