Paris by Night (revisited)

Various Artists - Jazz A Saint-Germain
(Higher Octave Jazz)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

Recreating the smoky haze of the underground nightclub scene in Paris during German occupation in the forties, Jazz A Saint-Germain, is a sumptuous collection of eclectic torch songs and jazz standards with a French twist, steeped in Bohemian decadence.
Although Jazz A Saint-Germain flourishes with French chanteuses such as Francoise Hardy and Jane Birken, it also attracts the likes of 'the godfather of punk' Iggy Pop (who duets with Hardy on the playful American standard, "I'll Be Seeing You"), Blondie's cover girl Deborah Harry and straight from New Orleans' French Quarter to Paris' Latin Quarter, The Renegade Jazz Band.
The album opens up with a sultry version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime" sung by Angelique Kidjo in her native tongue from Benin, Africa. One of the most widely recorded jazz standards of all time ("Summertime" has been covered by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and scores of others) Kidjo manages to reshape this number into her own as she bridges the gap between her own African roots and American jazz.
The album is further highlighted by young Franco-American Jacky Terrasson's cool piano phrasings on "La Javanaise", Patricia Kaas' sensual delivery on the torch standard "Black Coffee", Dee Dee Bridgewater's funky take on Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and her daughter China's simple, pouty version of Billie Holiday's "Lover Man". On "Il n'y a plus d'Apres"("There Is No Tomorrow") Deborah Harry, accompanied with the avant-garde jazz musings of New York's The Jazz Passengers, conjures up visions of writers, artists and intellectuals all 'living for the moment' in Parisian speakeasies as she gives a first rate interpretation in French on this ode to a more existential time.
Duke Ellington gets a couple of makeovers on the sax drunk "Sophisticated Lady" sexily performed by vocalist Elli Medeiros, as well as Brigitte Fontaine's exotic version of "La Caravan".
Boris Vian, a celebrated French jazz musician and owner of the famous Saint-Germain nightclub The Tabou Cellar, is also featured here with a brief, but enlightening, prologue and musical piece recorded from his club in the 1950's as well as a wonderful 1954 recording of him rehearsing with his pianist Jimmy Walter on "J'suis Snob" ("I'm A Snob"), with Vian forgetting his lyrics.
While the brassy exuberance of big band jazz and swing are wowing today's youth, it should only be a matter of time before the much cooler sounds of Paris' ultra-hip past, as presented on Jazz A Saint-Germain, takes them off their feet and points them underground to some smoky little jazz club.

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