MADELEINE & SALOMON: A WOMAN’S JOURNEY / SIMONE, CUNEY: Image. MIMI & RICHARD FARINA: Swallow Song. TRADITIONAL: All the Pretty Horses. NICOLETTE, JOHNSON, WELLES: No Government/High School Drag. IAN: At Seventeen. MEEROPOL, HOLIDAY: Strange Fruit. GAYE,CLEVELAND,BENSON: Save the Children. RULLAUD, SAADA: Bain Libre 1 & 2; Le Jour Né de la Femme. RODGERS, HART: Little Girl Blue. BROWN: The End of Silence. JOPLIN: Mercedes Benz. STEPNEY, RUDOLPH: Les Fleurs. SIMONE: Four Women. PORTER, BAKER: Vous Faites Partie de Moi (I’ve Got You Under My Skin) / Clotilde Rullaud, vocal/flute; Alexandre Saada: piano/Fender Rhodes/clavinet/background vocals / Promiseland PL012
Clotilde Rullaud, the highly talented French jazz singer whose work I have praised in the past, here presents a different kind of concept album: a lonely voice, surveying scales and reciting fundamentally feminist lines, backed by pianist-singer Alexandre Saada. They have morphed themselves into “Madeleine et Salomon,” a strange, airy simulation of a coffeehouse duo. These performances are not conventional by any stretch of the imagination, but if I had to pinpoint a genre I would say that the album put me in mind of the more “arty” pop music of the late 1960s (Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Nilsson, Lauro Nyro—in fact, At Seventeen sounds very much like a Nilsson song), except with more Eastern European/Asian musical contours. Their reliance on minor modes and subtly twisting melodies has a sort of “chamber jazz” feeling about it, though there is not much present in the way of improvisation.
Nonetheless, it’s very good music. It has warmth without being cloying; it is lovely in a strange way without being conventionally “pretty.” By maintaining a low volume in both the singing and playing, this duo brings you into their world. It is not shallow or external music. It gives you the feeling of being stoned in a coffeehouse at one in the morning, mellowing out and listening to a small, strange group of musicians playing and singing in the corner. Is that really Rullaud singing the opening selection, Image? The voice is so low in pitch and tone, so androgynous in quality, that one is not sure. The second track, Richard and Mimi Farina’s Swallow Song, is given a treatment with piano accompaniment in constantly flowing eighth notes that almost links it to minimalism.
By the time you reach the third song, All the Pretty Horses—sung by Rullaud in a deep, sultry register I didn’t know she possessed—you are hooked. This is one of the warmest, most intimate performances I’ve ever heard, something so very personal that it almost feels like a caress on the ear.
No Government / High School Drag, on which one hears Rullaud sing solo above the driving, staccato bass notes on the piano, is one of the more rhythmically driving songs on the album. Dig the eerie whining of Rullaud’s overdubbed soprano voice in the background during the breaks, and another female voice reciting the beat poem from the ‘50s film High School Confidential: “Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-sized drag.” Her phrasing in this sounds almost African-American in its looseness of meter. One hip French chick! Following this we return to the folk singers of the ’60s, specifically Janis Ian and her song At Seventeen. Again, in Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, Rullaud returns to her androgynous low range, whispering the painful lyrics.
I could go on like this regarding every track in this impressive album, but to be honest, the cumulative effect of just listening and being a part of the ambience they create is an integral part of one’s enjoyment of this album. Like all good concept albums, it is the total concept and not necessarily the individual tracks that impress. I think you’ll love this album as much as I do. To quote Nilsson:
Dreams are nothing more than wishes / And a wish is just a dream / You wish would come true.
This is the music of dreams.
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley
Read my book: From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed history of the intersection of classical music and jazz