Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 4, 2006

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Montreal Jazz Festival 2005







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: ANNIE POULAIN
Annie Poulain

Annie 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.

© Marcel DuboisMore 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 her talent.

After 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.

Her voicing, 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.©  Marcel Dubois

When 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.

Since 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 major.

Annie 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.

Listen to Annie Poulain sing the gorgeous "Ma Preference" HERE.

Photos inside text © Marcel Dubois

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