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French jazz singer brings a taste of Europe to the Cabaret

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Cyrille Aimee

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After singer Cyrille Aimée’s one-night only show at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club Wednesday, a regular patron was heard to remark “I felt like I was in Paris.” Given that Aimée was born in Fontainebleau, France, to a French father and Dominican mother, it’s no wonder that her performance was tinged with an international flavor. That, plus the fact her band which included Koran Agan on acoustic guitar, Michael Valeanu on electric guitar, Samuel Anning on bass and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums, are all from different parts of the world may also have had something to do with it.

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Aimée, who the Wall Street Journal called “one of the most promising jazz singers of her generation,” is a winner of the Montreaux Jazz Festival International Vocal Competition, the Sarah Vaughn international Jazz Vocal Competition and finalist in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. Crediting her career as a performer to Gypsies, Aimée grew up in the village of Samois-sur-Seine, where iconic guitarist Django Reinhardt once lived. When Aimée was young, she visited the encampments of Gypsies who have been gathering there for the Django Reinhardt Festival for decades. Eventually, she fell in love with their music and culture and even learned their language.

The appealing Aimée has her own distinctive voice, yet with a tone and phrasing reminiscent of that of Stacey Kent, another highly regarded jazz singer who played the Cabaret in June of 2012. Like Kent, Aimée has a breezy, fresh sound. What makes her unique, however, is her focus on rhythm rather than lyrics and her blend of traditional and contemporary styling.

The emphasis was on the music, during the fast-paced show that was short on banter between songs. Though Aimée was the focus, the added attraction were her marvelously talented musicians who executed complex arrangements, many of them Latin-flavored, with ease and who all shone during magnificent solo performances.

Aimée’s show had an intimate quality, causing the listener to be deeply drawn into her creative interpretation of songs which included “It’s A Good Day,” “Young at Heart,” Aimée’s composition “Nuit Blanche (White Night)” and Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” a first for this reviewer who had never heard a jazz interpretation of the 2007 MJ hit up until then.

Highlights of Aimée’s show, most of which took place during the latter part of her act, included her duet with Anning on bass in “Mean to Me,” during which she matched his finesse playing the bass with that of her own vocal mechanism; her original Gypsy language song, “Dujayal”; and a French pop song titled “Pourtant,” made famous by Johnny Depp’s former girlfriend, Vanessa Paradis.

Aimée and her band concluded their 90 minute set with the jazz standard “Caravan,” first performed by Duke Ellington in 1936, yet made fresh with their ultramodern interpretation.

Midway through the concert, the huge curtains covering the floor to ceiling leaded and stained glass windows in the Crystal Terrace room were parted to reveal the lit up Monument Circle at twilight. Previous Cabaret performers, some of them French, like Aimée, said it is a setting that reminded them of Paris. For those present who were fortunate enough to be enveloped in Aimée’s urbane sound, it was as close as one could get to the City of Lights and the romance it embodies without actually travelling there.

For tickets and information about the remainder of the fall/spring Cabaret at the Columbia Club, season call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.

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