BWW Review: FLEUR SEULE: Standards and Sweet Things at Feinstein’s / 54 Below
Late. A cool and rainy Manhattan night. A downstairs club. The singer: a blonde bombshell in a dress like a diamond champagne flute croons, in dulcet tones, “Misty’ from behind an Electro-Voice microphone. The jazz combo next to her nodding and following along in a dreamy sympatico.
Listening to such music on such an occasion, for a moment, you might think you’ve stepped back in time to a 1940’s film by Billy Wilder or Otto Preminger. But go ahead and rub your eyes. This sweet illusion is, of course, Fleur Seule, the retro-flavored band that, over the last half a dozen years, has become one of New York City’s great musical treasures. Reviving the classic sounds (and glamour) of the golden era of Hollywood and swing, and as led by its peerless bandleader (and our own 21st century, Jean Harlow) Allyson Briggs, Fleur Seule, with exquisite taste and exceptional musicality has created a genre that is both a stalwart tribute and its own gorgeous reinvention.
Celebrating the release of their latest recording, Standards and Sweet Things; a concert Wednesday evening at Feinstein’s / 54 Below was, as always with Fleur Seule, a transportive opportunity to be seduced into another era. Following the order and list of songs from the new 16 track recording, the evening highlighted the band’s instincts for selecting a diverse ensemble of international tunes; each unique and each in its ability to be at once nostalgic and new – magic.
With her platinum hair frequently bathed in a halo of pink or blue lights, Brigg’s style: a sort of aloof come-hither stillness, pronounced by a reedy voice that (like a steam whistle from a porcelain honey pot) conjures hints of Sarah, Billie and Ella effortlessly on material from American standards (“Taking a Chance on Love,” and “I Only Have Eyes for You”) to the Spanish, “Piel Canela,” (a hit for Edye Gorme) and “La Vie en Rose,” the group’s signature tune.
Blessed to be backed by some of the best musicians the city-that-never-sleeps has to offer, Standards and Sweet Things wisely gives each band member a moment to shine: Jason Yeager (Piano) tacet and shimmering on Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”; Paul Francis (Drums) stellarly rhythmic on another Gerswhin hit, “S’ Wonderful; Quebert Morrow (Guitar) playful and seductive on Peggy Lee‘s “Sweet Happy Life;” Michael O’Brien (Bass) authoritative on the classic “Tenderly,” and Ivan Llanes (Percussion) providing South American zing to “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
And with Andy Warren: Arranger, Musical Director, Trumpeter (and occasional shaker of maracas) we get Fleur Seule‘s secret weapon. Providing orchestration aces for each of the set’s song list, and dazzling solo horn work on Dinah Shore‘s, “Shoo-Fly Pie an Apple Pan Downdy” to “Manuelo,” a 1944 Eileen Barton jaunt of untraceable authorship, the lanky, mustached Warren is a master of style and genre.
With an upcoming calendar packed with gigs at Manhattan’s hottest night spots (the SoHo Grand and Tavern on the Green are both ongoing residencies) the chance to experience Fleur Seule in person is a treat that shouldn’t be resisted.
The complaint that New York ‘ain’t what it used to be,’ is one you hear all too often these days. But in the company of Fleur Seule, a trip back to her glorious musical past has never been so easy – and never been so rich.
Follow FleurSeule: @FleurSeule
Photographs by Manonce / manonceartist.com / IG: @manoncemanonce