The torch has been passed in the world of jazz harmonica with young phenom Yvonnick Prene establishing his artistic voice as a formidable creative force to be reckoned with in the future. I was fortunate to catch up with Prene and discuss his background, the new release and his influences when examining modern jazz today.
You switched from the diatonic harmonica to the chromatic. Tell us about the switch and how this works from a sonic perspective.
Y.P - "Basically you have two main types of harmonica: The chromatic and the diatonic. The last has a smaller range and specific sound that fits well into Blues and Folk music. I think it is less suited to play jazz as you don't have the full 12 tones available on the diatonic. I made the transition to the chromatic at the age of 17. After getting more serious about learning jazz tunes and improvisation I felt at one point limited technically with the diatonic. At the time I was discovering French harmonica player Oliver Ker Ourio who astonished me with his beautiful sound and liberty on the instrument. I ended up taking a couple of lessons with him when I just started. He has been an inspiration to me since then. So I think I was more drawn to the cleanest sound of the chromatic and its broader possibilities."
Lots of positive ink and great buzz with Jour de Fete. Do comparisons to Toots Thielemans and Gregoire Maret ever get under your skin as you work to develop your own voice?
Y.P. - "First I don't consider myself in the same bag! But I must say it is an honor to be associated with these fantastic musicians. I grew up listening to a lot of Oliver Ker Ourio's music as I said but also Toots, Stevie Wonder and Gregoire inspired me as well. I first heard Gregoire Maret at the Parc Floral Jazz Festival where he was playing with Jackie Terrasson. I was 16 and he played beautifully. I never felt scared with the thought of sounding like another harmonica player. We are not that many so the chances to come up with something original are greater. My overall approach to music is to be open to different genres and accept to deal with whatever new challenges come up. I like receiving ideas from all musical sources. Right now I am practising my singing for a new project Padam Swing. I am also listening to a lot of gypsy jazz music, mostly Django Reinhardt. Though it's difficult to transpose this virtuoso guitarists technique on the harmonica but I feel it has improved my sense of time and developed a more rhythmic phrasing than I had before.
For those unfamiliar with the new release how would you "review" Jour de Fete?
Y.P. - " I wish someone who hears the record for the first time feel moved by the music. Also people may discover the harmonica in a new setting perhaps in a more improvised context than it is usually used. So I hope this CD will help to change the frequent pejorative view of the harmonica. For me it is a beautiful instrument which has so many capabilities which aren't explored often enough.
I think Jour de Fete is interesting from many levels because it's a mixing pot of sounds, ideas, and influences from various musical situations I have been taking part in since I moved to New York. I see it as a gallery in which is exposed my research with shapes, colors and forms. It is a sneak peak of both my playing and compositions in 2012. On "A Billion Stars" dedicated to Sci Fi writer Ray Bradbury, I originally planned to play it without the vocal, but I always wanted to incorporate lyrics to my music. Fortunately I had the option to do it on this song and it worked well. One night I was listening to an interview of Bradbury on You Tube after a gig. Some of his words and metaphors just stuck in my mind the next day, I thought there was a poem to tell. Extraordinarily the phrases matched perfectly the beat...So I didn't have to do that much editing...There is also "Thais" inspired by Ivan Livans "Lembra de Mim", "Obsession" is the darkest tune with "As Night Falls" and it has kind of a Kenny Garrett vibe. Adding to jazz standards, the repertoire consists of original music influenced by Rock, Brazilian, Hip-Hop and many more. I like the idea of being fluent in various styles and capable of fitting any situation. That kind of mixing of grooves really shapes how I am playing.
Besides that, the key element in this album would be the melodies. I want the listener to remember them. Even the focus here is obviously on the sound of harmonica as I tried to write captivating parts for each instrument as well, drums, bass, piano and guitars.
Check out Part Two: