With her latest record, Move On: A Sondheim Adventure, French-born singer Cyrille Aimée takes on the Stephen Sondheim canon, a departure from her usual gypsy-jazz-driven material. Aimée’s expertise lies in laser-precise improvisations and lightly voiced phrasings—neither of which usually comports with Sondheim, whose vocally demanding musical theater compositions leave little room for experimentation or subtlety. So what’s a jazz singer to do with his sumptuous syncopation, extended harmonies, and whip-smart lyrics? Aimée has a few good ideas.
On the recording Aimée stays within the vocal parameters for jazz—no Broadway belting—resetting the tunes with a traditional trio in known formats (Latin, swing, some strings). But she delves deeper than usual into the stories behind these lyrically dense pieces; regardless of how one interprets Sondheim’s music, his thought-provoking poetry requires this kind of attention (“I remember snow/soft as feathers/sharp as thumbtacks”). That Aimée can retain the elemental drama of Sondheim’s songs even as she’s repackaging the music speaks to her deep understanding of what makes a song work.
Aimée joined Mack Records in 2014, two years after she won the Sarah Vaughn Vocal Competition, and the new release is her second for the label in less than a year. The first, Cyrille Aimée Live, recorded at Le Poisson Rouge in August 2017 and released in June 2018, documents the last gig for the foreseeable future with her regular band. It’s a tight collection of Aimée at her best—charming, engaged, and musically riveting. This earlier album contains one Sondheim tune from that evening, “Live Alone and Like It”, a Django-blues guitar version of the little-known number from the film Dick Tracy and a harbinger, it seems, of Aimée’s new musical leanings.
Aimée will launch the new album at Birdland on Feb. 26, mere days after competing in the American Traditions Competition in Savannah, Georgia. Unlike other major competitions where Aimée has placed first (besides the Sarah Vaughn Competition, the Montreux Jazz Competition in 2007) or in the finals (the Thelonious Monk Competition in 2010), the ATC requires singers to perform across nine different genres, with theater and film among two of the possibilities. Her Sondheim work might just give Aimée a leg up in these categories.
Though Claudia Acuña has been performing stateside and internationally for the last 10 years, she hasn’t released an album since En Este Momento (Marsalis Music) in 2009. This changes with Turning Pages (Plaza Independencia), which marks not only Acuña’s debut as a songwriter but a reinvention of the Chilean singer’s career. From the infectious original “Hey” to her reflective “Aguita De Corazón” through her mournful take on Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone”, Acuña brings an exciting depth of feeling to the new work. She’ll kick off the recording at the Birdland Theater on Feb. 6-9.
Fresh from their APAP showcase in January, the eMPathia Jazz Duo will play from their latest recording Cool Romantics (Musica Populare Italiana), on Feb. 7, upstairs from Acuña’s CD party, in the main club at Birdland. Italian singer Mafalda Minnozzi and American guitarist Paul Ricci, who began working together in Brazil more than 20 years ago, specialize in the kind of Latin jazz that’s all the more seductive for its simplicity—Ricci brings the harmonic color and Minnozzi the sultriness. Their sound, easy and warm, recalls the faraway beaches that so tempt New Yorkers when the weather turns blustery.
Vocal innovator Katie Bull returns to live performance after a two-year hiatus with The Hope Etudes on Feb. 1 at the Middle Collegiate Church. One set of originals, teed up for recording in 2019, that bring people together in “circles of connectivity” and inspire hope in the future, Bull says.
For those celebrating romance this month: On Feb. 14 Gregory Porter will present his annual Valentine’s Day show at the Beacon; Dee Dee Bridgewater will sing in her own V-Day special at 92nd Street Y; and Chicago-based singer Alyssa Allgood will launch her winning sophomore release, Exactly Like You (Cellar Music) at Kitano in her NYC debut. Finally, Tierney Sutton and Kate McGarry team up for what promises to be a shimmering set at Jazz Standard in “Double Date with Tierney & Kate: From Django to Joni” on Feb. 13-14. Between them they’ve lots of star power: Sutton has claimed a Grammy nomination for each album she’s recorded in the last decade, and McGarry just earned her second for The Subject Tonight Is Love (Binxtown Records).