Surreal jazz

French-born singer Cyrille Aimée adds her multi-layered voice to the Hot Jazz series this week.

surreal jazz (photo credit: Courtesy)
surreal jazz
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Cyrille Aimée sounds very down to earth when we chat by phone ahead of her Hot Jazz series concerts here, so the name of the group she played with on her 2008 debut CD, Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band , seems somewhat incongruous. The singer explains, “When people say my name in English, it sounds like ‘surreal,’ so I called them the Surreal Band. It’s just a fun play on words.”
The French-born New York- resident vocalist will not have that instrumental sextet by her side for her seven-date tour here, which kicks off Saturday night in Tel Aviv. Instead, she will have the polished skills of four Israeli players – saxophonist Amit Friedman, bassist Gild Abro, drummer Aviv Cohen and pianist Assaf Gleizner. But she won’t exclusively be working with strangers. She and Gleizner have done plenty of time together.
“I have been working with Assaf for about six years,” says Aimée, “ever since we studied together at Purchase College [in New York]. It’s great that he’s coming to Israel to play with me. We feel very comfortable together.”
Aimée also appears to have a wide musical comfort zone. On Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band , for instance, she performs sunny readings of a number of jazz standards, such as “How Deep Is the Ocean?” but there is a very different mindset in there too, such as the singer’s own score “Twenty Eight,” which has something akin to a singer-songwriter vibe to it.
In fact, Aimée’s entry into the world of music came via a very different musical avenue. When she was 14, she crept out of the house and made her way to a Gypsy encampment just outside her hometown of Samois-sur- Seine, north of Paris. There, she immersed herself in the happy-go- lucky rapid-fire sentiments of Gypsy swing jazz played by the campers. Samois-sur-Seine is known for the Django Reinhardt jazz festival , named after the genre’s founding father guitar wizard, which has been held there annually since 1968.
And there are more influences that course through Aimée’s veins and along her vocal chords. “My mother comes from the Dominican Republic, so I have the Latin side in me, and I grew up with Gypsies,” she explains. “But I like any kind of music, as long as it’s good music.”
The Latin element comes across loud and clear in a couple of albums she made with Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo – Smile and Just The Two of Us. Aimée also managed to feed off as close a source as possible to the Gypsy jazz founder, and Django’s guitar- playing grandson David Reinhardt contributes to a couple of cuts on Cyrille Aimée and the Surreal Band. Gigs with world-renowned Israeli clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen also appear in the Aimée résumé; and her latest release, Cyrille Aimée & Friends Live at Smalls , features stellar trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Joel Frahm.
Life for female jazz vocalists can be quite challenging in that they are almost inevitably compared with jazz divas Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Although she admits the latter is a central source of inspiration for her, Aimée has managed to carve out her own stylistic niche.
“I have been greatly influenced by Ella, but I also take in influences from the people I meet and the places I travel to,” she says. “All your experiences, the places you go to, the encounters you have with people and, of course, your cultural trappings all make you who you are, and who are you makes your music.”
Relocating to the US has also had a telling effect on Aimée’s artistic development. “I learned so much at Purchase College, about harmony and improvisation. The level of musicianship in the US is really high, and I just sing a lot here; and by singing a lot, you learn. There are so many musicians in New York, and there is this energy and fire in this city that inspires you and makes you want to learn and to get out there. People are constantly evolving and constantly creating here, and you get pushed along just by being in that energy,” she says.
Aimée’s career development was also helped by coming third in the 2010 edition of the jazz world’s most prestigious contest, the Thelonious Monk Competition. “That definitely helped,” she says. “I like competitions because I like the challenge, and challenges is the reason I came to New York in the first place.”
That third placing, the enthusiastic responses to her discography and the wide performance spread she maintains have all encouraged the singer to push her own boat out there. “My next album, which will come out in 2014, has a lot of original songs that I wrote,” she says. “I’m not sure yet what it will be called, but I think the name will be It’s a Good Day .
We can probably look forward to several good days while Aimée does her rounds here.
Cyrille Aimée will perform at Mercaz Habama, Ganei Tikva tomorrow at 9 p.m. (03-737-5777); the Gerard Behar Centre in Jerusalem on Monday at 9 p.m. (02-623- 7000); Zappa Herzliya on Tuesday – doors open at 8:15 p.m., show starts at 10 p.m. (1-700-500-039); Einan Hall in Modi’in on Wednesday at 10 p.m. (03-737-5777); the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on March 7 & 8 at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively (1- 700-500-039) and Abba Hushi House in Haifa on March 9 at 9 p.m. (04-822-7850).