Recommended: Jeremy Udden & Nicolas Moreaux – “Belleville Project”


It’s only natural, logical even, that bassist Nicolas Moreaux and saxophonist Jeremy Udden would one day collaborate.  They both possess an enormous talent at meshing jazz and folk into dreamy reveries of country roads, forest streams and small town languor.  Moreaux’s excellent 2013 release Fall Somewhere and Udden’s equally excellent 2009 release Plainville captured these qualities in full, expressing a potent serenity on the back of strong melodies and a conversational chatter for a cadence.

What began as a correspondence between two artists who’d decided they’d found a bird of the same feather in one another was given momentum by the Doris Duke and Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation French-American Jazz Exchange Grant… funding which allowed the musicians to travel, hire, record and turn their long-distance exchange of ideas into an in-person collaboration.  It began with rehearsals and live performances, and it culminated in the recording, Belleville Project… named after the French town where the recording happened.

They surround themselves with musicians who have made a home in similar territory.  Saxophonist Robert Stillman’s Archaic Future Players grabbed hold tight of the jazz-folk equation with their 2012 release Station Wagon Interior Perspective… a tribute to folk musician John Fahey.  Pierre Perchaud‘s 2013 release Waterfalls, with Moreaux and saxophonist Chris Cheek, melts hearts with thick melodies and a seaside ease, and works a hazy European style of jazz that hints, at times, of a folk music form.  And in addition to being a collaborator on some of Udden’s previous Plainville projects, RJ Miller‘s 2013 release Ronald’s Rhythm was a captivating mix of Brian Eno ambient minimalism, jazz and folk.  All of these projects, including those of Moreaux and Udden, all sound quite distinct from one another, and from anything else for that matter, but they all hover over territory where folk and jazz share a border and the expressions have plenty in common.  These were the right people for this project.  They’ve been there before, doing this kind of New.

The echoes of both Plainville and Fall Somewhere resonate throughout the album.  “MJH” opens things up with the intermingled sighs and yawns of saxophones and the talkative charisma of banjo and the rustle & hush of brushes and drums.  It’s got a melody made for humming, built from the materials of heartbreak and hopefulness.

The song “Belleville” crackles with life, and it’s one of the few instances of a raised temperature on the recording.  But by retaining a loose, ambling motion, it locks right into place with the other album tracks.

“Jeremy” is back to the folk sound.  The susurrus of steel-string guitar lays a comforting blanket, a haze, swaying to and fro while propelling the song forward in collaboration with drums.  Saxophones sing out the melody just overhead.

“Epilogue” gets back to languorous, peaceful expressions.  Sax, out front, coos the melody.  Electric guitar twitters in the background, sometimes slipping into the foreground… its melodic accompaniment is essential, adding some depth and detail to sax’s simple, gorgeous statements.  The song very much has a sound reminiscent of Moreaux’s Fall Somewhere.

“11” has a melody that melts as it plays.  There’s a slow, almost sleepy expressiveness to it.  Set against a brisk shuffle tempo, it’s a nifty bit of subtle contrast that goes a long way, perhaps unnoticed.

The perky “Bibi” ambles along, in no hurry, but its conversational style is pointed and direct.  Likewise, “Nico” also toys subtly with the cadence, slipping abrupt motions into an otherwise laid-back tune.

The album ends with two brief tunes.  The toy piano of “Albert’s Place” contrasts sweetly with the wavering tones of organ.  “Healing Process” closes things out with a rare instance of elevated heat.  Electric guitar and crashing drums highlight the grand finale.  It’s a nice, fun way to bring down the curtain on an album whose every breath is one of calm serenity.

Your album personnel:  Jeremy Udden (alto sax, pump organ, Prophet 5 synth), Nicolas Moreaux (acoustic bass, toy piano), Robert Stillman (tenor sax, pump organ, piano), Pierre Perchaud (acoustic & electric guitars, banjo), RJ Miller (drums) and guest: Pete Rende (CS-60 keyboard, Prophet 5 synth, pump organ, organ).


Released on Sunnyside Records.

Jazz from the NYC and Paris scenes.

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