Review Summary: An autobiography through a jazz review.
For better or worse, Jacky Terrasson’s À Paris was my introduction to jazz. Years before I went into a music store and picked up Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, I was in my mom’s car driving through Golden Gate Park on a late Sunday afternoon. The sun was obscured by clouds, as is often the case in San Francisco. My mom had me put in a CD, and she told me, “This is French jazz.” I looked at the cover. It showed Jacky on his damp roof. He was barefoot and held out an umbrella lackadaisically to protect him from the clearing skies. Out in the distance were other quaint French buildings. Off in the distance was a Ferris wheel. As the first song, “Plaisir d’amor,” came on I was transported to a regal, composed place. So to this day, when I think of jazz, I don’t think of the hot jazz of the 20s, I think of a calm San Francisco afternoon with a laid back piano.
In my later venture into jazz, I never heard Jacky Terrasson’s name. He’s been steadily making jazz music since 1993. He studied at Berklee. À Paris is his jazz interpretation of a number of old French songs.
The band is diverse, and in a way it resembles Paris itself. Guitarist Bireli Lagrene adds a nice gypsy touch, his highlight is the near track-long solo on “À Paris.” They have a harmonica, standard French fare. The idiosyncratic percussion (including marimba, as well as two drummers and a percussionist) and use of electric keyboards represent a modern Paris: a cheeky, proud, and perpetually hip city. There’s even a whistle used in the surprisingly Latin version of “La vie en rose.”
Jacky is naturally the catalyst for the diverse nature of his band. He can do Bill Evans, urban grit (“Métro”), and laid back humor (“Que reste-t-t’il de nos amours"”). The bass and percussion can create a wonderful, minimalist atmosphere for the slow songs. The piano, guitar and sometimes saxophone provide solos in which each note means something. Simple, effective jazz. Sometimes, the slow songs have too much of a good thing. “I Love You More” is so relaxing that I stop paying attention after the first minute and start to drift off to sleep. Some may call it boring, I call it dreamy.
Yet Jacky can also knock you away with his technical prowess on the faster songs. “Jeux interdits” wouldn’t be out of place in a prohibition era dance hall, back when normal young people would dance to jazz. Jacky runs up and down the scales. Triplets that would seem like they needed some double bass and death growls were it not for the joy with which he plays them. Jacky dares his fingers and the rhythm section to keep up pace. You can hear him itching to solo during the saxophone’s solo, and when his time comes, he doesn’t disappoint, with one of my favorite solos in jazz.
Some songs fall flat. Jacky’s solo in “I Love Paris in the Springtime” is boring. The band’s version of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” has no momentum. The diversity involved in “L’aigle noire” is disconcerting. The strange percussion mixed with the standard saxophone and piano comes off as weird.
When I listen to a certain type of jazz song, I am transported back to my mom’s old Nissan, driving through Golden Gate Park. I can smell the damp road and feel the cool excitement of listening to something unlike anything I’d ever heard before. A surprising number of musicians can bring me back to that day. Artists like Nujabes
, Antonio Carlos Jobim
, Bill Evans
, Chris Botti
, Mulgrew Miller, Robert Glasper
, Ron Carter, and Stan Getz
. More than the style of music, it is the attitude that attracts me. It is an attitude too relaxed to describe, as if to describe it would be to ruin it. A few of the songs on À Paris have this attitude, and the rest go every which way. It’s not a focused CD, as Paris is not a focused city, it is too filled with people from all over the world. It’s fast, furious, sad, and fun. It makes for a different sort of listening experience, one which I recommend.