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A night of contrasts, musical rapture, passionate rhythms, humor and shared pleasures…

Chapeau!Monsieur Camembert

 

On Tuesday 2nd June 2003, Monsieur Camembert’s quintet launched Absynthe, their third album at the Basement, Sydney’s prestigious jazz and world music venue, which is also incidentally the place of their début album, Live at the Basement. Ever since, Monsieur Camembert has become a regular appearance at the Basement, with a style of their own and a répertoire that flatters the ears of many generations and cultures. The French community in particular recalls Monsieur Camembert appearances in supporting the first performances of French legends Jacques Higelin and Paris Combo.

 

Absynthe is Monsieur Camembert’s first album recorded in studio; a fine, mature and sophisticated spirit. After the release of two live albums, one may ponder both the choice and origin of Absynthe, which comes as a surprise for those who fancy wine and bread to accommodate their fromage.

The Aria Award winning band took up the challenge of producing a studio-recorded album just one year after being acclaimed the best world music album. There are bands whose reputation is built on their live performances and others who excel in using studio technologies, but rare are those who can extract the essential advantages of both without losing an ounce of their spirit.

 

It took two years of hard work for Monsieur Camembert to distil the very best ingredients of their own genre to produce Absynthe, a mixture of well-known marinated songs, spiced up with surprising changes of rhythms and flavored with intoxicating solos. Absynthe brings the joy and enlightenment of a live concert, while preserving the sound quality of each instrument, each musician ‘sensible interpretations as brought by a studio recording. Some prefer a live concert or a great CD. Usually it is a question of personal taste, but on the 2nd of June 2003, Monsieur Camembert made that choice irrelevant.

 

During the concert launch, 17 songs were performed, (including two encore), alternating stories and instrumentals, dramas and romance in an extraordinary journey through cultures, musical influences and rhythms from all around the world. Nothing could prevent the audience to fill up the Basement on otherwise ordinary Tuesday night. Both young and older fans joined in for the celebration, while music connoisseurs and nostalgic had booked a table amongst media people, in front of a multilingual standing crowd ready to swing. The general atmosphere was light and cozy. Dinner had been served and the appetites were teased by a lively selection of great gypsy swing classics from the 50s. Between the main course and desert, was the time Monsieur Camembert chose to appear on stage! Perfect timing, would say French gourmets, who believe a well-done camembert is a meal in itself, never to be missed, unless you’re prepared to commit a sacrilège.

 

Quick and discreet, was the service of Monsieur Camembert who opened their performance, as in great sagas, with the very last song of Absinthe; ‘A good time was had by all’. This classic introduction by way of great time conclusion came as a promising start and naturally caught the attention of the audience which was wondering what exactly did they missed? An impression reinforced by the musicians who interacted happily on stage as if they already had a ball before the concert; an impression which would only tease the audience’s curiosity further, as would a good camembert tease your appetite before desert.

 

Good evening everybody! Exclaimed Yaron Hallis, lead singer of Monsieur Camembert confirming that now was indeed the beginning of a good time. Standing at his right hand was Edouard Bronson, the master juggler tenor/soprano sax, clarinet, and flute musician. Sitting at his left hand were gathered the talents of accordionist Svetlana Bunic, the sensible feminine touch, Mark Szeto the expressive double bass player and Yuri Terletzki, the swift virtuoso on lead guitar. The contrast of the band stage appearance already lead to a dynamic of different levels of entertainment in a story telling, theatrical, gypsy gathering and festive atmosphere. Yaron Hallis, in his green sparkling paillettes shirt was then setting the stroke of the musical interactions and entertainment in a flowing back and forth dance movement.

 

After the first song, the band took the audience on a colorful journey of mixed rhythms and vibrant solos while performing ‘Caravan’ and ‘Odessa Bulgarish’. A journey of contrasted plays, characters and mixed interpretations became a voyage through a musical kaleidoscope. Although both tunes are instrumentals, every musician offered his own interpretation of the melody from classic to extravagant, as if achieving stunning harmonious discordances. Hard to describe, if one does not adopt an impressionist perspective. One can irresistibly be touched by the humor flowing from each instrument voice, starting with Eddy’s breaking sax solo, followed by Mark’s grounding double-bass tempo and the melodious picking duo by Svet and Yuri on accordion and guitar. A joyful feast of cadences flavored with individual stories, all converging in a final explosion.

 

Yaron Hallis who then lead the public’s attention on the story of ‘The Fat Lady’ followed the instrumental humor. A sad song he composed and wrote about the tormenting love hesitations of a co-dependant couple. What could have turned into a drama actually became a comedy, as the sax instantly took on the role of the fat lady, in an exaggerated slow and bluesy deep introduction. The audience couldn’t hold their laugh and enjoyment as Eddy stepped down the stage to proceed with his legendary walk through the audience. A fun diversion, as Yaron was progressing with his burlesque parody, which contrasted with Svet’ s very moving accordion solo, soon joined by Yuri’s romantic touch to celebrate life through romance, drama and humor.

 

Time for rejoicing spontaneously followed with an unexpected version of the traditional Jewish song ‘Hava nagila’, starting with unusual rock rhythms. Yaron Hallis performed the song with an extreme sensuality, while Yuri was setting exotic musical scenery on his lead guitar, taking up the audience’s imagination somewhere between Hawaii and Greece. A delicate transition was made towards ‘Dance me to the end of love’, by Léonard Cohen, a song that Monsieur Camembert performed live on many occasions but never previously released on an album. To the joy of their fans, this song is now part of the adventure of Absynthe. The version of this beautiful song was delicately accompanied by Yuri’s romantic play on lead guitar and Mark’s deep solemn feel on double bass. A contrast sweetly embraced by Svet on accordion. Yaron’s moving interpretation seemed to float lightly in the atmosphere, although the emotions flow pulled his voice close to the limits of breaking down. The song chorus was performed between Svet and Yaron with an extreme softness and sensuality, very much appreciated by the audience. Eddy solo was superb and totally in tune with the delicacy of the performance. When the song grew in intensity, Yaron encouraged the audience to sing along “…with feeling!”, which unanimously happened.

 

“Last song before the break!” announced Yaron Hallis. The perfect time for him to present his musicians, say a few words about Absynthe, before singing the fidgeting ‘Fuli Tchei’. This traditional song started as an old Charleston and finished on devilishly quick rhythms. Nothing could stop them before the break and so they went on to play a frenetic ‘Caminos Crusados’, a classic of Mediterranean fiestas. ‘Caminos Crusados’ was also an eyewink to old pasos and gypsy gatherings. Eddy’s improvisation brought even more rhythm and warmth to the music, Svet’s burning accordion added depth to the music spirit as Yuri amazingly brought character to the melody, further increasing the velocity of its play in the best Latin tradition. Such a great complicity and dialog between the sax and lead guitar caught the breath of many until the very last note.

 

After the break Monsieur Camembert’s quartet was back on stage, ready for another set of surprises and musical celebrations. Berets, hats and Svet’s elegant red borsalino were back on their heads, except for Mark, who left his head free to move, as the music would please. Yaron Hallis offered the audience a new glimpse of Monsieur Camembert’s fashion: a multicolor embroidered black pant and shirt ensemble, as never seen before, and which appeared as a promising introduction to the second set!

 

The audience was then invited to the sweet madness of ‘Adon Olan’, a traditional Jewish prayer, performed in Monsieur Camembert’s own contrasted style. Starting with a sustained rhythm, the prayer opened as a slow swingy ballad, before changing to a music hall performance, a sensual dance, speeding up suddenly to reach higher cadence. Yaron Hallis remarkably put up with the lyrics at a high-speed level, demonstrating that even praying could be a lot of fun.

 

The next song was the story of ‘Angelina’, the waitress at the pizzeria, a song by Louis Prima, which Monsieur Camembert performed on many occasions and on a few special shows to pay a tribute to the life of Prima. ‘Angelina’ is always a delightful moment of humor and romance enjoyed by many and that night was no exception. Eddy walked his sax through the public to enhance the fun while Yaron and Svet were having a wonderful singing dialog on stage. One can only regret that no place was left to dance!

 

Following this flirty tune, Yaron charmed the public with ‘Kiss of Fire’ in a perfect Broadway crooners fashion, that would have nothing to envy to Lauren Bacall’s voice. During the performance, more distance was taken from the emotions, which added more maturity and maybe a small Latin macho touch. Eddy’s supporting solo filled the room with joy as Yuri took over the play, in an Argentinian tango style, bringing even more body and character to the song.

 

‘Michto Pelo’, from Boulou Ferré, took everybody to a world of mix slow and fast tempos. Monsieur Camembert gathered on stage like the gypsies do around the fire and exchanged looks, smiles and joyful faces as the audiences doubled in applause. All shared pleasure and admiration, as Yaron Hallis suddenly had to play his guitar with only four strings. An incident that certainly caught attention the audience and brought even more dynamism, but the ears were slow to notice any change in the music. Yuri performed an amazing gypsy solo with this special touch and feeling that makes gypsy history. Both guitar techniques and play seem to be carefully adapted to the song in its related environment. ‘Istanbul’ was the next journey to the land of oriental dreams and mysticism, starting very softly and sensually through Yaron’s mellow tone, then trotting short between Eddy’s enchanting sax and Yuri’s fox-trotting guitar to the final take off sustained by Svet’s accordion. Istanbul’s performance sounded like an acoustic Turkish delight, designed to lose oneself in music and dance.

 

Time for romance, was then introduced by Yaron; ‘Can I have you please?’ the classic quest of the love you know you can’t have. A sentimental dilemma wonderfully illustrated by the moving solo performance of Mark on double-bass, alternated by Eddy’s tearing and amusing play. Svet and Yuri played different strands between Latin picking and tango musette as Yaron tied both influences to bring out a fabric and atmosphere of fiesta in the last song.

 

Of course the last song awakened the audience’s appetite, which was promptly expressed by sustained ‘encore’. Monsieur Camembert offered ‘Choubi’ and ‘Dark eyes’ to carry on with the feast as if it would never end, as if the band and the audience had been old time friends. Although every performance is a renewed enjoyment and unique feast, Absynthe is the spirit of such moments.

 

Monsieur Camembert launch night of the album Absynthe was a night of contrasts and infinite pleasures shared between musicians and public. Each musician performance was outstanding, thank to the exceptional sound conditions, and could hardly better illustrate the quality of the recording of Absynthe. The title Absynthe, the green aniseed muse of La belle époque, is also a compliment to times of intense creativity and of artistic talents gathering. The portrait of Aristide Bruant, by Toulouse Lautrec appearing on the album cover, as well as the blue profile of Eddy in the background already illustrate an album of character and sensibility, in various and contrasted colors. One may not believe the book by the cover, but at least Absynthe will bring some of the taste of that evening. So yes, Monsieur Camembert; a good time was had by all!

 

 

Maïté Barbé

2rrr 88.5 FM – Sydney

Trampoline – French music program