Sunday, August 12, 2007

listening notes: bobby jaspar, modern jazz au club st-germain

I'll grant that the sentiment is telegraphed by the album's title, the Jazz in Paris series it is a part of and the cover, but this music is essentially Parisian. It's about flâner, the unhurried and destination-free strolling that may involve checking out an open-air book stand by the Seine, sitting in a café's terrasse or lying down on the banks of the canal St. Martin. Of course, Jaspar (and bassist Benoît Quersin) is Belgian, transplanted into Paris from Liège, but he has absorbed the city and it has absorbed him: according to the liner notes, his All Stars was recognised, in 1955, as "the greatest current modern small jazz ensemble in France."

On the opening "Bag's Groove" Jaspar makes understated nods towards the blues by letting his intonation waver, attack slacken and phrasing float, but otherwise he is a crooner for whom everything must sound effortless. This is best demonstrated on his own "Memory of Dick."

Another sublime moment of balladry comes later with "I Can't Get Started," but, interestingly, its interpretation somehow sounds more American, to me. "Minor Drops" is perhaps the only instance of the big city bustle encroaching on the Sunday afternoon pleasantries, as Jaspar, Sacha Distel's guitar and René Urtreger's piano jockey uncomfortably for position before returning to the head.

This cool approach wilts under the glare of, say, Miles Davis's definitive recording of "Bag's Groove" or of more assuredly rhythmical versions of "Night In Tunisia," but douceur de vivre is no bad thing: even Louis Armstrong sang "C'est si bon" (Armstrong's rolled growl "yeah" is one of the greatest sounds in music).