It’s a good day: Cyrille Aimée honors gypsy jazz roots in new album
Cyrille Aimée

A jazz artist who thinks about the music first before her own vocals? How can that be?

It can when Cyrille Aimée’s involved. She gives as much thought, if not more, to the multi-stylistic guitars in her debut Mack Avenue record, It’s A Good Day, than her own vocals. That’s rare.

But consider her childhood growing up in Samois-sur-Seine, gypsy jazz country. In the summers, the young girl used to sneak out of her home to a nearby gypsy encampment of fans and musicians attending the Django Reinhardt Festival. Aimée — of French and Dominican descent — was understandably drawn to the lively animation of gypsy jazz beyond that of a mere fan.

By the time she was old enough, she traveled all over Europe with her musician pals to perform as street performers for spare change and — for her — a chance to be a part of the Montreux Jazz Festival. There, she captured the audience’s attention by winning first place in the festival’s vocal competition. After that auspicious beginning, it was all upward toward inevitable fame. She picked up another award at the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. This one gained her more access to more prestigious festivals and eventually, this major recording debut.

Aimée does more for gypsy jazz in her August 19th release than almost any artist already out there pushing the same, ancient covers. She completely reinvents them.

Michael Jackson’s disco-fueled “Off The Wall” is insanely clever, a syncopated, almost reggae digression. Peggy Lee’s classic, “It’s A Good Day,” isn’t even recognizable in its updated roaming Western wanderlust. But Aimée’s warmth matches Lee’s as a perky pick-me-up. “Where Or When” by Rodgers and Hart takes on a timeless, Broadway quality, with the filigree of the steel strings.

Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” is an old jazz standard everyone has to do to make it in the club. Aimée’s no exception, but her version is exceptional, flecked with fairy dust. The guitars and the hectic frazzled percussive beats elevate the standard into a roaming gypsy jazz number on a kind of Brazilian syncopation underneath.

Her revolutionary multi-guitar idea works to set the tone of her music and build up her own quixotic, spritely vocals. She astutely chose three different guitarists for three different yet compatibly minded guitar styles.

Of course, she has to have gypsy jazz, her first love. Then, the bossa-nova/sambas of Brazilian jazz, from her travels to Paris, Cameroon, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic. And finally, American jazz, representing her current home of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Aimée put priority on the guitarists, seemingly over her own vocals. She wanted her favorite musical styles to drive the entire album, which — despite its lengthy, song list (13) — contains short and sweet renditions of a mix of off-the-wall covers and originals by bassist Sam Anning and Aimée.

To that end, she brought Adrien Moignard on steel-string (gypsy), Michael Valeanu on electric (jazz), and Brazilian guitarist Guilherme Monteiro. Orchestrating these three different guitarists could’ve been a nightmare. But not with Aimée at the helm. Careful thought, remember? “We worked hard to create a road map for each guitar to make the sound beautiful and exciting — without creating a musical traffic jam.” Drummer Rajiv Jayaweera completes her rhythm section. Producer Fabrice DuPont (Jennifer Lopez, Shakira) oversaw the recording project.

The result is a big, fat injection of fresh, new, and worlds apart in Aimée’s musical splendor.

If you think her covers are cool, her originals are even better.

“Nuit Blanche” (“White Night,” a French expression meaning insomnia) features Aimée’s vocal hopscotch and bassist Anning’s grounding force, which only seems to amplify her charming, if mind-blowing, dance party. This is her very own version of vocal gypsy jazz. Aspiring artists are sure to copy this if they dare. Anning, btw, is such a fine bassist, you could almost feel his muscles flexing through every song. He definitely made his presence known alongside the distinguished guitarists.

“One Way Ticket” came about after an inspiring visit to India. She slows things down quite a bit and feels out the hum left behind an early-sounding bell. Here’s where you can fully appreciate her vocal movement and sympathy for vocals fitting in with the quirky lyrical musical turns. It’s a Bollywood romp between somber, meditative contemplation. It’s genius the way she wraps the rhyme around the humming silence in a nifty circle: “Goin’ a million miles an hour, and the wind in my hair feels like a shower.” She does this during the slower pace!

Her voice on “Twenty-Eight” is simply breathtaking, beauty in a guitar-hazy disguise. Her bassist Anning wrote “Bamboo Shoots,” which is done with a gypsy jazz-meets-Hawaiian pop style. She simply skips and twirls around his melodic beats like a child who has discovered the beach after living in the mountains for so long. “Take us to the heart. Frozen in this standard moment. Slow this snow and we will always be loved.”

Finally, a safety tip: Don’t listen to the exquisite grown-up lullaby, “All Love,” unless you enjoy the ugly-cry. Think Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know.” Aimée can make her voice as tender as a small child’s, innocence and hope turned up to the wide, open skies for a kiss. The lyrics with the trembling guitar — “It’s all love, the birds high above you, and the smell of rain, oh the memories you’ll keep inside, it’s love” — comfort you as a mom brushes her daughter’s hair at bedtime. She wrote those lyrics to guitarist Babik Reinhardt’s (son of Django) instrumental. “I heard this beautiful melody so many times, but when they played it at Babik’s funeral, I asked for permission to put a lyric to it.”

Cyrille Aimée advances the cause of gypsy, Brazilian, and American jazz with three outstanding guitarists, and that award-winning voice in a case of mind over ego.

Artist quotes pulled from a press release, provided by DL Media.