Featured artist: ANNIE POULAIN
Poulain, from Quebec City, sings in French, Astrud Gilberto (The
Girl from Ipanema) sings in Portuguese, Fischer-Dieskau in German.
We English speakers don’t know the languages, but we love
to listen because like the violin, the piano and the saxophone,
the voice, before it speaks or sings, is an instrument that emotes.
Since music is itself a language, words have always played, at
best, a strong supporting role. At worst they are superfluous
or redundant. So when music is sung, we are always first responding
to the instrument that the voice is, and then the lyrics and their
language. Which is why language is never an obstacle; and no matter
how great the lyrics, if we don’t like the melody we don’t
buy the song.
and more jazz aficionados are listening to Annie Poulain because
her pulsating, deftly controlled, all weather voice opens up worlds
that quickly become choice destinations. But because she sings
in French only, lesser singers (some covered in our pages) receive
greater notice and opportunities, as if listeners are trusting
the critics more than their ears. Yes, it’s a darn right
dirty shame that that one’s mother tongue and not musical
ability often determines how far the singer goes. In other words,
Annie Poulain is learning -- like all of us sooner or later --
that life isn’t fair. The good news is that in especially
the music business, perception gaps can disappear in a hurry --
an outcome we want to encourage because there is no mistaking
a long and instructive apprenticeship, this singer has just released
her first CD entitled Annie Poulain, which features a
mother-lode of original interpretations. From one cut to the next,
it doesn’t take long to figure out that Mademoiselle Poulain
does a lot of things better than well, beginning with a playlist
that demonstrates French lyrics and melody can be wonderfully
adapted to jazz.
keen sense of pacing and emotional range stand up to any measure
while her judicious use of the solo is a lesson in restraint that
deserves to percolate from the bottom up. Far too often in jazz,
the solo is tacked on to a piece in a take-it or leave-it fashion,
or like a military operation, it’s decided in advance who
will perform, in what order, and for how many bars. Absent is
any sense of urgency or necessity, betraying jazz’ founding
principles: that it be spontaneous and deeply felt.
pianist Vincent Gagnon, in the heart wrenching, wistful “Ma
Preference,” takes over from the voice, it’s because
the voice knows the piano must speak and of necessity yields to
the moment. The transition is breathless, perfect, and once heard,
speaks to what we think of as inevitable in music. Staying true
to the tone and economy of the group’s approach, Gagnon's
playing (à la Diana Krall), is lean and Spartan, where
every note counts and where what is said and how it is said constitute
a single vocation. From Annie Poulain, we learn that
not all songs require a solo, that the solo can be said to fulfill
its destiny when it serves both singer and song.
we already know what Gagnon can do, we are waiting for him to
do more consistently what he already does so well. Just as we
are waiting for Annie Poulain to become a household name, and
listeners to finally reward a jazz singer who richly deserves
to be rewarded, because unlike most young aspirants, this inventive
vocalist can colour and cozy up to any mood, and is at her best
doing the ballads, the litmus test of any singer worth her C sharp
Poulain is not just some next new diva on the block. She’s
the real thing, with a warmth and penetration against which Quebec’s
winters and language-leery listeners don’t stand a ghost
of a chance.
to Annie Poulain sing the gorgeous "Ma Preference"
inside text © Marcel Dubois