Clement Regert’s Wild Card – Life Stories (2018)

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Clement Regert’s Wild Card have been making musical waves for some time now with their blend of styles – from hard-bop and Afro-Latin, to New Orleans and raw funk grooves. They have proved a successful and popular band particularly on the U.K. jazz scene.

The organ-trio powerhouse of the group are French guitarist/band leader Clement Regert, organist Andrew Noble and drummer Sophie Alloway, each well-known individuals on the British circuits. For Life Stories, some famous guests and friends join them including Denys Baptiste (McCoy Tyner, Jazz Jamaica) on tenor sax, Carl Hudson (Incognito, Jocelyn Brown) on keys, Adam Glasser (Sting, Hugh Masekhela) on harmonica, Mary Pearce (Chaka Khan, Courtney Pine) on vocals, Graeme Flowers (Manu Katche, Quincy Jones) on trumpet, Jim Knight (CeeLo Green, London Horns) on Alto Sax, Alistair White (Incognito, Van Morrisson) on trombone and Will Fry (the Lion King musical, Roy Ayers) on percussion.

Life Stories was recorded live and is overdub free, apart from some percussion additions on a few tracks. Wild Card’s last project Organic Riot was made album of the week by London’s Evening Standard, and Jazzwise said “this band can’t stop but funk so stop thinking, start grooving!” Stephen Duffy of BBC’s Jazz House added, “What a great sound. … A real cracker!”

The album contains 11 tracks and a whole lot of different styles. Life Stories opens with “Intro,” which is a groovy, thumpy theme, over which some words from a speech Martin Luther King Jr. made about jazz are used. An interesting introduction. “Better Remorse Than Regret” is gentle and reflective. The trumpet solo from Graeme Flowers is a lovely start, and the slightly melancholic melody sets up for the contrast which follows: A drum segue and ensemble develop the theme, revving up the fun factor. Clement Regert told me he wrote the tune after “doing something stupid” last year. He said he was reminded that without the mantra of “better remorse than regret,” he might still be a salesman in the building trade in Paris – like he was 15 years ago. The tenor sax solo from Denys Baptiste and following sax-led section is lovely: light, pretty and arranged with great support. The full band work the theme up before another solo from the trumpet, and an organ and guitar solo before the finish. There is a happiness which pervades this tune, which makes a smile irresistible.

“Paint It Black” is Wild Card’s re-arranged and astutely re-harmonized version of the original Rolling Stones’ number. Clement created it, as he told me, because “the lyrics spoke to me. I was not in a good place, especially after a relationship of 12 years had broken up.” It is a good re-arrangement, with substantial vocals from Mary Pearce, although at times the original workings are lost amidst the full instrumentation. The organ solo is fine from Andrew Noble, and all this against a well-crafted percussive background canvas. It’s poppy, boppy with great interjections from the trumpet on occasion.

“La Parentese Enchantee” was written to describe the relationship between Clement Regert and his friend, Lisa. This is introduced by guitar, then drums join whilst the guitar takes the lead again with the theme before the brass back it up with counter rhythms. Suddenly, everyone is here – the entire band swinging as a unit. A great tune and well-arranged number, fulsome and with a delicate and poised extended guitar spot from Regert over a semi-marching beat. It feels light, happy and very sweet. Jim Knight’s alto solo is cleverly developed and accentuates the light-hearted feel, with a slight reediness which is wonderful to hear. In the arrangement, there is a big band reference to the arrangement, with the brass and rest of the band cordially interspersing punctuation under the soloists. It’s a great touch to include. The drum line in the closing stages, put with the contrasting rhythms of trumpet and guitar is beautiful and adds that je ne sais quoi to the piece.

“Beat the Beast” was written, Clement told me, after he received the terrible news that someone very dear to him had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. “I sat down for maybe four or five hours without moving,” Clement Regert said. “That tune is my fighting song.” And you can hear it in the structure, from the hypnotic rhythm of denial to the planned and controlled alto sax solo, which is wonderful, to the constantly moving, action-packed business of the background arrangements on “Beat the Beast” – and finally to the strong, steady rhythmic outpouring from the brass and full band. The person diagnosed was Alexis Corker, mother of Clement’s children and partner of 12 years.

The following track is “Mommy Is in the Sky,” which Clement says “is something I had to say to our two daughters too many times, since their mum passed away just one year after her diagnosis in August 2016. This tune is dedicated to Alexis Corker and our two daughters.” The number opens with a poignant, soft melody which is repeated, as if imparting the news over and again. The vocals are sweet and gently delivered, the words meaningful and emotive. An emphatic sax re-enforces the sweet sadness of memories. Even the breaks in the sax solo line add to the sense of emotion and a very gentle upwelling, as if lifting the spirit. A personal and heartfelt composition shared with all.

“Risky Business” was written after Clement Regert rode his motorbike to a guitar-teaching session four miles away from home – in the snow. An eventful trip resulted in this, a harmonica-led number with several rhythm changes – perhaps emphasizing the tricky business of controlling a motorbike when it is less than firm underfoot. There are some great swells from the wood and brass, along with great harmonica and trumpet. All of it makes this very listenable and yet another subtle change in style, demonstrating Wild Card can do many things, well.

“Bravid” was written for the Australian pianist David Dower. Clement nicknamed him Bravid Meldower (a mix of David Dower and U.S. pianist Brad Meldhau) for some reason, and so this number evolved. This track is shorter and organ-led at the start. Once again, there is some great full-band playing and this makes for an enjoyable swingy number. “Another Brick In the Wall” is a big, brassy, full blast arrangement of the well-known Pink Floyd number, tempered by the frequency of the organ, which actually works well. “I love that tune,” Clement Regert said, “and I thought it was relevant with the current social political climate.” There is a totally gorgeous, highly strung and intense trumpet solo from Graeme Flowers which allows this player to shine, as he always does.

“Maybe … Maybe Not” was inspired by a first date and has an element of hesitation – “should we take that tune?,” “should we go for that tune?” – which suits the title so well. The rhythm changes, the theme rises and falls making this an intriguing track. “Herman Hoedown: Bonus Track” was written by Andrew Noble and is not part of Wild Card’s Life Stories, but found its way onto the album under its own merit. It is a jammy, funky tune introduced by a drum riff before Wild Card enters, swinging along with the funkiness of it all. As expected, this is organ-led, but it is also cleverly arranged and makes a great finish to a highly decent album.

Life Stories is an interesting concept, and choosing tracks which summed up different situations made for some tough choices. Sixteen tracks were recorded in two days with 11 musicians in total, and only 11 could be included. The good news is that the remaining five will be released as an EP in 18 months or two years time.

Meanwhile, Clement Regert’s Wild Card continue to entertain, entrance and provide endless charm and enjoyment to many music lovers. Clever and musically interesting arrangements, with good choices of musicians and a perfect alignment of the stars have made for an entertaining and engaging album.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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