Gabrielle Ducomble – Notes from Paris
(MGP MGPCD011. CD Review by Matthew Wright)
Belgian-born and London-trained singer Gabrielle Ducomble’s second album, Notes from Paris, offers a glowing and vigorous account of the French chanson, seasoned with touches of jazz and tango. As you would expect in a French singer featured in Jazz FM’s Valentine’s Day playlist, she draws heavily on the traditionally romantic perception of an English-speaking audience to both French lyrics and French-accented English.
Ducomble has made her own arrangements of some of the most iconic chansons in the repertoire for this album. Her background combines popular acclaim (she first made her name as the winner of a TV talent show) and high-class training (at the Guildhall School of Music). Her voice is exquisitely groomed, sumptuously powerful and buttery, like a fine Meursault, though that very poise, control and strength is occasionally at odds with the character of the original song. The strength of the best chansons – certainly Piaf’s, and in many ways Brel’s too – lies in their combination of defiance and vulnerability, expressed in that unmistakably nasal, even whinnying resilience that’s on the edge of dissolving into sobs. Ducomble’s versions are, on the whole, too slick and confident for that: there’s a sense she’s cheerfully revealing all to a stadium of fans rather than disclosing intimate secrets.
It’s particularly apparent with the Piaf numbers. La Vie en Rose, the first track on the album, opens with a crackly, period sound, before Ducomble’s glossy tone bursts through, perhaps a little stridently, given the tenderness of the lyrics. Ducomble’s version of Je ne regrette rien, though a novel re-working, also obscures the desperation in the speaker’s defiance beneath a rather too-fluent self-confidence. However, her version of Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas is, for the most part, beautifully desolate, Chris Garrick’s spare violin opening setting the scene in evocative, vaguely Celtic colours.
There’s much to enjoy in the album’s band of expert jazzers. Ducomble’s arrangements use instrumental colours well, especially saxes (Gilad Atzmon), which varies from cute, piping alto to sensual, thrusting tenor, and accordion (Dan Teper), which displays everything from cafe-style coquette to rasping menace.
A note is usually a slight, personal document; Notes from Paris is too big and bold for that, but it’s a confident statement by a powerful and charismatic singer, who’s destined to establish herself as a performer of the jazz- and tango-tinged chanson.