The Jazz.com Blog
May 06, 2008 · 3 comments
Meddy Gerville is a fascinating artist who is developing his own unique approach to world fusion. Imagine translating the ethos of Brazilian Milton Nascimento to a Mediterranean / North African setting, and you may get a sense of what this artist is all about. Gerville hails from distant Réunion Island, located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, but recently arrived (somewhat jet-lagged) in New York for a brief engagement. Ralph Miriello reports on the proceedings below. T.G.
Pianist and vocalist Meddy Gerville
After an enjoyable dinner of Korean barbeque in the little midtown section off Herald Square on 32nd known as Korea Town, we ventured downtown to the West Village, off Washington Square where NYU reigns supreme. Our destination here was a comfortable little club called Cachaça (pronounced ka-sa-sah). Situated at 35 West 8th Street between 5th and 6th right at MacDougal, Cachaça is a relatively new comer to the jazz club scene. The club seems to specialize in jazz, especially music with a Brazilian or Latin flavor and bills itself as the new jazz hangout in New York.
The weather outside was a relentless mist of pollen-fine rain that kept your coat damp and could leave your spirit feeling a bit soaked; but we were buoyed looking forward to a night of exciting music from Meddy Gerville and his band. I had recently reviewed Meddy’s new album “Fo Kronm la vi” favorably, and wanted to see if he sounds as good in person as he does in the studio. We arrived at the door as the opening act was finishing up. Taeko Fukao, a pretty Japanese jazz singer had just finished playing to a small but apparently grateful crowd, and we settled in to a prime seat overlooking the bandstand.
Cachaça is long and relative narrow at the front, where a bar straddles the left side as you enter, and seats approximately ten or fifteen. The room then opens up to a dozen or so tables on either side and then widens again with more densely laid out tables back to the stage area. I judged the capacity of this intimate venue to be between seventy to eighty people, a size that is comfortable for patrons and offering good proximity to the music from most locations. The stage is reasonably generous and accommodated the house grand piano and drums along with the remaining instrumentation of Gerville’s five-piece group with relative ease. The sound in the room was of good quality and could be heard from everywhere in the club.
With the weather being less than cooperative the club was not filled to capacity for the 9:00 pm schedule start of the first show, but no matter . . . the band was late in arriving. When they did appear they seemed disoriented and somewhat non-plussed by their tardy entry. I later came to find out that these guys had serious jet lag and it showed in the beginning. Meddy and two of his band mates had come from their hometown on distant Reunion Island, near Madagascar, and had been traveling for what must have been an eternity. Who could blame these travel weary musicians from succumbing to the fatigue we all have when traveling such distances without a break. When the band finally did set up and get started, the crowd of about fifty, who could have been put off, was immediately mollified.
Meddy had assembled a talented group of musicians who related brilliantly to his musical language. His fellow Réunion islanders, Jim Celestin on saxophones and young Jerome Calcine on percussion, had the obvious cultural tie to Meddy based due to their common island pedigree. The inclusion, for this date, of bassist extraordinaire Matt Garrison and super traps master Horacio “ El Negro” Hernandez was an exciting and sympathetic choice that made for a great evening of music.
There is no denying that Meddy’s unique jambalaya of sounds, that are the result of inspiration from the ethnic diversity and rhythms of his native island, draws in the listener. I find his voice, which is at times wonderfully evocative of Milton Nascimento, to be the most characteristic ingredient. Meddy’s talent as a composer and pianist are without question. He effortlessly glides over the keyboards at breakneck speed and with a percussive attack that can build great tension. But when he scats and croons in a mellifluous stream of notes he emits a tonal quality it is immeasurably pleasing to this ear.
Despite his obvious exhaustion from travel he summoned up great strength and exuberance as the set developed and it is easy to see this talented artist could steal a show with his good looks, his likeable stage presence and his charming, self-effacing style. The band’s repertoire contained songs from several of his albums dating to as far back as 1997. The set started with Meddy singing “Dansez Sor Moi “ (or “Dance for Me”), and despite the group still struggling to get up to speed and in-sync, the song signaled that this would be an engaging performance. Meddy sings exclusively in a French dialect and despite the language barrier it in no way detracted from the enjoyment of his music or my appreciation of it.
Besides the aforementioned “ Dansez Sor Moi”, which featured nice interaction between Meddy and the lilting soprano saxophone voice of Celestine, the band played “Vais Oya” which featured some flaming bass work by the talented Matt Garrison, a former John McLaughlin and Steve Coleman sideman. On “Ni dovan, ni deryer” Gerville sounded very much like Al Jarreau with Celestin on soprano conjuring an almost oboe-like tone, reminiscent of Paul McCandless from his work with Oregon. The piece dubbed “Reunion Island” had a distinctively French sound to it and by this time the band had its act together showing amazing synchronicity, executing abrupt time changes flawlessly.
It was apparent that the steady hand of the seasoned timekeeper, Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez, who has played with powerhouse performers from Santana to Pacquito d’Rivera, was deftly keeping it all together in a most professional way. When he did solo he displayed impeccable technique with a polyrhythmic attack that was never showy. On “Camila” the music had passages where they conjured up images of the band Weather Report with it’s signature soprano, keyboard and bass dialogue. The rhythmic, and at times staccato, nature of most of this music was spellbinding and Garrison, Hernandez and percussionist Calcine showed that they could execute the difficult changes with ease. The audience could not help but clap to the beat -- when they could follow it .The smiles on the bandstand were indicative that the players were also having a good time with this vibrant music.
The highlight of the first set was the closer “Barmine,” which is on Meddy’s latest album Fo Kronm la vi and is sure to become a signature piece for him. You clap your hands and if it were possible could dance for joy to this infectious driving song and to Meddy’s undulating voice. The band reveled in its rhythmic sensuality and it crescendo-building form.
Despite a late and somewhat slow start, mitigated by the circumstances of an arduous travel schedule, this was a joyful celebration of a music that speaks to the universality of jazz as a “world music”. Meddy Gerville’s short New York engagement was a note worthy performance that I am glad not to have missed and Cachaça is a club that can be expected to be a welcome new jazz hangout in New York City.
This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.