January 14th, 2020 10pm Stage
The title of this album is at the same time a wink, a step aside, a claim: the literal translation of Giant Steps, the standard history of John Coltrane in 1959, from which Camille Bertault had taken note of the game of saxophone on a YouTube video - the start of its flight in spring 2015.
On the album Pas de géant, she transforms this virtuoso exercise into a prodigious manifesto of free singer who explains, shares and professes her passion - the dizzying song Where you are going. This funny text, literate, humble and provocative at the same time, she asked Ravi Coltrane the right to put it on Giant Steps and to record it - "We met, I explained my approach to him and he accepted. "
His approach ? Words, rhythms, notes, a breathtaking way to make sense wander over music savored to the best of its form - at full speed, in full sweetness, in mad freedom. Basically, Coltrane influences him more than the singers, even Betty Carter or Ella Fitzgerald.
But we must also listen to the sensitive paradoxes that she wrote in the text of Certes ("Certainly, we must not think too much / Thinking while filling the paunch / Of emptiness and existence / And focus on your luck ”) or towards the textual farce of Fairy Accounts (“ She's the fairy, he is the count / Fairy tales, he tells them / On the contract, he tells fluffy / Quickly well done fairy Tinkerbell ”).
And she sings with open tomb the aria of Variations Goldberg by Jean-Sébastien Bach, resumes How you say goodbye by Serge Gainsbourg or the surrealists Conne by Brigitte Fontaine and La Femme cut into pieces by Michel Legrand, writes and sings in Brazilian on Wayne Shorter and in French on Bill Evans…
His giant steps go in ten directions at once, weave the Double Six with Helen Merrill, Claude Nougaro and Meredith d'Ambrosio, the films of Jacques Demy and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Jacques Loussier and André Minvielle… She sums up: “I wanted an album that closely resembles me rather than an album that most closely resembles the genre to which it belongs. "
It is true that her background is that of a young woman of her time, with tangled but particularly solid roots. Her father is an amateur jazz pianist and she always sang more or less by his side. But, at the age of eight, she moved to the piano and attacked the entire course of the Conservatoire (Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, Scriabin) while listening passionately to the stylists' Brazil (Elis Regina, Djavan, Cesar Camargo) . And she listens to Jeff Buckley, Björk or Fiona Apple, Léo Ferré, Barbara or Serge Gainsbourg…
At twenty, revolt. She closes her scores, branches off to the drama class, writes and plays children's plays. “I started to sing in a cabaret style, between the storyteller and the actor. But jazz caught up with me. Chance led her to a competition from the Conservatoire with regional influence on the rue de Madrid, which opened her access to solid training in harmony, composition and jazz singing. Camille Bertault discovers the theory behind her spontaneities, merges improvisation and her cabaret joys, returns to Ravel through jazz - "the pleasure of bringing together the stages I have gone through".
The following stages unfold naturally: it is filmed while singing the part of Coltrane on Giant Steps and the buzz does its work.
Quickly, a first album started, En vie, which came out in spring 2016. Then François Zalacain, the boss of the American label Sunnyside, introduced him to Michael Leonhart and Dan Tepfer. The first, trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist, will produce his new album, the second settling down on the piano. "Both are French-speaking and have a real interest in the text," rejoices Camille Bertault, who does not want an album where the voice is only a material. She likes the language to sound and many of her companions on this album have had adventures around the song - Stéphane Guillaume on saxophone, Daniel Mille on accordion, Matthias Malher on trombone, Christophe "Disco" Minck or Joe Sanders on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums.
All together, they did better than an album that looks like jazz, song or a predefined fusion: Pas de géant is an album that looks like Camille Bertault, his encyclopedic culture of pleasure, his taste for stunts, to his silky sensitivity, to his aerobatic instinct, to his inseparable freedom. Coltrane had not planned this; but up there he must really smile.
The album's title is an homage, sidestep and claim all at once. It is the literal translation of Giant Steps, the legendary John Coltrane standard from 1959, which Camille Bertault made her own in a YouTube video, including every note of the saxophone solo and marking the start of her rise in spring 2015.
In the album Pas giant, she turns this virtuoso exercise into a phenomenal, liberated vocal display, explaining, sharing and declaring her passion - the astonishing song Where you go [Wherever You Go]. This funny, erudite text is both humble and provocative. She asked Ravi Coltrane for permission to put it over Giant Steps and record - “We met up, I explained my approach and he accepted”.
And what was her approach? Words, rhythms, notes, a staggering way of having its meaning rush around at breakneck speed over music at the top of its game; sweet, free and unbridled in style. In truth, Coltrane has a bigger influence on her than do singers, even Betty Carter or Ella Fitzgerald.
But it's also worth listening out for the clear paradoxes she writes into the lyrics for Certes [Sure] (“Certainly, you mustn't think too much / Think while filling your stomach / Of emptiness and existence / And focus sur son chance ”[“ Sure, don't think too much / Think while you fill your belly / With fatty nothingness and life / And concentrate on your luck ”]). And then there's the textual farce of Fairy tales [Fairy tales] fait à fée Clochette ”[“ She's the fairy, he's the noble / He tells fairy tales / About the contract, he woos Tinker Bell / Quickly and masterfully ”]).
And she sings the aria from Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations at full speed, covers Serge Gainsbourg's Comment te dire adieu, the surrealist Conne by Brigitte Fontaine and La Femme cut into pieces by Michel Legrand, written and sung in Brazilian over some Wayne Shorter and in French over Bill Evans…
Her giant steps go in ten different directions at once, weaving Les Double Six together with Helen Merrill, Claude Nougaro with Meredith d'Ambrosio, the films of Jacques Demy with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Jacques Loussier with André Minvielle … Her thoughts: “I wanted an album which reflected me rather than one which reflected its own genre.”
It's true that she is a young woman of her time with a tangle of solid roots. Her father is an amateur jazz pianist and she has always sung with him on and off. But at the age of eight, she sat down at the piano and set about the whole conservatoire experience (Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, Scriabin) while developing a passion for the vocal stylists of Brazil (Elis Regina, Djavan, Cesar Camargo). And she also listened to Jeff Buckley, Björk, Fiona Apple, Léo Ferré, Barbara, Serge Gainsbourg…
When she was twenty, she rebelled. She shut her scores, moved to a drama class and wrote and played pieces for children. “I started to sing in a cabaret style, somewhere between a narrator and actor. But it was jazz that bewitched me. ”By chance she ended up at the Paris Conservatory which gave her solid training in harmony, composition and jazz singing. Camille Bertault discovered the theory behind her spontaneous creations, combined improvisation and her cabaret joys, came back to Ravel via jazz - “the pleasure of combining all the stages I had passed through”.
The next stages were natural: she filmed herself singing Coltrane's part on Giant Steps and the buzz ensued. Soon afterwards in 2016 her first album, En vie [Alive], emerged. Then François Zalacain, head of American label Sunnyside, introduced her to Michael Leonhart and Dan Tepfer. Michael, a trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist would produce her new album while Dan would accompany her on piano. “They're both French-speaking and interested in the text,” enthuses Camille Bertault, who doesn't want to make albums where the voice just serves as an instrument. She likes lyrics to hold the limelight and many of her colleagues on this album have had their own adventures in song - Stéphane Guillaume on saxophone, Daniel Mille on accordion, Matthias Malher on trombone, Christophe "Disco" Minck and Joe Sanders on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums.
Together they have created more than an album just about jazz, vocals or some pre-set fusion: Pas de géant is an album about Camille Bertault, her encyclopaedic culture of pleasure, her taste for vocal cascades, her silky sensitivity, her tendency for acrobatics and her evident unbridledness. Coltrane couldn't have seen her coming but he is sure to be looking down and smiling.