Jazz-crazy France has long appreciated American jazz luminaries often more than these guys’ home country, so it should come as no surprise that there are some home-grown French stars of the genre. Alas, very few of them get any notice stateside, no matter how good they are. But one could only hope that someone like, say, saxophonist Sophie Alour can make a dent.
At the least, she gives a strong testimony with her latest disc, Shaker (from the French Naïve Jazz label), her sixth overall. Comfortable in all-acoustic setting, Alour goes with an organ trio setup supplemented with a few guest players this time, and as a one-time sidewoman in Rhoda Scott’s combo, she’s no stranger to this type of environment. Frédéric Nardin mans the organ while Frédéric Pasqua plays drums.
Alour’s sweet, soulful but heady sax — especially her tenor — conjures up Joshua Redman more than anybody, and those who dig Redman’s Elastic and YaYa3 records with organist Sam Yahel during the prior, aughts decade will find much to relish here.
Within this format, Alour takes some unexpected turns, most notably a rendition of “My Favorite Things” that’s funky and Brazilian — probably because Sergio Mendes arranged this gem — and features Alour on flute. She plays a soprano sax with a Grover Washington flair on the loose boogaloo “Joke,” and her tenor is an enveloping sound of warmth for her fetching ballad “Comptine.” As one might imagine with a song named “Shaker,” the song flat out grooves, in an 60s RnB way; Hugo Lippi’s guitar is Melvin Sparks redux. “I Want To Move My Body!” advertises accurately too, and Julien Alour’s cornet plays right in the pocket. “Mystère Et Boule De Gomme!” rocks more than swings, and Saury goes off leash after Alour stretches out on her soprano.
The best thing about Shaker is that its soothing kind of funk never appears forced or overbearing. It feels like fun, but Alour never cuts corners to get that feel.
Shaker might be available only as an import in the USA, but it’s well worth seeking out and grabbing. France is a mighty good place to go exploring for hidden treasure jazz artists, and within the current scene, Sophie Alour with her Shaker CD is as good a place to start as anyone.