Harry Connick, Jr.
Chanson du Vieux Carré: Connick on Piano 3
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2007, Volume 14, #5
Written by John Metzger
Success can be a double-edged sword. Just ask Harry Connick, Jr. Since landing a hit with the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally, Connick simultaneously has tried to embrace and break free from his self-conjured shadow of Frank Sinatra. With increasing frequency, he has appeared in movies, taken recurring roles on television, and starred on Broadway. Through it all, it’s impossible to shake the sense that Connick not only is following in the footsteps of his hero but also is caught within a restless search for himself. While the struggle with his popularity has been a constant, he also has used it as means of finding his own voice so that he can jettison the ones that he has borrowed from the past.
Providing further proof, Connick launched, four years ago, a series of albums for Marsalis Music that were designed specifically to chart his artistic growth by emphasizing his skills as a pianist and an arranger. Recorded in 2003, Chanson du Vieux Carré: Connick on Piano 3, the latest installment, originally was meant to be a letter of thanks to his hometown of New Orleans. Temporarily shelved in favor of other projects, the outing has taken on a life of its own in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Issued in conjunction with (and meant to balance) his major label release Oh My NOLA — which, incidentally, was recorded after the disaster — Chanson du Vieux Carré: Connick on Piano 3 serves as a celebration of the longstanding vibrancy of the Crescent City’s night life. It also succinctly provides a sturdy foundation upon which Connick, at last, can accomplish his personal goals.
Mixing cuts by Louis Armstrong (Someday You’ll Be Sorry), Professor Longhair (Mardi Gras in New Orleans), Sidney Bechet (Petite Fleur), and Hoagy Carmichael (New Orleans) with a handful of original compositions, Chanson du Vieux Carré touches upon the totality of Connick’s canon. In effect, it summarizes who he has been, and by creating a new framework from which to view his pursuits, it also points in the direction in which he might be heading. On Someday You’ll Be Sorry, for example, he injects a skewed, Thelonious Monk-style perspective into his piano accompaniment. Elsewhere, Paul Barbarin’s Bourbon Street Parade assumes a Sinatra-esque flair; a touch of George Gershwin drifts through the introduction to Petite Fleur; and Connick’s own Ash Wednesday is given a distinctive, Ellington-ian hue. None of these influences are new to his palette, of course, but the manner in which he so playfully smashes them all together leaves one with the impression that Connick has been reinvigorated. His giddiness is wholly infectious, and the big band that he leads punches up the material with flashes of color and bursts of spice. There still is little doubt that Harry Connick, Jr. inhabits another time and space, but over the course of the 12 tracks on Chanson du Vieux Carré, he finds a way of transforming the past into something he can call his very own. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box