This past weekend at Lawrence University was the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, which featured two major performances: one by jazz vocalist Cyrille Aimée on Friday, Nov. 6 and another by the Rufus Reid Quartet on Saturday, Nov. 7.
I had the privilege of attending the concert of Cyrille Aimée on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Low lighting encompassed the stage that night, setting the mood as the performers calmly walked out:.Cyrille Aimée was accompanied by two different guitarists, a string bassist and a drummer. As soon as Aimée opened her mouth to sing, I was stunned at the inherent beauty present in her soft, soothing voice. The program said that each piece would be introduced from the stage, but Aimée and her band played the first three songs unannounced, allowing the music to wash over the audience without the distraction of the piece titles.
Aimée’s talented vocal prowess lulled me into a subdued daydream, took me on a leisurely walk through the streets of New York and at one point made the entire audience heave a collective sigh as she delicately finished one particular love song. Her voice was never forced, and a cool relaxation permeated her entire performance and set everyone in the audience instantly at ease. Even during the more upbeat songs, Aimée pulled the notes out of the air like it was nothing. It occurred to me that jazz music is less of a musical style and more of a mindset; a state of carefree enjoyment of the world and what it has to offer.
Aimée and her counterparts certainly embodied this jazz mindset. Throughout the concert, each of them took turns smiling at each other, laughing good-naturedly and, in Aimée’s case, dancing along to each other’s music. The resulting synergy possessed by this relatively small ensemble was unbelievable, as was their ability to create incredible musical swells and then dissipate into silence.
Aimée sang several songs from her debut album titled “It’s a Good Day,” including the brisk and happy tune “Nuit Blanche,” a French piece that translates to “white night” and chronicles a sleepless night due to unrequited love; her own take on “Love Me or Leave Me,” inspired by versions by Nina Simone and Billie Holiday; and “Off the Wall” by Michael Jackson, all of which made for a thoughtfully rich and diversified concert selection.
Perhaps most notable among the program was “All Love,” a song by the guitarist Babik Reinhart. According to the program notes, Aimée was so inspired by the melody when she heard it played at Reinhart’s funeral that she requested to write her own words to it. The resulting song contained such lovely moments of pure, unadulterated nostalgia and sadness that never seemed to reach a maximum volume. I remained in awe of the remarkable restraint shown by Aimée and her fellow performers in both their gentle timing and their sensitive, conscious crescendos.
Aimée topped off her performance with a piece that she had written about a trip to India called “One Way Ticket to Somewhere.” For this piece, Aimée produced a small bowl-like object, which she played by stroking its rim continuously with what looked like a brush. This instrument produced a singular, clear tone that seemed to combine the sound of a bell and the whistle of the train that Aimée would have taken during her trip around India. Aimée harmonized with this tone, embellishing an already astounding piece.
In this pleasantly pulsating and pure finale, when Aimée sang about her journey “I kind of hope we never get there,” I found myself thinking the same thing—hoping that we were not yet at the end of the piece, or the concert, for that matter, because the journey was just that fun of an experience. Sure enough, the rest of the audience had not had enough either, so when Aimée finished her final song, the applause continued for several minutes, and she and her counterparts ended up walking back out on stage to perform an encore piece.
It was amazing to get to experience so many different styles in one concert. Aimée certainly inspired me to want to listen to and immerse myself in more of the jazz musical genre and to explore the jazz mindset, as well. After all, as Aimée and her counterparts showed, not just music, but life in general is more fun when one is relaxed enough to enjoy the journey.