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Jan. 6, 2005
by BOB DORAN
THERE WAS A TIME A FEW YEARS
AGO WHEN SHE WAS KNOWN as Valentine -- a stage name, she explained,
something more dramatic and romantic, for when she sang jazz
standards in supper clubs and bars. And I used that name when
I wrote about her shows, but I always thought of her as Brisa
-- Brisa Roché [photo
That was how we were introduced
a long time ago, when Brisa was maybe 3 years old, living in
a house in Fairhaven on the shore of Humboldt Bay. I spent part
of a summer caretaking the ramshackle house next door to hers.
In a barn near the beach not
far from her house there was an elaborate boat under construction;
her father showed it to me once with little Brisa tagging along.
Not that she would remember, but she explained to me with the
serious tone of a 3-year-old that someday she would sail across
the sea, presumably in that boat, although I don't know if the
vessel was ever completed.
Brisa would eventually travel
far and wide, bouncing from Humboldt County to France, on to
Seattle, then back to Humboldt County for a time. Along the way
she established a career as a jazz chanteuse, focusing on standards
from the '30s, '40s and '50s.
For the last few years she has
been living the expatriate life in Paris. Returning home for
the holidays she brought good news. She has just signed a four-record
deal with the French branch of the prestigious Blue Note Records,
a division of Capital Records that, after a longstanding reputation
as the top jazz label, has pushed in new directions with artists
like the phenomenally successful Nora Jones.
In a call from her parents'
home in Kneeland, Brisa explained how she ended up returning
to France three years ago. "I had an offer to do a record
project with Philou Rigal, a friend I had first played music
with when I was 18 and living in Paris in an artist's squat.
"I wasn't sure if [the
record] was going to happen -- and it didn't -- but I ended up
staying and doing jazz over there anyway. And now Philou is one
of the composers and musicians working on this new project."
While she has primarily earned
her living in Paris singing jazz, she says she's exploring new
territory with the material she's recently been working on.
"The first record I'm going
to put out under this contract is not jazz at all. I've done
a lot of that over there, but I've also done other projects:
electronic music, music for films, for commercials, and I wrote
a number of songs with Philou. The arrangements are done with
instruments that are not classically [associated with] jazz."
She describes the music she's
been working on as, "like '60s cinematic intimate pop, kind
of kitschy, with lush string intros that drop out leaving soft
vibes and xylophones; kind of Zombies-ish metallic blang, blang
guitar with little bells, electric bass, upright bass and sub-bass.
They're songs, not a jam kind of thing, pretty concise pop songs,
in the A-A-B-A [form]."
Her contract calls for completion
of a 30-song demo by the beginning of March, with several songs
to be performed at the annual Blue Note showcase during April
Brisa is working on the lyrics,
collaborating with a number of artists for the music. "I
spent two days in the studio and came up with five or six songs.
And I have some old songs I want to redo, things I wrote when
I was in a Velvet Undergroundy stage when I was younger. Then
I have people writing songs based on my lyrics.
"One of them is the songwriter
for Rickie Lee Jones, Sal Bernardi; I met him over there. He
wanted me to do a song of his a long time ago, but I was so busy
running around trying to pay my rent, I couldn't. So when I started
this project I called him up and he gave me [that song plus]
another new thing he just wrote.
"I'll also have a bunch
of songs written by other musicians to my lyrics, then a couple
of covers and the songs from Philou, again with my lyrics."
While she has a lot of freedom
to choose her material, the label wants two of the songs on the
record to be in French. She explained, "A lot of the music
[over there] is in English, even French musicians sing in English,
but, the government [through its language protection branch,
Académie française] has strict rules about what
language things are in, in cinema, on the radio, on records.
They are really protective of their language, so if you want
to get your music played on the radio, you'd better have something
How does the music she's working
on now relate to the jazz chanteuse style? "It relates in
that my voice naturally has a kind of nostalgic quality. That's
not really something I want to put in the limelight on this album
in terms of the repertoire. My voice alone is reference enough
to that time and tradition, so I don't want to exaggerate it,
especially for my first record. I don't want to end up pigeonholed
and not be as free afterward -- plus I've grown a little tired
Not that she will leave jazz
behind. "When I tour for this record it's not like I'm only
going to sing the 12 or 13 songs that are on it every single
night; I'm sure I'll sing standards every night, but I've had
to figure out new arrangements that are more modern and poppy.
"My vocal style and my
understanding of music have really been transformed by my years
of singing jazz, and I'm grateful for that -- and I'm sure it
will be apparent in this new material, but I want to be more
than just a jazz singer. I have four records to do under this
contract, and if this one goes away from the jazz/blues thing,
that doesn't mean that I can't do a record of standards for my
fourth record, or a total rock `n' roll project for my third
album. It's totally up to me. And that's really exciting."
To learn more about Brisa
Roché and to hear some of her music, go to her Web
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