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A Formidable Voice: Experiencing Chantal Chamberland's Soirée

09-01-2022 | By Nan Pincus | Issue 123

Chantal Chamberland's Soirée. Evosound (HERE)

A re-issue is always an interesting temporal situation. As listeners we are invited to experience the excitement of the new simultaneously with the comfort of the familiar. Just such an invitation appears with the Hybrid SACD release of French-Canadian jazz singer Chantal Chamberland's Soirée. With her smoky voice and whole-hearted interpretations, Chamberland breathes in the struggles of our contemporary life and breathes out the romantic, irrepressible atmosphere of the 1930s and 1940s. Her interpretations are a modern vehicle for a nostalgic ride, but there's much more than sentimentality here.

This is not an album with tracks, it is an album with songs. Some of these songs, such as "Besame Mucho" and "Que Reste-t'il de nos Amours" the listener will recognize immediately, and Chamberland is masterful and distinctive in her delivery. Not all of her decisions are conventional, including is the instruments that accompany her. Upon one half-eared listen, Soirée could be dismissed as a nostalgia project, a portfolio for a beautiful voice, perhaps a good soundtrack for a candlelit dinner (or a gentle soirée as the album name suggest) but not advancing the genre forward. However, when an accompanying musician's instrumental credits on the album include "trumpet, accordion, cello, shaker, and mellotron," we know there's more in the authorship and intention of this album than just jazz standards brought to life once more.

While prolonged listening, my appreciation grew for all the supporting musicians, none more so than Amy King's backing vocals, which together with Chamberland's voice, felt modern, reciprocal, and intimate. The three songs where they join forces quickly comprised some of my favorites, especially "Dis Moi," a French interpretation of The Beatles "Here, There and Everywhere."  Another standout on the album is "Je L'aime À Mourir," which showcased Chamberland's guitar playing especially well, and had an endearingly twee quality that would make it pair well on a mixed artist playlist of contemporary indie folk tracks.

The only songsmith whose work features twice on the album is none other than Charles Aznavour. His songs "For me Formidable" and "J'aime Paris au Mois de Mai" show Chamberland taking the great tenor's oeuvre and making it feminine, confident, and even slightly tongue-in-cheek, with an audible smile in the jaunty chorus of "For me Formidable." Chamberland's talent itself is formidable, and with thoughtful mastering done by King, Soirée invites us to listen without distraction to a voice with something to say.