The next Toots Thielemans.
Having recently debuted on SteepleChase records with the release Jour de Fete, this French native switched from the more blues oriented diatonic harmonica to the more jazz oriented chromatic harmonica. Along with the switch in his weapon of choice we find a young phenom determined to take the harmonica to a new sense of melodic intensity, dynamic tension and improvisational techniques missing from the instrument on a consistent basis for years. The harmonica along with a handful of other instruments seem to have been hiding out in the jazz witness protection program for some time, at least until now.
Jour de Fete is a happy record, brimming with an effervescent quality that accentuates the sublime artistic gift of Prene without losing focus on his incredible technical ability. In short, Prene is the real deal. Good harp players are out there and of course include Stevie Wonder and George Maret but unlike Wonder and Maret there is not an air of predictability normally associated with such an eclectic yet incredibly versatile instrument. Yvonnick Prene refers to his work with the chromatic harmonica as his passion and the first rate ensemble if not small jazz orchestra would seem to feed off the artistic spirit of Prene and encourage his efforts to push the music further.
The original "Obsessions" opens the release with the stereotypical French Bistro vibe yet the release is more of a conceptual tale of Yvonnick Prene's life and times in the big apple. "Obesseions" caputres the pulse of the Big Apple with ease as Prene turns in a a blistering solo. As impressive as he is as an instrumentalist Prene may be equally proficient as a composer. Isaac Darche follows Prene's by stretching out a guitar with clean angular single note runs and at the same lighting speed with which Prene attacks his harmonica. Javi Santiago on piano and Or Bareket round out an "A" list rhythm section and complete the layers of harmonic texture Prene lays down. Owen Erickson is a beast on drums whiling owning the pocket and keeping the ensemble on the straight and narrow. "Con Alma" from Dizzy Gillespie os somewhat of a surprise but this is another reason the release works so well, an eclectic mix of tunes. The predictibility mentioned earlier has been replaced with a more open ended improvisational yet deceptively harmonic exploratory where even standards such as this Gillespie classic are given new life and a fresh approach in presentation. John Coltrane "Satellite" while not a tune one would consider a rarity it would be for jazz harmonica. I know tenor players that avoid this tune like the plague mostly out of respect. Yvonnck Prene has the respect but more importantly the has the heart of an artistic lion showing no fear but instead a deep rooted jazz tradition that comes from some place far deeper than the soul.
There are impressive debut releases galore floating around the old brick and mortar stores or available for pre-order and digital download but Jour de Fete is a revolutionary release that reinvents the form and functionality of the harmonica and now the bar that some artists have insisted to limbo under has just been raised.
There is a new shooter in jazz and the harmonica world and his name is Yvonnick Prene.
Tracks: Obssessions; Thais; Never Let Me Go; Satellite; As Night Falls; Con Alma; Home; A Billion Stars; Nobody Else But Me; Escale; Jour De Fete.
Personnel: Yvonnick Prene: chromatic harmonica; Michael Valeanu: guitar (2,7,10,11); Isaac Darchie: guitar (1,4,5,6); Javi Santiago: piano; Or Bareket: bass (1,2,4,5,7,9,10,11); Phil Donlin: bass (3,6,9); Jesse Simpson: drums (all except 8); Owen Erickson: drums (8); Ray Bradbury: recital (8).