LSM Newswire

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Charles Aznavour & The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Press Release

Charles Aznavour & The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Canadian Release Date: December 1, 2009

by Francis Marmande

Sound the trumpets, let the cymbals ring out, here's another Charles Aznavour, a new Aznavour, an Aznavour recalling the early Aznavour, before he had started singing. Who hadn't yet found his voice, who composed songs for others.

The songs he wrote for others had a jazzy feel, a furiously jazzy feel, a sincerely jazzy feel. Here, refuting rumours of retirement in brilliant style, he's coming back with a bang. Not singing new songs. Singing his songs differently. Which is bolder than you might think, not only at the age of 85, because the punters, of all sexes, colours and ages, all know his great classics off by heart, inside out and upside down. Great classics are untouchable, with their inflexions, orchestrations, guitar licks, a waltz with a violin, you can't change songs at the drop of a hat.
The point is that a Charles Aznavour song, when sung by the man himself, takes wing, just like his daughter, the one he addresses in A ma fille, who no longer belongs to him. The song belongs to those who love it, you, me, those who take it in as they pass by. Aznavour's strong point is that he's not what you'd term a poet. His lyrics hit you with their deceptive simplicity, their totally unexpected acidity, their articulation. His syntax swings to keep up with his music.

Which is why, to give a new twist to these so very personal monuments, as well known as, for example, Comme ils disent, Il faut savoir, as autobiographical as La bohême, failure is a foregone conclusion! There's nothing as conservative as a pair of ears. They always hanker after that first version, the one they heard as they danced, cried, loved, in a romantic embrace or the depths of despair. A new take on such a song might get the benefit of all kinds of luxuries, the top session musicians, studios with the best facilities, ever more powerful machines and yearnings for youthful regeneration, there's nothing doing. It resists, stubborn as a mule.
Unless you work a miracle!

When Charles first stepped into the legendary Capitol studios, 1750 North Vine St, Hollywood, he well knew which voices echoed in this futuristic temple, those of very real ghosts: Nat King Cole, Louis and Ella, Sinatra, Dean Martin, and just recently Diana Krall whose rhythm is set by two big names: John Clayton (composer and double bass player) and Jeff Hamilton (drums). Decked in shades, with the demeanour of a young rolling stone, we go down three blocks, to Sunset Boulevard, where Charles laughs that he might one day see his photo on the wall, up with the greats: "I'm not boastful, but it's a childish dream, to see a Frenchie up there". The entire album is imbued with this fresh spirit.

It was an encounter with the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the most musical of big bands, the most sophisticated, the most powerful of the time, which set the ball rolling. Twenty-five years' experience and enough albums, nominations and Grammy awards to fill a villa in Malibu. A slew of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, just what you need in the way of bass clarinet and violins, cellos and violas, heavyweights at each music desk, with an overall sound that captures the imagination of frail humans and their meagre dreams of fraternity, swing to swing you to heaven or hell, whatever, since Charles claims he has "friends in both". To measure up to such an ensemble, you need depth: like all big bands, they are devoted, body and soul, but on one, non-negotiable condition. That you can and do hold your own.

Giving rise to these songs that have been given a good shake-up, yet keep to the beat. So well, they seem to have blossomed rather than changed. Bringing forth intricate, unpredictable harmonies, an exercise in accuracy, and which yet, like lyrics, don't steal the show, know when to act discreet. Calling forth this incredible, playful accuracy, when the orchestra gets into the swing, totally attuned to that three-four time that's firmly grooved in Aznavour's brain.

What really takes your breath away, in this adventure, is that everything down to the titles of the new songs on this album (Fais moi rêver, Je suis fier de nous, performed as a duet with Rachelle Ferrell) sounds like it's already achieved classic status, with melodies which already sound familiar, their spirit, their inimitable beat and unique way of loosening up, the skipping akin to a youngster bounding across a stream. In fact they sound long-loved yet long-lost.

This carefully crafted orchestral jazz, every bit as capable of shades of nuances as of getting moving, this group jazz on a razor-edge, the sound of each performer, isn't always listened to properly. As if we had forgotten that this most popular of intellectual music genres (jazz), is first and foremost intellectual. Subtly blending fundamentalism and ignorance, the high priests of jazz have got it all wrong, right the way down the line. For Aznavour, it's a princely form, ringing out like a church organ when Jacky Terrasson plays the piano or in a wild chorus by Jeff Clayton, John's brother, in the implacable playing of Jeff Hamilton, drummer and joint founder of the orchestra, or in riffs as carefully arranged as a flock of cranes crossing the sky. There's no doubting the project, ambition, achievement: yes, Le Jazz est revenu, jazz is back with a bang. And Charles Aznavour has never been truer to his own form.



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