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Cyrille Aimée: Sounds like Love

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On Saturday, November 10, one of the most creative young jazz vocal musicians will be performing in Winnipeg and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Cyrille Aimée is a 27-year-old French woman with a French father and a Dominican mother. Her hometown of Samois-sur-Seine is the same village in which the great jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, lived out the last years of his life. Every spring, the village fills with caravans of Roma who come from all over Europe for an annual celebration of this preeminent artist. Aimée became very close with Reinhardt’s descendants. She began guitar and singing lessons with the great manouche guitarist, Romane, and after her first performance knew that singing would be her life’s pursuit.

As a late teen, she passed up an opportunity to compete in a huge French pop music television show (à la American Idol) to pursue her love for jazz. She spent time in the Dominican Republic where she sang up to six gigs a week, then headed to New York to study with the likes of Jon Faddis and Jimmy Greene at SUNY Purchase. In 2007 she won first prize at the Montreaux International Voice Competition. Since then she has been wowing audiences all over the United States, Europe, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. In 2010, she was the second runner-up in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition, and this October she won the first Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.

Aimée is one of the most creative and versatile jazz vocalists I have encountered. The first performance I watched on YouTube was the Thelonious Monk classic, “I Mean You,” recorded live at Smalls in NYC for her CD of the same title. I was mesmerized. Her voice is lovely, with a touch of Blossom Dearie yet completely unique. She has an effortless way of approaching difficult melodies and harmonies that is downright joyful, and her approach to improvisation is so seamless and interesting that she draws in even the most novice of jazz listener.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is her live recording of the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit, “Fortunate Son.” It’s just her singing, using a loop pedal but no other effects or auto-tuning. First she lays down a bass line track, which she then proceeds to layer with several harmonies. Next she adds a mouth percussion track, followed by a really hip vocal vamp with multiple harmonies. Once she has all of this laid down, she controls the various tracks with her foot, subtracting them and adding them at different times while she sings the melody. The audience is sucked in immediately by her originality, her soulfulness and the outright delight she exudes on the bandstand.

She has what seems like an endless stream of exciting musicians who are lining up to work with her. She has recorded two CDs with the brilliant Brazilian guitarist, Diego Figueiredo. She has performed with Django Reinhardt’s grandson David, and toured internationally with France’s Caravan Palace. Her CD, Cyrille Aimée & Friends: Live at Smalls, features Roy Hargrove and Joel Frahm.

Recently she teamed up with the Hot Club of Detroit on their recording, Junction—they’ll be performing together here in Winnipeg. As a band, HCOD is hard to pigeonhole. They have a vintage sound that feels very European—accordion, guitars, reeds, upright bass, no percussion—but they’re edgy and contemporary too, with traces of Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, John Zorn, and even the rock band Phish. They’re a good match for Aimée, with her roots in gypsy jazz and her fearless embrace of technical and musical challenges.

Cyrille Aimée is offering a free masterclass on Friday evening, November 9, then she and the Hot Club of Detroit will perform two concerts the next day at the WAG. I can’t wait!

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