It would be easy to say that Jacky Terrasson’s new record is a sort of American in Paris: French songs and immortal melodies played by the means of an American music sensibility. But it’s not that easy. Because the New York-based pianist extraordinaire Jacky Terrasson, who was born in Berlin to an African American mother and a French father, was raised in Paris, and actually left the “City of Lights” just 11 years ago, to move to the Big Apple.
So, he sought inspiration from that songs he grew up with, from childhood through adulthood, depicting an astonishing journey into the history of French popular songs. And it is his emotional approach that makes his music so tender and touching.
“What I’ve done on this album is the exact same process that jazz musicians have followed with American songs: take the melody and improvise on it”, Terrasson says. But, also in this case, it’s not as obvious as it seems. All the magic on A Paris is in the uncanny ability of the pianist to rearrange the songs, covering them with surprising new harmonic and rhythmic clothes.
The album opens with a traditional French song, a lovely ballad called “Plaisir d’amour”, popularized by Edith Piaf, that Terrasson translates using a Keith Jarrett-like idiom, with a beautiful interplay between him and his rhythm section (Leon Parker on drums and Ugonna Okegwo on bass). All of Terrasson’s phrases are round and soft. Forget the angular improvisations and percussive lines you’ve heard in his previous records: it’s the melody that rules.
After another ballad (“Les chemins de l’amour”, written by noted French classical composer Francis Poulenc), Terrasson explodes his visionary side playing a rollicking version of “Jeux Interdits” (“Forbidden Games”, a popular French-film theme of the Fifties, written by the Spanish-born classical guitarist Narciso Yepes). “Everyone in France knows this song”, Terrasson explains. “In fact, it’s one of the first tunes you learn to play on the guitar. My approach is one of revenge. I’ve heard it so many times I had to put a totally different twist on it”. And he did! The tune is ferocius, played with great intensity by Italian saxophonist, now Paris-based, Stefano Di Battista, Rémy Vignolo on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. Terrasson’s solo recalls McCoy Tyner’s powerful style, and the tune has an unmistakable John Coltrane flavor.
Other highlights in this highly recommended record are the renditions of the French national anthem (“La Marseillaise”, turned in a smooth little waltz, with beautiful chord substitutions), and of one of the most popular songs written by Charles Trenet, “Que reste-t’il de nos amours” (known in the States as “I Wish You Love”), in which Terrasson, along with guitarist Bireli Lagrene and Rémy Vignolo, plays a swinging moderate tempo on a crunchy Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Last, but not least, “I Love Paris in the Springtime”. Terrasson had opened his first Blue Note album with this Cole Porter’s classic; after seven years, the arrangement is funkier, laying on a solid bass groove, marking a new point of view about the idea of rhythm.
With his beutiful, and singable, melodies, nice arrangements and very cool playing, A Paris stands as Terrasson’s masterwork. Très beau, messieurs, très beau...