Amitie, featuring Danick – Voyage d’armour (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

Voyage d’armour, French-born Danick Isabelle Jawer’s thrillingly intricate new collaboration with Amitie, captures the affection, the sorrow and the music of a relationship – whether the listener speaks her native tongue or not.

That’s thanks in no small way to Amitie (“friendship” in French), a trio from Seattle that skips along with a jaunty insouciance, yet never tumbles into syrupy sentimentality. Then there’s Danick, born in Grenoble, France, and now using her first name on stage. Her old-world charm stems from a voice of startling range, one with both bright intensity and delicate sensitivity.

All of it is on display during “J’envoie valser” (I Don’t Mind),” the tender opener on Voyage d’amour. Singing a traditional French tune originally made famous by Olivia Ruiz, Danick’s vocal is quiet but insistent, and perfectly suits the lyric’s cry for passion from a cold but wealthy partner.

There is a difference, Danick reminds, between showering someone with gifts and truly, openly loving: “I prefer that you love me, without spending money.” She effortlessly flows around gorgeous, spiraling runs by accordion player John Sanders, a music instructor and jazz band director at the Seattle-area Edmonds Community College.

Theirs is a partnership that – like its subject matter — continues to strengthen and develop, as this Voyage d’amour continues.

Danick grew up listening to local legends like Edith Piaf and Yves Montand, and she carries forward Piaf’s candle-lit intimacy. (She also has a shared history of street performing as a youngster back home, though Danick would go on to earn a degree from the Conservatoire de Musique of Chalon sur Saone, France.) Her take on Piaf’s signature song “La vie en rose,” later the title of a film about the legendary World War II-era French singer, creates a brightly colored, impressionistic portrait of an artist and a woman who left this world with no regrets.

Guitarist and singer/songwriter Jonny Akamu, a Hawaiian-born professional musician, adds flourishes of flamenco on a definitive new reading of Francis Cabrel’s “L’encre de tes yeux (The Ink of Your Eyes)” Danick’s double-tracked vocal illustrates her great dexterity, both technically and emotionally, on a song about an unreachable relationship.

Akamu is also particularly effective on the Piaf tune, showing this keen Joe Pass-like panache, and on Claude Nougaro’s immortal celebration of song, “Rimes.” There is also a delightful turn on the cello by Emily Peterson during the original “Desir (Secret Longing).”

Danick’s “Ecoute,” another of the five tunes that she wrote or co-wrote, features her brother Marc on saxophone. In fact, a strong sense of family, and of remembrance, permeates Danick’s original work on Voyage d’armour.

“La java de l’au dela (The Java of the Beyond),” written with Danick’s father Robert Prunier before his death in 2007, provides a shimmering hope for what lies ahead: “Life is a masquerade, but beyond … it’s freedom.” “Saveurs Espangnoles (Taste of Spain)” recalls a trip made in her 20s to Barcelona. “Tango de’la famille (Family Tango)” explores the complicated emotions surrounding these life-long bonds.

The album’s highlight is Danick’s new interpretation of “Je m’suis fait tout petit (I made myself quite small),” by Georges Brassens. She brings a fresh, twinkling aloofness to a song about supplicating before the dizzying wiles of a mysterious lover. “I have never taken my hat off for anyone,” Danick sings, “now I grovel and sit up and beg when she rings for me.”

Standup bassist Stephen Kennedy, a music teacher at Todd Beamer High in Federal Way, Washington, begins with an elliptical, almost feline foundation, before the tune begins building toward its desperate maybe-I’ll hang-myself conclusion. It’s always been a song about power shifting from one to another in a relationship but in Danick’s new reimagining, there remains this hope of a crafty, last-minute escape.

That kind of complexity is a tribute to Danick, and the calling card of this intriguing Voyage d’armour.

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