REVIEW: Cyrille Aimée at Pizza Express Jazz Club (2018 EFG LJF)

Cyrille Aimée
Phone snap by Alison Bentley


Cyrille Aimée
(PizzaExpress Jazz Club. 25 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)


Singer Cyrille Aimée has called improvisation an “expérience humaine”, a “way of life”. How would that translate into a gig?

From the first moment, Aimée staked out her territory with a playful smile and leapt headlong into Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets) a tango given a modern jazz feel. It’s not so often included in the jazz repertoire, and underlined her musical theatre connections. Stephen Sondheim himself has admired her singing, and she’d translated his One More Kiss into her native French as Un Baiser d’Adieu. “Everything sounds more dramatic in French,” she said, a little chansonnière along with Billie Holiday in her voice.

The speedy jazz swing of Undecided began to reveal the sheer range of styles Aimée could sing, whilst still sounding like herself. Her breakneck scat was as fun and accomplished as Ella’s, full of short bebop quotes; she moved her hand as if playing a trumpet. You felt she had the vocal technique to sing anything she liked. Aimée has talked about growing up listening to the salsa records played by her Dominican mother; I Could Have Danced All Night was a double time samba, with a wide vocal vibrato that recalled Lena Horne or Dinah Washington. Hila Kulik brought some intricate Corea-esque patterns into her fine piano solo. The ballad I’ll Be Seeing You was a perfect match of lyrical and musical interpretation, breathy and introverted. Neither Aimée nor Wayne Tucker’s muted trumpet strayed far from the melody.

Aimée famously abandoned her success in the French equivalent of Pop Idol to pursue jazz. So it was fitting that her pop cover on this gig, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, should be played as Afro-Latin modern jazz (shades of Cedar Walton with Freddie Hubbard.) The whole band had a sense of unstoppable energy, and Tucker’s trumpet solo had a physical power. Aimée’s own songs had jazz and pop influences, (with Tucker and Kulik on backing vocals.) In Inside and Out and Each Day she had some of Corinne Bailey Rae’s winsome charm, but pop elements didn’t prevent strong, uncompromising trumpet, vocal and drum solos (Yonatan Rosen.) Aimée focused intently on everyone’s solos, dancing all the time. In Me Too, written with her sister, Aimée’s stage presence was strong as the song’s message, with a full-on Latin groove. Aimée lives in the US, and she wrote Down to describe moving from New York to the warmth of New Orleans. Recreated live with her “Rupert the Looper” machine, she layered Bobby McFerrin-style sounds that created a warm climate of their own.

Two pieces usually played as instrumentals revealed how much Aimée used her voice as an instrument. Paul Chambers’ Whims of Chambers was sung wordlessly as a duo with bassist Jeremy Bruyère. Every labyrinthine boppy note on both instruments was perfectly tuned and articulated. Aimée’s version of Monk’s tune It’s Over Now (Well You Needn’t) opened with a fast-fingered, fluent bass solo then detonated into funk.

“You always have to take risks,” Aimée said in the interview with her which LJN published in 2016, (link below), and perhaps that is the source of her – and her band’s – energy and sheer joie de vivre. She recently gave a TED talk entitled “Dare to improvise,” and you felt tonight that she was almost daring the audience to have as much fun as she was. We did.

LINKS: Nicky Schrire's interview from 2015
Annie Yanbekian's interview from 2016
Report of Cyrille Aimee's appearance at the 2014 London Jazz Festival
Cyrille Aimee website

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