Cyrille is Back (and Moving Out of Her Comfort Zone)

After a long Covid-induced hiatus, Cyrille Aimée, the dazzling French/Dominican, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, returned to Mamaroneck’s Emelin Theater on April 18 to whoops and shouts from a packed audience.

Published May 11, 2024 11:12 PM
3 min read

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After a long Covid-induced hiatus, Cyrille Aimée, the dazzling French/Dominican, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, returned to Mamaroneck’s Emelin Theater on April 18 to whoops and shouts from a packed audience. Her insightful accompanist was the 28-year-old French/Malagazy pianist Mathis Picard.

Cyrille’s return to Mamaroneck was a homecoming of sorts. She is a graduate of the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music and a one-time resident of Larchmont. She turned to composing during the pandemic, and her latest album, “à Fleur de Peau” (roughly meaning “hypersensitive”), is her first devoted entirely to original compositions. These works speak in her own words of love and loss, pain and forgiveness. Most were written or completed at her jungle retreat in Costa Rica. Her Emelin program featured many of those new works.

The concert signaled a departure from her Emelin appearance more than four years ago, which featured her one-of-a-kind renditions of American popular standards and her high-flying improvisations. It was singing of this quality that won her a string of first place awards at international jazz vocalist competitions and raves such as the one from a reviewer who placed her “in the territory of Ella Fitzgerald.”

“I’m a different person now,” Cyrille, 39, said in a pre-concert interview. “I try to go out of my comfort zone.” Clearly, her new album of original songs is a departure from the norm. But her treatment of those pieces at the Emelin went even further. Instead of duplicating the rich instrumentation and choruses on her recording, she opted for a single piano, which seemed to encourage greater spontaneity and more freedom to improvise.

“It’s a great challenge for Mathis,” she admitted, “He’s got to be the full orchestra.”

Mathis more than met the challenge. Throughout the evening, the young, classically trained pianist added depth and dimension to Cyrille’s performance, while staying in a perfect groove with her, never intruding, always finding the ideal harmonic support and embellishments. Often Mathis’s pulsing accompaniments segued into solos marked by dissonant chords and contrapuntal riffs that earned him rousing applause.

Given Cyrille’s singular talents as a vocalist and composer, it’s easy to forget that she is also the consummate entertainer. She engages the audience the minute she walks onstage and doesn’t let up until the final encore. At the Emelin she was constantly in motion, dancing and swaying to Mathis’ Latin rhythms. She even coaxed the audience into a sing-along of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?”

But the evening’s focus was on Cyrille’s original compositions. It was no accident that her opening number, Chaqueño Palavecino’s “Mi Piel, Tu Piel” (“My Skin, Your Skin”), echoes the title of Cyrille’s new album. Sung in Spanish, it set the tone for a concert that was distinctly cross-cultural, reflecting the backgrounds of both performers, with Spanish and French, along with English, sharing the Emelin stage.

“Inside and Out,” perhaps the most deeply personal of all of Cyrille’s original compositions, is also her admitted favorite. Her performance captured the acutely conflicting feelings of a woman facing agonizing choices. Other selections from her album included “Back to You,” “Beautiful Way” and “Here.”

Cyrille surprised and delighted the audience with two nostalgic tributes. In France, Cyrille was raised near Fontainebleau in Samois-sur-Seine, home of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. Accompanying herself on the guitar, she sang a touching ballad “All Love” composed by Django’s youngest son, Babik Reinhardt, for which she has recently written the lyrics.

A second tribute was to the French singer Edith Piaf, with whom Cyrille is often favorably compared. She chose a Piaf clas-sic, “La Foule” (“The Crowd”), which describes the singer being jostled by a street crowd, but she is happily thrown together with an attractive man until sadly the crowd forces her away from him. Cyrille perfectly captured the Piaf-like intensity of the piece while Mathis precisely reproduced the song’s introductory piano waltz from the Piaf recording to give it French music-hall authenticity.

The evening at the Emelin ended appropriately with “Here,” from Cyrille’s new album, since it is a song about endings, in this case the end of a love affair. In response to unceasing applause, the duo agreed to an encore, “It’s Almost Like Being in Love,” from Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” leaving the audience breathless but content after Cyrille’s final rapid-fire improvisation.

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