Let me come right out and say that I know next to nothing about traditional French music. In fact, it was only this week that I the discovered meaning of musette, a French term to describe the accordion-heavy, urban folk music popular in 1930s Paris. I also have no comprehension of the language. Yet my cultural ignorance was no hindrance to enjoying The Romance of Paris, a terrific new disc by the Vermont-based cabaret/jazz ensemble Deja Nous.
Led by French transplant Jean-Jaques Psaute, the band's airy swing seduces with a distinctly European flair. Pianist Nate Venet's playful ivory work on opener "C'est si bon" is captivating, and bassist Mike Sperber provides clever rhythmic punctuation. Psaute's charmingly rugged voice is the real focus, however. Like a francophone version of Dick Van Dyke's Mary Poppins chimney sweep character, he bowls you over with affable melody.
"Beaucoup de vent" is an impeccably romantic ballad, which I imagine to be about unrequited love of one variety or another. Of course, it could be about flyfishing for all I know. Still, it sounds romantic as all get-out. "Mademoiselle Maman" is likewise starry-eyed, the kind of tune that makes you sigh deeply between sips of wine. Percussionist Matt Guzowski's hi-hat shuffle and restrained cymbal swells give the track a breezy quality that nicely complements Psaute's tender vocal delivery.
The pace picks back up with "Les Champs Elysees," a charming, up-tempo romp featuring an a cappella trumpet impersonation. The brief "solo" is raunchy and fun, somewhere between Louis Armstrong and comedian Steve Martin. It also serves to show that that Psaute and co. don't take themselves too seriously.
An atonal piano figure precedes the saucy bounce of "Ne me quitte pas," which runs from vibrant double-time to laid-back jazz noir. The cut contains several passages that wouldn't sound out of place in a Pink Panther film. Sperber's frantic bass lines are once again a highlight, as he throbs and weaves around the multiple time shifts.
True to musette tradition, the album ends on a somewhat tragic note. With its extended piano and vocal introduction, "Une petite fille" positively seethes with passion and regret.
Deja Nous are so engaging, they'd probably impress even "freedom fry"-munching conservatives. While The Romance of Paris might not compare to a real-life continental romp, it might be the perfect soundtrack to amorous adventures in your own province. Hear them live August 20 & 21 at the FlynnSpace in Burlington.