Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band • Cajun Bleu

Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band • Cajun BleuThis album extends outside of our normal range at TST, but I see Tom Rigney’s zydeco band scheduled at nearly every festival and I think an important segment of our readers will enjoy Juliet Varnedoe. This six-track album features a very New Orleans form of entertainment, inflected by zydeco and maybe Fats Domino, with strong elements of self-reflective darkness I associate with a Gen X, elder Millennial mindset that led to things like Goth Country and the punk fascination with folky Gypsy and Klezmer music. It’s hip. This is the sort of album that would be popular in an alternate universe where the rest of my generation progressed in the same direction I did. Maybe they did after all. The beats are a little heavy, electronic instruments are employed, and the “that’s not jazz… get off my lawn!!!” crowd may get nervous, but if they heard this album on the radio they would say “wow, that’s better than most of that kid’s stuff.” She is definitely on to something.

Juliet Varnedoe wrote five of the titles. She has a great lyrical sense in both composition and delivery with lines memorable and full of recognition. This is music with cross-generational appeal and Juliet deserves a full album with label support. Juliet is attentive to quality in every aspect of this release. The physical CD is well packaged and showed up to me in a themed mailer, very possibly a first for me as someone who has CDs arriving by mail every month. It also passed the elusive girlfriend test so I may never see the physical copy again.

Red Wood Coast

The playing is excellent, and her voice is clear and expressive. The prominent role of the accordion in early jazz is often neglected, and while this music is not “traditional” on the whole, you are reminded of that. Clark Gayton deserves a special mention for that trombone (and less prominent tuba) on “Mon Cheri,” and again on “Petite Fleur.” Dennis Lichtman, who will be familiar to some readers appears on “Old Spot” as a clarinetist. This catchy tune was released in January as the teaser single for the album. The second track, it was the point where I recognized I was hearing something special and jotted down parts of what became the first paragraph of this review.

Rob Reich plays accordion on “Petite Fleur,” the only standard. Reich has somehow avoided mention in this paper despite his 2019 Swings Left album being in my review list since it was new. Jon Fryden is the accordionist on most tracks. Arnt Arntzen, featured in TST a few years ago, is on guitar for a track. Ben Rubin is on most tracks on bass, providing a lot of that groove. He is also the producer, joining the electronic and acoustic elements.

Juliet Varnedoe grew up in Louisiana with a Cajun mother and German father and was exposed to jazz standards and Cajun folk music from an early age. After traveling the country as a musician she returned to Louisiana on a grant to study Cajun French and Acadian music in Bayou Teche. She is now based in New York City and working with some familiar names to our readers. Her interest in where Louisiana creole intersects with jazz can be heard in her compositions, which are dotted with French phrases.

Hot Jazz Jubile

“Sing High Sing Low” opens the album with an introduction to what lies ahead, there are piano, accordion, drum, and horn features and that intermingling of lines in French. “Mon Cheri” has a classic feel to it, like “Fever,” with some extra rhythm. “Far and Away” has a familiar and warming feel it it. On repeated listens these two titles recall other musical feelings and places I couldn’t identify but are very satisfying to revisit.

Each track is multi dimensional, and feels more symphonic than the standard three minutes they last. “Petite Fleur” is given a passionate rendition and the musicians create a strong feeling, but on the whole the originals are what stand out on Cajun Bleu. “Bon Rétablissement” closes the album. I assumed the phrase had a goodbye or closing theme but the translation is “get well soon.” The song is a positive declaration of self reinvention to go out on.

The album releases in April, but pre-orders can be made, and several tracks heard, on her website.

Cajun Bleu
Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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