The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) under the direction of drummer Adonis Rose issues its second release, cementing the city’s French connection on a 10-song collaboration, Petite Fleur, with French vocalist, turned Crescent City resident Cyrille Aimée. It was she who was the impetus for the project, explaining that she’d like to work with the18=piece big band, exploring the relationship between the city and her native country. Aimée penned just one song, but the nine others are standards from familiar composers from both side of the pond such as Sidney Bechet, Michel Legrand, Django Reinhardt, and Jelly Roll Morton.
Traditional jazz buffs will recognize Sidney Bechet’s opening title track. Bechet is, of course, a NOLA native who settled in France before writing this international hit, arranged by saxophonist Ricardo Pascal, who plays the beautiful soprano solo. His arrangement is a dark, smoky rhumba, giving it a subtle Spanish musical flair while Aimée sings the lyrics in French. Aimée continues to sing in French for the crooning, sultry ballad, Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” which highlights her deft phrasing and shifting dynamics. She then turns to the New Orleans funeral dirge arrangement of Danish expatriate turned French citizen Georges Ulmer for “Si Tu Savias.” The trumpet soloist on the former is Ashlin Parker and Kevin Lewis steps forward in the latter.
The vocalist and orchestra then shift into Fats Domino mode with lyrics sung in English for “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” led by the growling trombone of Terrance Taplin. The vocalist is the major soloist on several tunes, and as the consummate jazz singer she scats on “In the Land of Beginning Again,” “On a Clear Day,” and “Undecided.” As throughout, the vocalist and the orchestra are the main attractions, but the orchestra is especially in the forefront for these three. The gorgeous, sweeping “Crazy He Calls Me’ features a solo from pianist Victor Atkins while the orchestra swells behind Aimée, who is again in sultry mode. The smooth becomes instantly gritty with the Jelly Roll Morton classic, where tenorist Ed Peterson gets deep and a host of voices contribute to the party vibe as the featured vocalist lays out. The furious tempo of “Undecided” segues to Aimée’s original “Down,” which is a song about her move to New Orleans. Belying its title, the music is bouncy and bright, punctuated by a spirited exchange between trumpeters Parker and John Michael Bradford.
You may have already heard the digital version released on September 24th, but the physicals are due on October 15th. This is a lively, well-crafted album, highlighting the best of a versatile, engaging vocalist bringing out the best in the big band, and allowing enough space for vigorous soloing as well.
- Jim Hynes