BWW Review: Cyrille Aimee Sets New Standards with A SONDHEIM ADVENTURE at Birdland
"What made you decide to see this show?" I asked my companion for the Cyrille Aimee show at Birdland.
"Her name was interesting. What about you?" she replied.
"A french jazz singer doing a night of Sondheim is more than I could resist" was my answer.
It's true. Neither of us knew the work of Cyrille Aimee before sitting down in the main room at Birdland.
But we will never forget her.
Even if a person comes late to the Cyrille Aimee party, at least they come to the party; and, dudes, it is worth the wait, worth the trip, and worth the time it will take to go back and buy every Cyrille Aimee cd already released, and watch every Cyrille Aimee video on Youtube. This was one smart move on the parts of myself, my companion at the show, and everyone else who came out during Ms. Aimee's week-long run at the famed jazz club on 44th Street. Cyrille Aimee is, simply, the living end.
During the performance of her show that I caught this week, I couldn't help but notice how ardently her audience dove into her work, allowing themselves to be carried off by the wealth of talent which she brings to the stage, alongside an astonishing group of musicians with whom she joins forces to make musical magic. In the sassiest of outfits, Mlle. Aimee takes the stage and vaults right in to her night of Sondheim, but not the sort of Sondheim people are used to - this is Sondheim presented in the most opulent and stylistic way a jazz musician can put forth for an audience of jazz lovers, or even listeners new to the jazz sound. Ms. Aimee definitely earned her Grammy award nomination this week, as well as all of the accolades and respect she has garnered over the years. Her recorded work (as I have learned with the acquisition of five new CDs to my personal collection) is prolific and profound and worth investigating - it will serve listeners well during their downtime and any time they throw a party, but to see her live is to watch a whirling dervish of buoyancy and exhilaration, of ardent dedication to the music. It is always fascinating to watch how different musicians react to the music when they are inside of it, and Cyrille and her band members at Birdland are especially magnetic to observe. There are times during a rock concert when a musician is lost in the music, but also lost in a vortex of their own energy, so caught up are they in the moment of creation. There are moments when a pianist is so in tune with a singer that it can feel like the audience is intruding on a private moment. While Cyrille Aimee and her jazz orchestra are on stage making music, the mutual reverence for the music is matched, only, by their respect for one another. During each instrument solo, the other musicians paid close attention, at times, their eyes closed with rhapsodic expressions on their faces, like they had just tasted a glass of 50-year old scotch, a perfectly cooked short rib, or best chocolate mousse ever created. The pleasure of watching the artists enjoy each others' music only served to make our night better.
And this was already a pretty spectacular night.
Announcing early in the show that "we do every set differently" Cyrille Aimee let her listeners know that they had paid for a completely unique experience, which makes the evening even more special. With that, Aimee performed mostly Sondheim, even though the show is named A Sondheim Adventure. One gets the distinct impression that everything Cyrille Aimee does is loaded with adventure. The way that she leads the band demonstrates a delicious spontaneity, an exciting sense of abandon, kind of like when your bestie says "Oh, come on, what harm is there in jumping off this precipice into the ocean below?" and, when you fearfully do, it's the thrill of a lifetime. And her presence on stage cannot be quantified, whether she is grooving to the music, charmingly chatting up the audience with her breezy sense of humor, egging on the musicianship of her fellow artists or flying high with her singing. It's not just that her vocals are good - they're almost unbelievable, but the timbre of her voice takes on different shades, depending on her mood and the mere sentence being sung, with cool, clear, crisp lengthy high notes, and sensual, sexy, snarling low notes that draw you into the place she wishes for you to go, curious about what will come next out of her throat of astonishment. Cyrille Aimee is a bewildering ball of bewitchment, so much so that when the evening of music is over, you will find yourself a little sad to say goodbye.
With her setlist of songs from Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Evening Primrose, Sweeney Todd, Company, Saturday Night (featuring synopses that will tickle your funny bone and touch your heart) and a special version of "One Last Kiss" from Follies, the night's entertainment should have been complete, so it was an embarrassment of riches when Aimee sang her own "Each Day" for an audience glad to set aside Steve for a few moments to learn a little more about Cyrille. The true highlight and real window into Cyrille Aimee, though, was when the band left her alone so that she could create an entirely improved piece of music using her Looper (google it and get one, it'll change your life). The awestruck audience could not scream loudly enough after the original composition created on the spot.
Having praised, hopefully loudly enough, the insane expertise of the men who played for Mlle. Aimee, I would like to apologize to them and to the readers for not announcing their names in this article. There is a sad occasional practice in the clubs of not providing reviewers with a press kit, a song list, or the correct spelling of the names of the musicians and director. This was one of those occasions when no literature was provided, and while the gracious Ms. Aimee called out the names of the musicians, the combination of applause and Ms. Aimee's French accent made it virtually impossible for this writer to catch any of their names (except for trumpet player Wayne Tucker, whose work I already know). So I would like to humbly apologize to the gentlemen for the absence of their names in this article - no amount of online research was helpful in the quest to give credit where credit is due.
A Sondheim Adventure was not Cyrille Aimee's first visit to Birdland (please note her recording Live At Birdland), so with any luck, this one of a kind artist will bring back her inimitable artistry many times in the future. When she DOES come back, go see her and bring a friend who is unfamiliar with her work. This is a love that must be shared until there is nobody left who doesn't know. And hopefully, the next time she comes, her billing will read "Grammy winner Cyrille Aimee" because, in the eyes of this writer, she is entirely deserving of the honor, and many more.
Bonne Chance Cyrille Aimee!
In the days following the publication of this story, Cyrille Aimee reached out to me with a personal note that included the following information that I am thrilled to share with everyone:
Wayne Tucker - trumpet
Sergej Avanesov - saxophone
Michael Valeanu - guitar
Assaf Gleizner - piano
Tamir Shmerling - bass
Dani Danor - drums
Thank you, Cyrille!
Photos by Stephen Mosher