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The DeChamplains: A Tribute to Duke Ellington
April 22, 2016 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm$10
Special Show: A Tribute to Duke Elington
For married couple Atla and Matt DeChamplain, recording a full-length album together is an important milestone.
On Friday, Oct. 2, the DeChamplains celebrate the release of “Pause,” their first album, at the Palace Theater’s Poli Club in Waterbury. It’s a way of finalizing one chapter of their professional lives and jump-starting the next one.
“Pause” is about “what we’re up to now and what we’ve been doing live for the last 13 years together,” says Atla, 29. “It helps us solidify it and then let it go. We can decide who we want to be next, how we’re going to grow next and what we’re going to do.”
The DeChamplains, who live in Berlin, are longtime fixtures in the Connecticut jazz scene. Atla, a singer, is a protegee of the legendary singer Jon Hendricks; like her teacher, she practices “vocalese” — the art of adding lyrics to instrumental solos or composed melodies (unlike scat-singing, which is essentially wordless, vocal improvisation).
Matt, 31, a pianist, has a solo-piano album out, “Stride-Bop,” and has appeared as a sideman on other people’s records.
“I think [“Pause”] serves as documentation, in a way,” Matt says. “It’s stuff that we’ve been performing for a good many years now, and a lot of the people that are on the CD also are people that we’ve been performing with.”
“Pause” features some of the Northeast’s best musicians: saxophonists Kris Allen (alto) and Kris Jensen (tenor); bassists Matt Dwonszyk and Adam Cote; drummers Jake Goldblas, Curtis Torian and Ben Bilello; and guitarist Doug Maher. Michigan bassist Paul Keller, who’s played with Hendricks, Diana Krall and Russell Malone, appears on several tracks, along with drummer Sean Dobbins.
Hendricks, 94, reprises his harmony part (in duet with Atla) on “Two For the Blues,” a Neal Hefti tune made famous on the 1953 Count Basie album, “King of Swing.” Hendricks composed vocalese lyrics and recorded a version for the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks and Ross album, “Sing A Song of Basie.”
His presence extends to other tracks as well: Atla sings Hendricks’ lyrics on “Ask Me Now,” based on the composed melody (not the solo) of Thelonious Monk’s ballad, “How I Wish.” There’s also an arrangement of “Soul Food,” based on Horace Silver’s playful “Home Cookin’,” with a tongue-bending vocalese written by Hendricks, on original solos by Silver and Hank Mobley.
Atla composed her own vocalese for Dexter Gordon’s solo on “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” a Dorothy Terris/Julian Robledo tune. (Gordon recorded it for the 1962 Blue Note album, “Go.”) Although she’s been writing vocalese for years, this will be her first published example.
In composing the work, Atla tried to live up to standards set by her teacher.
Hendricks “is incredibly funny and charismatic, and trendy,” she says. “I don’t really consider myself a trendy person, and his language is always hip. … I have a long ways to go to follow in Jon’s footsteps.”
Other material on “Pause” reflects the DeChamplains’ live show: an arrangement of the Gaskill/McHugh standard “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love with Me”; a rousing version of “Spain” (composed by Chick Corea, with lyrics by Al Jarreau); and the Ellington/Strayhorn number “Day Dream” (lyrics by John La Touche), previously recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Jo Stafford and others. “Them There Eyes,” the famous Billie Holiday vehicle from 1930, gets a breakneck update, with solos from Allen and Matt DeChamplain, who briefly settles into his signature “stride-bop” style.
Atla and Jensen stretch out on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” another McHugh number, before arriving together at the close. The gorgeous opening chords of “On Green Dolphin Street,” often rushed through without much reflection, get drawn out here, allowing the evocative, chromatic line tying them together to ring out.
The DeChamplains co-composed “Pause,” the title track, a loping, moody 6/8 meditation on living in the moment; “Pause, give yourself a little time,” Atla sings, “break the rhythm and just breathe / unload the burdens on your mind / recall, rewind.”
In the bridge, four chords, each given three beats apiece, connect to a fifth chord that’s only two beats long — a literal break in the meter, if not the rhythm — with Atla’s wordless melody floating above it.
“We didn’t want to do an album of all originals right off the bat,” Atla says. “Jazz is really about tradition and legacy and passing down of knowledge. … But certainly performing and recording original work is really rewarding in a different kind of way and will help our audience know us as people better.”
“We love the American Songbook, and definitely want to continue learning it and absorbing that repertoire,” Matt adds. “There are a lot of different approaches to the American Songbook. These songs have been recorded hundreds, if not thousands, of times. So we have to find a way to bring them to life.”