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Jan. 6, 2005



Photo and headline -- Brisa Roche

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 at left].

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 in Paris.

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 in French."

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 of standards."

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 site.


Bob Doran


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