by Ian Mann
September 26, 2018
Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well.
“Across The Bridge”
(MGP Records – MGPCD020)
Born in Francophone Belgium Gabrielle Ducomble is a jazz vocalist and songwriter based in London.
Ducomble is a fairly recent recruit to the jazz ranks having started her music career as a pop singer, reaching the final of the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. She subsequently worked with Belgian pop artists Mimi Verderame, Jean-Louis Daulne and Lara Fabian.
Ducomble’s interest in jazz was sparked by Dee Dee Bridgewater’s album “Dear Ella” and the young vocalist moved to London to study jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2009.
Following graduation Ducomble remained in London and has become an increasingly significant presence on the UK music scene. She is a versatile vocalist and her two previous albums “J’ai Deux Amours” (2011) and “Notes From Paris” (2014) explore a wide range of material, drawing on jazz, tango and French chanson, including songs written by such celebrated figures as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Michel Legrand and Astor Piazzolla. She has also performed specially themed shows including “The Michel Legrand Songbook” and “The Music of Claude Nougaro”.
Ducomble has toured widely in the UK playing many of the country’s leading jazz clubs and festivals and recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Loose Ends”.
“Across The Bridge” represents something of a departure for Ducomble as she presents her first album of wholly original material following two albums of jazz arrangements of other people’s songs.
Ducomble says of her latest project;
“In recent years I have felt the desire to explore further my creativity in songwriting and to share with my audience messages that are close to my heart. This journey led me to cross the bridge from interpreting familiar repertoire to creating an album of my own original music. I invite you to enjoy the many musical influences and stories on this album and I hope this music will guide you in exploring places of passion and serenity”.
Joining Ducomble on her journey ‘across the bridge’ is an outstanding band featuring Nicolas Meier (guitars), Richard Jones (violin, viola), Nick Kacal (double bass) and Saleem Raman (drums), Ducomble’s regular working group. Guest appearances come from Fausto Beccalossi on accordion and Bill Mudge on keyboards. The album was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and appears on Meier’s own label, MGP Productions.
Ducomble wrote virtually all the music but has collaborated with a variety of lyricists. Album opener “Forest Boy” features the words of one T. Collison and addresses the theme of childhood and the subsequent loss of innocence and imagination that comes with adulthood. A folk tinged arrangement paced by Meier’s guitar features Ducomble’s pure, well enunciated vocals. Jones’ melancholic, soaring strings add depth and colour as Raman turns in a sensitive performance behind the kit.
“Where Is Home”, with music by Ducomble and a lyric co-written with B.Watts addresses the global housing crisis and the displacement of refugees. The arrangement is generally more forceful and rhythmic with Raman taking up the sticks in support of Ducomble’s passionate vocal. Jones’ fiery violin solo draws on both gypsy jazz and folk-rock.
“Les Terrasses De Riz De Jatiluwih” features a French lyric, co-written with B.Mansion, that I’m not going to attempt to translate here. The sound is charming and authentic, instantly transporting the listener to the streets and cafés of Paris, with violinist Jones making a strikingly atmospheric contribution during the extended instrumental coda.
The lively “Ride”, with words by D.Gill, doesn’t have the lyrics reproduced on the album packaging but both the words and the music are joyous and uplifting, with Ducomble also taking the opportunity to demonstrate her scatting skills. There’s also a concise but nimble acoustic guitar solo from Meier, his first of the album despite him being at the heart of the majority of the arrangements.
“Like A Bridge Across Your Heart”, a tune based upon a tango, is more sombre with a melancholy lyric co-written by Ducomble and Watt that alternates between French and English. The sadness of the words is complemented by a dramatic instrumental arrangement featuring the intense, intertwining lines of Jones and guest accordionist Beccalossi. Ducomble says of the piece;
“I feel the spirits of Piaf and Piazzolla joined together in this song, it is like a statement of passion and turmoil”.
With both music and words by Ducomble “Tell Me Today” is calmer and more wistful. There’s a warmth and yearning in Ducomble’s voice that reminds me of the late, great folk artist Sandy Denny, albeit with a jazz twist.
Another sole writing credit for Ducomble “Circus” features another French lyric and begins in simple, pared down fashion with just Ducomble’s voice and Meier’s acoustic guitar. The rest of the band then kick in as the tune accelerates in exhilarating gypsy jazz fashion. As playful as its title might suggest the tune now races along with a coquettish scat vocal episode from Ducomble, a Hot Club style violin solo from Jones, and lively cameos from Kacal, Meier and Jones. Great fun, and a piece that’s guaranteed to be a live favourite, one would imagine.
“Valse Dans Le Parc” also features music and words by Ducomble, the lyric again being sung charmingly in French as Meier and Jones provide the instrumental highlights.
The Ducomble written “Is This It?” introduces an element of the blues to the proceedings. Kacal and Raman link up to provide an insistent, propulsive groove that fuels Ducomble’s playful, feisty rendition of the English lyric and Meier’s quirky guitar solo.
The album’s “bridge” theme is reflected in the use of Claude Monet’s “Le Pont Japonais” on the front cover, with Ducomble reproducing the pose inside. Co-written by Ducomble and Meier the song “Les Nympheas” is also inspired by Monet’s work, particularly the famous painting “Water Lilies”, with the singer intoning the French lyric above a backdrop of circling guitar motifs, shimmering cymbals and atmospheric violin lines. Ducomble says of the piece and the inspiration behind it;
“For me, the reflective, dreamy water lilies symbolise many themes – nature, beauty and imagination to name but a few.”
With English lyrics by Collison and Watts “The Time Is Now” addresses environmental issues, calling on humanity to treasure and protect the planet. Introduced by Jones’ violin the arrangement incorporates elements of jazz, folk and pop and includes guest Bill Mudge on piano.
The album concludes with “Les Roses At Leurs Epines”, a French language song with a lyric by Ducomble and Mansion. Jazz fuses with Ducomble’s chanson roots in an attractive arrangement that incorporates an instrumental solo from Jones.
As befits its title “Across The Bridge” straddles linguistic and stylistic boundaries to deliver a pleasingly varied album of original songs. Although these days rooted in jazz Ducomble’s sweet, pure toned vocals avoid most of the “jazz singer” clichés (there’s actually precious little scat) and she’s equally convincing as a vocalist in both French and English.
For non-French speakers there’s a real exotic charm about the songs sung in French, which for me personally, conjures up happy memories of good times spent in France – and Belgium too! Very evocative.
Some of the English lyrics, particularly on the ‘issue’ songs come across as well meaning and worthy but a little naive; ‘sixth form poetry’ syndrome if you will.
But it’s the singing and playing that counts and I welcome an album of original material that doesn’t just lazily go for the ‘Great American Songbook’ approach. Ducomble has been honing her approach with her earlier interpretations of other peoples’ material and has brought some of that magic to her own songs. Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well and she’s surrounded by a first class band, with Meier at the helm and with violinist Jones making a particularly significant contribution.
Ducomble has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim for the quality of her live performances and one can imagine these songs taking on a life of their own in a concert or club environment. She is currently touring the material with Meier, Jones and Kacal and listeners will be able to make up their own minds at the gigs listed below;
Gabrielle will be touring this autumn with her band featuring Nicolas Meier on guitar, Nick Kacal on double bass and Richard Jones on violin:
4th Oct: Dorchester Arts Centre
5th Oct: The Poly/Falmouth Arts Centre
6th Oct: Flavel Arts Centre, Devon
16th Oct: Watermill Jazz Club (& Emiliano Caroseli on drums)
17th Oct: Swansea Jazzland
18th Oct: Span Arts, Narbeth
19th Oct: Birmingham Symphony Hall Foyer
1st Nov: Ashcroft Arts Centre
2nd Nov: Calstock Arts Centre
3rd Nov: Creative Innovative Centre, Taunton
4th Nov: Colchester Arts Centre
16th Nov: St Paul’s, Cambridge
17th Nov: St George’s, Bristol
18th Nov: The Stables, Milton Keynes
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