CD review

Serena Fisseau, Vincent Peirani – So Quiet

Serena Fisseau, Vincent Peirani – So Quiet
(ACT. 9884-2. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

In the liner notes to So Quiet, French-Indonesian singer Serena Fisseau and French accordion-player Vincent Peirani “invite us to slow down…” and listen to some of the songs they play to their children. These songs are miniatures, sung intimately, but with subtle, sophisticated arrangements that keep you hooked as well as calming you down.

Fisseau opens with Bengawan Solo, sung to the River Solo, on the island of Java. The accordion contributes gentle arpeggios; Peirani is a melodic player, but here he leaves the melodies to Fisseau. Her voice is pliant and high-toned in the sweet major Bintang Kecil (Little Star). Peirani’s rubato introductory phrases make way for the voice. He knows how melodies work – when to pause and how to heighten notes. As exquisite multitracked vocal harmonies develop, he builds orchestral chords.

Three songs are in French, Fisseau’s other first language. In an interview, Peirani said that when she sings in different languages, “…the resonance is just completely different… I can’t play the same way when she is singing in English or Indonesian”. In French, the voice sounds breathily delicate, phrased differently, though still distinctively her. Serge Gainsbourg’s ’60s La javanaise is a love song about a Parisien dance. (Piaf sang about the power of “la java” in her song L’Accordeoniste). Peirani accompanies La javanaise with ringing keyboard lines. In Bourvil’s ’60s lively waltz La Tendresse, the deep, intense voice is close miked. Peirani follows the vocal phrasing while keeping the rhythm, with short improvised fills that enhance the melody without getting in its way. Yves Montand’s 3 Petites Notes de Musique, about music’s power to create memories, is sung with childlike charm. Fisseau is accompanied by what sounds like a tiny glockenspiel – perhaps the “music box” which Peirani is listed as playing. André Minvielle’s powerful La Bourdique is sung in Occitan in a more declamatory folk style, over a drone with layers of percussion and vocal harmony.

Songs in English are classic. What a Wonderful World is upbeat, phrased jazzily with joyful accordion lines winding round the vocal – and could that be the mysterious “plastic bag” percussion? Close to You has a breathy smile in the voice, with harmonies, and a bassy accordion sound with solo lines in delicate whorls. And I Love Her is almost a tango, reaching to Fisseau’s deepest rich notes. Peirani’s accompaniment to each verse is different, with a quietly soaring accordina solo. Fisseau’s voice is full of sinuous blue notes in Lhasa de Sela’s Small Song, with simple keyboard and subliminal vocals from Peirani.

Three songs in Portuguese are at the centre of the album. Peirani plays the yearning melody of Freire Junior’s Malandrinha as Fisseau recites the lyrics; she seems to move into the distance as she sings them to accordion tremolo, like an old record. It’s a good companion piece to Jobim’s Luiza, with its equally arching melody and deeply romantic lyrics. Fisseau’s natural singing style, along with Peirani’s wheeling chords, makes the tricky melodies sound effortless and dramatic. Veloso’s Alguém Cantando, a song about the importance of singing, has keyboard as smooth as guitar chords, and a lyric that could be the album’s theme: “A voz de alguém quando vem do coração.” (“Someone’s voice when it comes from the heart”).

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