CD review

Grégory Privat – “Soley”

Grégory Privat – Soley
(Buddham Jazz Records. CD review by Rob Mallows)
Until this year’s London Jazz Festival, I had not heard of French pianist Grégory Privat. Then I saw him playing as part of Lars Danielsson’s Libretto III (REVIEW) at the Cadogan Hall and thought: wow! This album was my introduction to Privat’s own work, and I was pretty impressed.
It’s a departure in style from the classical formalism of Danielsson’s work: freer, richer in feel, with influences from jazz, Caribbean music, electronic fusion jazz and soul. Privat’s classical training also shines through. On Soley, Privat – on piano, keyboards and vocals, interestingly – is joined by Chris Jennings on double bass and Tilo Bertholo on drums, neither of whom I had come across before.
This is not his first album, but it is a debut on this new label, self-founded in response to the composer’s “yearning for independence and an eagerness to reach new musical horizons” and a readiness to be free of the shackles of his earlier label. Whether he’s reached the horizon is debatable – this isn’t particularly innovative or genre-bending music; it’s more hybrid than a new species – but Privat’s playing has a certain freedom and joy to it which comes across.
HIs singing – something he’s not done on previous albums – is centre stage on this album; sometimes, I thought, too much. He’s a pretty good singer, with a mellow, soulful voice, but his piano is definitely the better hand to play, as demonstrated most evidently on Manmay.
L A S starts of with a rolling electric piano riff and simple backbeat… but never really develops from there. The lyrics are in French, so some of the meaning is lost, but musically this isn’t a strong start. 
D. N. A. however is: a simple, sparse melody underpinned by some great left-hand work from Privat and audaciously simple but compelling cymbal work from Bertholo. The bass, too, is driving without the need for embellishment, and supports well the introduction of some scratchy keyboard sounds.
Fredo is a more free-flowing tune with a swing feel from the rhythm section, and there are plenty of choice cuts in terms of chord choices and melody; it brought to my mind mid-career Jason Rebello.
There’s a lot to this album: 15 tracks in total. The majority is top stuff, but there are a few mis-steps which interrupt the flow of the album a little; the short track eight, for example – Outro – which felt like a vocal coda for the album, in fact led straight back into another tune.
Minor quibbles aside, subsequent tracks like Serguei and Seducing the Rain show Privat’s strength: playing the 88 black and white keys in front of him. His undulating patterns over Bertholo’s scorching solo on the former are simple, but beautifully so, opening up the speakers Jenning’s straightforward, unadorned bass, which really shines.
Exode is minor key, mournful, perhaps one of the tracks alluded to in the press release accompanying the CD, which says Private drew from “the musical richness of an Afro-Caribbean culture also scarred by the atrocities of slavery.” This track fits that mould, but also has within it an innate sense of hope and optimism as the tune develops. It’s the strongest track on the album.
Overall, this is a very relaxing, stress-free listening experience, with plenty to keep a listener absorbed and attentive.
There’s plenty to enjoy in Privat’s grab-bag approach to composition. The album offers clear evidence the French contemporary jazz scene isn’t resting on its laurels and is, through artists like Privat, advancing with a good deal of élan.
Soley is released on 31 January

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