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Paris (Combo) By Night
by Seth Edlavitch

Paris Combo are French. They are so very very French, one imagines the band members meeting on weekends in bantam cafť on the left bank of the Seine, sipping apťritifs and humming Edith Piaf tunes to each other. In the spirit of Piaf and other classic French chanson singers, the quintet plays a unique mix of gypsy jazz, hot jazz, swing, Latin, and smoky, nightclub, close-your-eyes-itís-gonna-move-your-soul music. They are imminently cool, and very good at what they do.

I recently caught up with the band on the first night of their two week United States tour to promote their self-titled debut album, which was recorded in 1997 but only released in the U.S. this year. I fell instantly in love with singer Belle du Berry when she started off their first set by saying, "We make song for you" as the combo jumped into a sweet Spanish melody called "Irenee." The audience, too, was mesmerized by Belle and the energy generated by David Lewisí Dixieland trumpet playing, the Django Rheinhardt sounds of Potzi on guitar, Mano Razanajatoís smooth stylings on the double bass, and the controlled rhythms of Francois-Francois on percussion. After the show, and the language barrier notwithstanding, I sat down with the band members to talk about their music.

ATOMIC: How long have you been together?

David Lewis: Altogether as it is now, two years, but Belle, Potzi and Francois have been together four or five years.

ATOMIC: What were you doing before Paris Combo?

Francois-Francois: Before Paris Combo, Belle, Potzi and I had a cabaret show called "Cabaret Sauvage." We played old French songs from the í20s, í30s and í40s, with some Django Reinhardt-style music. But the Cabaret was more of a visual show, more of a theater. We had some Chinese puppets, and I even played a bear!

ATOMIC: So, how did you get into Paris Combo?

Francois: After the Cabaret show ended, Belle, Potzi and I continued together and decided to take a more musical track. We played other peopleís songs and some songs composed by Belle. When we met David, we began playing more of Belleís songs.

David: When I met them, they had a band that mostly played covers, although they did play some of Belleís tunes and some of Potziís tunes. Gradually, after Mano and I came to the band, we decided to mainly do originals.

ATOMIC: Do you play all originals now?

David: We do a couple of covers, but 99 percent of our music is original. The tunes on the first album are mainly Belleís tunes. A couple of the songs are written by Potzi and me. On the second album, everybody composed.

ATOMIC: Tell me about the kind of music you play. Iíve heard it called "hot jazz" or "jazz manouche." How would you describe it?

Belle du Berry: Our music is influenced from all of the cultures from our band. Jazz manouche (gypsy jazz) is a part of the music we play.

David: Yes, we definitely have a jazz manouche, Django Rheinhardt, gypsy jazz sound. Thatís part of what we do.

ATOMIC: What about swing style music?

David: Some of our tunes do have a swing feel. Itís a gypsy swingóPotziís very much a Django Rheinhardt freak.

ATOMIC: Obviously, Rheinhardt has inspired the style and sound of your music. In what ways has Djangoís style influenced Paris Combo?

David: A lot of our tunes are based on the sound of the guitar. One of our main rhythmical influences is the hot jazz, Django Rheinhardt swing sound. Django developed a unique sound that involved chord voicings and a whole new technique for playing the guitar. As I said before, Potzi is very much a Django Rheinhardt freak, which comes through in our music. However, there are other guitar colors as wellóPotzi plays with sort of a gypsy rhumba feel, jazz sound, and definitely Latin.

ATOMIC: Belle, a lot of people compare you to Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich. How do you react to that?

Belle: I am very flattered when I hear people comparing me to Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich, but I donít think that it's a fair comparison. No one in France compares me to them.

David: I think that to me, these are icons which are available to people in AmericaóI mean, most people have heard of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich. But, if you were really to ask Belle who are her musical influences, I think she would say Arletty, the French actress (from the 1930s), or the singer of the í30s, Marie Dubas.

ATOMIC: Mano, at the beginning of the set, Belle announced that there was an mix-up and you didnít bring your double bass to the gig. I didnít realize what she meant until half way through the first song, I noticed that you were singing the double bass parts. It sounded greatóyou sound exactly like a double bass! Has this happened before?

Mano: Thank you. Yes, we have played without the double bass before. I have played without it during some smaller shows like this one. However, I will definitely have the double bass for tomorrow nightís show.

ATOMIC: How has your first CD, "Paris Combo," been received in the U.S.?

David: Surprisingly well. It makes us very happy that people like our music. When we made our first album two years ago, we were just happy to make an album, that was our main goal. For us to be over here in the States, playing our music and selling albums, itís fantastic and completely unexpected.

Francois: Thatís a reaction we actually donít have in France. We sell more CDs at concerts in the U.S. than in France in general.

Belle: I think itís because itís a big big county here. France is a small country. And I think itís because in France, people know they can find our music.

ATOMIC: Do you enjoy touring?

David: We like it a lot, even if itís very exhausting. We especially like when we tour here in the United States, because itís more intense than in France. We concentrate more concerts in a shorter period of time. We have one concert, one planeóin France, we donít do that so intensively. Itís a great pleasure to discover so many places.

ATOMIC: Where do you see yourselves going with the group in the future? Will you stay in the same style of music?

David: Yes, but I think the music will get more feeling as we get to know each other. The more we play with each other, the more we know each other the more complete our music will be. The only changes will be because Paris Combo will become richer, and maybe that will make a change. It will be the same music, but with more feeling. Weíll know each other more completely and weíll have a richer sound.

ATOMIC: When is your second album coming out?

David: Our second CD, "The Living Room," is already out in France. It will be released in early 2000 (in the U.S.).

For more on Paris Combo and to hear soundclips off their debut album, visit the band on the Web at www.pariscombo.com.


 

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Cyber*Kool
Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
SwingTime! Across The USA:
The Jivin' Lindy Hoppers
Breuker Breaks The Rules
Beatin' The Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Paris (Combo) By Night
Sewing To the Oldies
Royal Crown Revue
Walks On Fire
Ode To An Ape:
The Legacy of King Kong
Karaoke Swings!


 


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