Jazz music is funny in that good jazz has the quality of being inscrutable. In other words, good jazz is music that grabs you somewhere in your head or your heart or your viscera. And you really, really like it. It moves you. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t explain why you like it so much. It’s inscrutable. There’s a certain arcane energy to it. And bad jazz, well, it strains all tolerance. Bad jazz makes you grind your teeth; it’s nothing more than style over substance, a veneer of pleasing countenance over rough bumps and gouges. And of course, bad jazz generates bad jazz singers, so much so that they not only abound, like fungus growing on wheat, but sound as if they just dropped in from the Oligocene epoch of geological Deep Time; rumbly, quaking voices, the offshoot of ensuing concatenations of cause and effect, chanting impenetrable dirges.
Fortunately, a few good jazz singers still exist, most of whom are female. Exactly why jazz subsidizes women over men is open to debate. My theory is this: female voices contain some nuance inside them that lends conviction to melancholy. Norah Jones comes to mind, as does Diana Krall. Her voice can get redundant, as can her grandiose, glitzy productions. Too much Krall makes me think of exhausted gorillas, every one of them tired of imitating human noises.
Then there’s Brigitte Zarie. The first time I heard her was one of the great musical experiences of my life. What I heard was jazz as I’d never heard it before. Stripped down, the ornamentation is understated, the vocals devoid of any “harmonic haze,” but simultaneously sensual and sultry, a voice steeped in the preservative of rum, then slow-smoked. Full spectrum vocal dominance.
The reason Zarie’s voice is so mesmerizing—and I gave this a lot of thought—is because it is antithetical to the age in which we now reside, that of high-tech and social media. We are so connected via social media that we never leave the house; we can’t drag ourselves away from the computer or iPad or smart phone. The modern world is trapped in electronic mediation.
Zarie takes us out of our internal supplementary databases and ushers us, by means of her voice, back to our humanity. The cashmere texture and streamlined organicism of her voice, at once noun and verb, remind us not to forget who we really are—human beings rife with sadness, joy and love, human beings who require real, live human interrelations. Ancient Grecian culture recognized the necessity of prompting their humanity, their human emotions. They had a word for it—catharsis—“the experience or feeling of spiritual release and purification brought about by an intense emotional experience.”
That’s precisely what Brigitte Zarie’s singing provides, an intense emotional experience.
Her latest offering of purification is titled L’amour. The CD comprises an even dozen soul-searing songs, 10 of which are original compositions by Brigitte. The two songs not composed by the diva are “Walk the Line” (Cash) and “Quiet Nights” (Jobim/Lees). For my money, the songs written by Brigitte are the last word in traditional jazz, the best thing since sliced bread. The kind of jazz that harks back to Nina Simone; the kind of bluesy jazz that isn’t watered-down for hyper-civilized epicenes who want to pretend like they understand what they’re hearing, but really don’t because in reality they’re nothing but motivated mechanisms, whose emotions have been replaced by brooding absorption with secret ideas.
All the music on L’amour was written by Ms. Zarie and her producer, Neil Jason. All the lyrics were written by Zarie. The musicians on L’amour are the crème de la crème. Drums are by Brian Floody, Sean Pelton, and Brian McKenna. Not a slouch in the bunch. Those tickling the 88s include Peter Zak, Joe Delia, and Rob Mounsey. And don’t forget Randy Brecker on trumpet. The list goes on and on. Suffice to say all are unsurpassed. The result of such talent is exactly what you hope for but don’t always get: big orchestra sound with oodles of sass and swing riding low underneath. If sound had body parts, the only way to describe the sensation induced by L’amour would be to say, “Baby got back.”
Really, the only deficiency in L’amour is the lack of liner notes. I don’t know about you, but I like to know what inspired the songs, what’s behind them. Of course, I admit that reading liner notes is an acquired taste, probably indicative of maudlin sentimentality more than anything else. But jazz, because of its intrinsic schmaltz, recommends itself to a certain amount of sappiness. Corniness is a vivacious instrument of expression. All that to say this: liner notes appeal to certain personality types.
When you listen to L’amour, you need to listen with the right people and in the right circumstances to ensure the proper listening experience. My suggestion is on the patio at sunset sipping a vodka and tonic or a snifter of single malt scotch whiskey, and, if your proclivities allow, perhaps a good cigar. The right people would be anyone whose company you enjoy, preferably someone who is a good conversationalist, yet knows when to keep quiet. Then when the sky is changing colors, put L’amour on the CD player and turn it up. You’ll struggle to find more congenial accompaniment for your surroundings and the time of day.
L’amour is excellent. It is presumptuous to advise you; however, if you enjoy jazz, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t add L’amour to your collection. And if you’re still trying to decide if you like jazz or not, Brigitte Zarie’s dulcet tones might be just the religious experience you’ve been seeking. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon and on Brigitte Zarie’s website, which by the way, is a superlative example of what a website should be, and worth a visit.