Watching the recent Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition on a webcast, I was very intrigued by one of the finalists, a lady originally from France by the name of Cyrille Aimée. Shortly thereafter there was a New York Times story about her appearing at the Greenwich Village, NYC club Smalls Jazz Club. The story focused on her duets with pianist Spike Wilner who I believe is responsible for programming music at Smalls. He is the main person behind the club’s label, Smalls Live which has issued a number of live recordings from the club and amongst the latest releases is Cyrille Aimée & Friends Live at Smalls”
Wilner is the producer of this disc which was recorded late September 26 and 30, 20l0, and anchored the band that includes bassist Philip Kuehn, drummer Joseph Saylor, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. There is a playful informality about the performances that add to its appeal. In the New York Times piece, Ben Ratliff described Ms. Aimée, “She’s alert and thoroughly engaged in the logic of moving harmony when she improvises, one of those singers whom nonsinging musicians call “a musician.”
From the opening notes of September In the Rain, she impresses despite (or perhaps because of) a somewhat limited vocal range (suggestive of Billie Holiday, but no way imitative of Lady Day) with horn like phrasing both in delivering the lyrics and scatting. And the band is terrific with Frahm shining on September, while Hargrove embraces the melodic qualities of Que Reste-t’il, which many of you will know from the English rendition, I Wish You Love. It should be noted that, unlike Roberta Gambarini whose vocals usually display no trace of her native Italian, Aimée’s French accent is evident, but adds delightful flavoring to her voice.
After the initial verse of a brisk Yesterdays, she takes a scat solo followed by Frahm and then Wilner, before she scats fours with drummer Saylor who sounds like he is using brushes. Ellington’s I Was Beginning to See the Light” starts as a duet with bassist Kuehn before Frahm enters on tenor for a solo followed by Kuehn’s solo. When Aimée returns with her vocal codaFrahm softly caresses her vocal. Love For Sale, opens with a drum intro with Kuehn joining in to set a second-line styled groove, followed by a brief call and response by Hargrove and Frahm. AImée enters at home with the lively groove “advertising her love” and her scatting set off by nice cymbal work by Saylor. Hargrove takes a nicely focused and short solo, followed by Frahm who is rocking and wailing. This is the longest track but seems to go so quickly. Other highlights include her rendition of Monk’s I Mean You, and the closing Stand By Me, where it sounds like she is joined by several other voices who are not identified.
Since first downloading this recording (I received the hard copy a few days later, along with several other Smalls Live CDs that I have purchased), I have found myself completely captivated by Cyril Aimée and this recording. There is a wonderful mix of material and a freshness to her treatment of the most familiar numbers. I trust you can sense my enthusiasm this recording, and look forward to the opportunity to see her in person (have to figure how to get to New York perhaps). This is available from the Smalls Live website, www.smallslive.com as either a download or hard copy (which includes the download).