Aimée Showcases New Album with Dazzling Set in St. Louis


Cyrille Aimée

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Vocalist Cyrille Aimée has made a strong impression on the international jazz scene over the past year and a half. The release of 2014’s It’s A Good Day, her Mack Avenue debut, helped earn Aimée the award for Rising Star–Female Vocalist in DownBeat’s 2015 Critics Poll, and a top 10 finish in the Female Vocalist category of last year’s DownBeat Readers Poll.

Aimée’s recent recognition is well earned. She moved to the New York area more than a decade ago to study jazz at SUNY Purchase, and gradually built her reputation on the club scene. A third-place finish in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition and first place in the 2012 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition generated a great deal of media attention—and led to her contract with Mack Avenue.

Touring in support of her new album, Let’s Get Lost, Aimée and her backing quartet—guitarists Adrien Moignard and Michael Valeanu, bassist Shawn Conley and drummer Dani Danor—stopped in St. Louis last week for sets at the Ferring Jazz Bistro.

Speaking in the club’s green room before her first set on Feb. 4, Aimée talked about showcasing the new record in live performance—as well as the unusual two-guitar, no keyboard approach she is now using.

“As jazz musicians, when we get in the studio, we feel like we’re playing a gig and every song is seven minutes long,” said Aimée. “But our producer for this record, Fab Dupont, taught us there is the studio and there is live—two really different ways of making music. In the studio you’re under the microscope with every little detail and every measure.

“But he also said the studio recordings were just snapshots of what we do live. And that’s what I love about jazz and improvisation. I love getting on stage and letting things happen.”

For Aimée, the two-guitar approach makes perfect sense. She grew up listening to gypsy jazz in France. Her hometown is Samois-sur-Seine, home of the annual Django Reinhardt Festival.

“The guitar was the first instrument I ever sang to,” she recalled. “Later, I did some records with piano, bass, drums, saxophone, trumpet. But for this project I wanted to dig deep, and guitar really speaks to me. I love gypsy guitar, but I also love Brazilian and electric guitar. So why not mix them?”

Aimée’s opening set spotlighted nine songs from Let’s Get Lost. Compared to the recorded versions, Aimée and her band unfolded and embellished the arrangements, adding improvised instrumental solos and some fine scat singing.

The opening song, Stephen Sondheim’s “Live Alone And Like It,” featured a compelling acoustic guitar solo from Moignard followed by Aimée’s scatting, complete with hand gestures that mimicked a horn player using a mute to shape notes.

Aimée showcased her linguistic and musical range by covering a rarely performed Edith Piaf ballad, “T’es Beau Tu Sais,” then singing “Estrellitas Y Duendes,” written by the Dominican pop star Juan Luis Guerra. The combination reflected the musical influences of her French father and her mother’s Dominican heritage. Valeanu and Danor added a bolero feel to the Piaf tune, and Moignard and Valeanu seamlessly traded bright guitar riffs on the Guerra song.

Moignard and Danor kicked up the tempo considerably behind “Three Little Words,” before Aimée turned in an appropriately languorous reading of “Lazy Afternoon,” from the 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple.

Three more songs from Let’s Get Lost followed: the title song, featuring another blazing scat turn by Aimée; “Nine More Minutes,” a gentle love song she co-wrote with Valeanu; and a version of “There’s A Lull In My Life” that moved from a lilting, folky guitar-driven feel to a soaring scatted vocal finale.

The set also included a winning take on “I Didn’t Know About You,” Aimée’s scatted vocal duet with bassist Conley on Paul Chambers’ “Whims Of Chambers,” then another Aimée/Valeanu original, “Each Day.”

The vocalist and her band earned an enthusiastic standing ovation, unusual for a debut performance at the Bistro. But it’s not often that an audience encounters a talent like Aimée, whose distinctive vocal style and charming stage presence are set in what seems to be an ideal instrumental framework for her music.

  • Herb_Alpert_-_Press_Photo_01_%28credit_Dewey_Nicks%29_copy.jpg

    “I like to just click on songs that touched me and see if I could do them in a personal way — especially if it’s a well-known song,” Alpert said about selecting material for his new album.

  • Les_McCann_by_C_Andrew_Hovan_copy.jpg

    McCann’s deep roots in gospel and the blues gave his music a gritty, earthy quality and a large supply of soulful licks.

  • 1_Black_Men_of_Labor_Second_Line_Parade_copy.jpg

    The Black Men of Labor Club leads a second line parade, from the documentary City of a Million Dreams.

  • image002_copy.jpg

    ​The Blue Note Quintet includes Gerald Clayton, Immanuel Wilkins, Joel Ross, Kendrick Scott and Matt Brewer. The all-star collective embarks on a North American tour this month.

  • 24_Emmet_Cohen_GABRIELAGABRIELAA_copy_2.JPG

    Emmet Cohen, right, with one of his heroes, Houston Person.