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Térez Montcalm

[English] [français]

I KNOW I’LL BE ALRIGHT

It’s never an accident when a singer records an album in tribute to another singer. It never goes, either, without its share of doubts. If Térez Montcalm launched herself into Here’s To You – Songs For Shirley Horn, it is obviously because Horn is, as she says, her “all-time favorite singer”. Undoubtedly, too, “it’s not so easy paying her homage, as she’s the only one who’s able to do what she does”.
Indeed, Shirley Horn holds a peculiar place in the pantheon of jazz singers. She never aspired to the blue ribbon or played on the clichés of sad songs. But has there ever been another singer with such an influence and popularity with a mere two-octave range ? A virtuoso pianist, unmatched accompanist (accompanying herself, which is even more mind-blogging), endowed with extraordinary intuition when she chose her repertoire, Shirley Horn mesmerized her peers in numerous ways.

Her mastery of ballads is what fascinates Térez Montcalm the most : “She was the only one able to sing such slow ballads, give them such a laid-back tempo, slow the swing down this way.”
A real challenge for Térez Montcalm, whose two first albums (Voodoo in 2007 and Connection in 2009) thrilled her audience and the critics with the raw energy inherited from her jazz, rock and funk influences. Thus the warmth of her resonant voice finds new depth in these ballads of a troubling clarity – One At A Time on a melody of Michel Legrand, Isn’t It a Pity by the Gershwin brothers, A Song For You by Leon Russel, How Am I To Know, famous adaptation of a poem written by Dorothy Parker and sung by Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday before Shirley Horn. Seemingly warning the performer, the lyrics of Nice’n’Easy go : “To rush would be a crime”...

It wasn’t about picking the easiest songs or copying the best of. The tracks were carefully selected with producer Jean-Philippe Allard, who knew Shirley Horn fairly well, having produced her albums Lovin’ You and Jazz ‘Round Midnight. Térez then followed one of the most spectacular practices of jazz music : “We recorded the album in three days, which I had never done before. With my previous albums, I’d known my musicians for a long time and we had been preparing everything well in advance. This time, I met most of the musicians on the first session day.”

But what a casting ! First off, Steve Williams, who had been Shirley Horn’s drummer for twenty-seven years. He brought his extensive knowledge of the repertoire, an intimate understanding of every song... and numerous conversations with Térez. “It was very important that he told me stories about Shirley Horn. I did not know Horn personally : I saw her perform twice but I’d never met her. Steve Williams brought her spirit to the project.”
Working on the arrangements and playing the piano is Gil Goldstein, Rufus Reid on the double bass, Ernie Watts on the saxophone, Roy Hargrove on the trumpet. Jay Newland and Jean-Philippe Allard produced the album in a small isolated studio in Connecticut. “Everything was in its right place and worked out perfectly”, sums up Térez, who also plays the guitar on a few songs.
She practiced each song with Gil Goldstein. “We played it once, just the two of us, while the others were taking notes on their scores. We then recorded it together. Three takes at most, and many songs were good by the first one. During the three days of recording, something came up – a sort of alchemy.” Térez dared singing Just In Time, a song with passionate fervor, and a bilingual version of L’Hymne à l’amour.

“Shirley Horn sang the whole song in English, as I’d heard at the Village Vanguard years ago. I liked the way she began the song, but I’m a French speaker who much admires Édith Piaf. So I had to finish it in French.” Therefore, she begins singing Marguerite Monnot’s sublime melody with Geoffrey Parsons’ lyrics, If You Love Me, then falls back to the lyrics written by Piaf. But we’d never heard a French-speaking singer reaching such emotion without imitating Piaf’s extravagant pathos. She displays passion and drama, the exhilaration of love and tragic fatum, not with the roughness of words, but with her velvety voice. As if, never losing her loquacity, her sensuality and cheek, Térez Montcalm had uncovered Shirley Horn’s secrets of class, elegance and precision – the hardness of Indian ink with all shades of watercolor.

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