Violette – Falling Strong (2014)

Violette fits into no easy category, no pre-set box. Her music is, strictly speaking, neither songbook nor diva. At the same time, she’s a New Yorker who is not for New York, a former Boston resident who wasn’t born there either, a Paris native who grew up on a French Atlantic island.

“All My Life,” the opening track on Falling Strong, sets the tone. Violette opens with a spacious, West Coast vibe – courtesy of a lazily romantic cadence by drummer Louis Cato, who also contributes on bass, guitar and vocals across the breadth of this album. A sumptuous horn arrangement by Kamau Kenyatta allows Curtis Taylor (on trumpet), Stantawn Kendrick (on alto), Anthony Ware (on tenor) and Robert Edwards (on trombone) to punctuate every breathy wink from Violette. Her song, one of head-over-heels passion, heralds a moment of contented bliss – one that Violette explores, pulls apart, questions mightily and ultimately gives into over the course of this intriguing display of jazz-pop smarts.

The title song for Falling Strong, produced by Brian Bacchus, finds Violette tangling and untangling with her man through a hip narrative about discovering that special one – but feeling the need to sort through the inevitable worries over past hurts first. Marie Davy appears as a featured second vocalist both here and on “Golden Cage.” (Singer Aviva Jaye also joins Violette on five of the 12 tracks on Falling Strong.) Armed with an infectious hooky charm, “Falling Strong” might have been a hit single for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in another era.

Violette stops to take a contemplative breath on the quietly effective “Perfect Illusions,” which is completed with a Dunkan Winkel string arrangement. The song deals head on with the mistakes we all made when our dreams blind us to the life’s risks. Winkel returns in the same capacity for French-sung “Envol,” which finds Violette adding darkened piano asides herself.

That’s the first overt hint to the journey that brought Violette to this new album.

Born in Paris in 1985, she grew up on Ile de Re. Violette later studied piano and percussion at a conservatory back in Paris before discovering Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. From there, she turned her focus to voice, eventually relocating to Boston on the advice of French violinist Didier Lockwood. Violette studied at the Berklee College of Music, and has released a trio of previous recordings, beginning with 2009’s Innervoice. Joie de Vivre followed in 2010, and Simple is Beautiful in 2011. Violette also co-wrote and recorded “The Dorian Island” with Thomas Encho on his 2006 debut Esquisses.

She has since relocated to New York City, where she began working with Bacchus on this 12-track project – and she clearly found herself at home, once again. One of the fizzier tracks on Falling Strong is called “I Heart NYC.” Bacchus’ earlier credits include Norah Jones, Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson, among others – and that sweep, from jazz to pop and back again, is echoed throughout Violette’s new album.

“Countdown to Light,” which features a string arrangement from Kenyatta, is a ready-ready romp – complete with a winking tick-tock chorus. “Good Man,” a paean to learning another’s complexity, finds her joined by Glenn Patscha, who adds piano, organ and accordion to a total four subsequent tracks, including “I Heart NYC,” “Moi Pour Moi,” and “Musiques D’Amerique.” Keita Ogawa’s delicately whispered percussion adds new depth to songs like “Golden Cage.”

“Anna Belle,” which features a gorgeous turn on guitar by Randy Runyon, finds Violette returning to her native tongue on a song that has a diaphanous fragility. Pianist Manami Morita, who also appeared on “All My Life” and “Perfect Illusions,” then effortlessly fits into Violette’s determinedly optimistic “Coming To You.”

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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