Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Apr 15th 2008 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
The First Lady of Song: Being newly married to French President Nicolas Sarkozy doesn't seem to have helped Carla Bruni's music career in the capital of her reign. While she's splashed on the covers of Paris Match and pretty much every other publication on the newsstands all over town, her CDs are not exactly getting a big push. A couple copies of her two discs in the bins at the Virgin Megastore below the Louvre were in fact the only examples even sighted in a 10-day stay.
Where is the Parisian sense of history? Have the locals forgotten about Thibaut, who was not only the king of Navarre and Count of Champagne and Brie (no truth to rumors that he invented brunch) but also ruled the 13th century pop charts as a top troubadour of his times with music as rich and rewarding, creative and consumer-friendly as any of the era (or many eras hence). A collection of his tunes reconstructed by Gregorio Paniagua and Atrium Musicae de Madrid remains one of the most electrifying folk-tradition releases in the early music revival of the past few decades -- though good luck finding it, as the 1979 album, originally issued by the Harmonia Mundi label in France, has never been released on CD. You can find various examples of Thibaut pieces scattered around the early-music oeuvre, by artists such as the Paul Hillier/Andrew Lawrence King pairing, Anne Azema and the Paris-based Ultreia, which gives performances at the city's Cluny Middle Ages Museum in the Latin Quarter.
Heck, Bruni's no Thibaut in the music department (though, to be fair, word is he was a klutz on the catwalk). But she was raised in a musical family (her mother was a concert pianist, her father balancing his industrialist success with classical composition) and her albums -- her 2003 acoustic debut, 'Quelqu'un m'a dit,' and 2006's 'No Promises,' featuring English-language lyrics drawn from poems by W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Dorothy Parker and others -- are not bad at all. Her breathy voice places her solidly in the French folk-chanteuse tradition running from such '60s yé-yé-era stars as Francoise Hardy, Jane Birkin and Sylvie Vartan through such recent revivalists/reinventors as sultry Israeli-Parisian-New Yorker Keren Ann and sparkling, charmingly idiosyncratic Amelie-Les-Crayons. Citizens of France! Give Bruni some aural love!
And no, this item is not just a transparent ploy to use a photo of her. Translucent, maybe.
Subway Buskers -- Live or on Tape?: So when did it become not just acceptable but standard for buskers to use backing tracks? Sure, the lone Seine-side accordionist is as much a Parisian cliché as the snooty waiter. But when was finally encountered on the bridge between Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis (on the way to Berthillon ice cream), it was actually an unexpected relief after such preceding encounters as the guy warbling 'Let It Be' in a high quaver over a boombox in a Metro station, or the guy near Notre Dame not even trying to pretend he was doing anything other than karaoke, with the machine and ready-made commercial discs providing his music strewn at his feet. Later going back over the same bridge (contemplating turning around for more Berthillon ice cream) came a solo flute player doing excerpts from -- what else? -- 'The Magic Flute.'
But then it was back to enhancement: a bearded dude offering flashy but bland blues-rock soloing on a Strat over a rhythm machine beat, the ubiquitous Andean pan-flute player with prerecorded accompaniment (much cheaper an enterprise, certainly, than the once-unavoidable Andean ensemble in every major city), the contrastingly Zamfir-esque Romanian pan-flute guy with cheesy rhythm tracks that he seemed to play over until he was as tired of it as we were and then just hit the stop button at a random point, the banal pop-jazz sax player accompanied by both a boom box and an incompetent dancer/shill, and so on.
So accustomed to this were we that when trekking through the catacombs-like Châtelet Metro station, it was a natural assumption that the sounds echoing through the tiled tunnels had to be on tape, lush and orchestral, simultaneously romantic and martial as they were. So what a surprise when a turn of a corner revealed an actual live ensemble, eight-strong featuring fiddles, string bass, clarinet and a hammered cimbalon. Who'd figure that the best buskers in Paris would be a band from, as one singer stated proudly, 'Ukrania'?
And that opened the door, it seemed, for a run of strong encounters, in particular a young Roma (Gypsy) accordion player sounding great inside a Metro car, a sax player riffing on lines from Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' outside the Pompidou Centre and one-man band Bernard Constant, a Parisian mainstay this day, holding court in an underpass between the Seine and the Tuileries, giving up a cool take on 'Nature Boy' featuring accordion, drums, trumpet and vocals en français.
And with that, a campaign is launched. Here's the call: Pass by buskers using artificial supplements, no matter how good they are. Toss some coin to those who go au naturel. And no, that's not a roundabout reference to Bruni's dishabille modeling past. Though ...