Wednesday, April 17, 2013

French band Paris Combo bringing critically acclaimed sound to Chicago

For more than 15 years, five-piece French band Paris Combo has been gaining worldwide attention for its eclectic blend of jazz, world music and alternative pop.

The band will likely garner even more fans with the recent release of its fifth studio album, the aptly named "5." Paris Combo,, will likely play songs from the new album when it performs April 21 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randoph St., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $25 to $35, available at

I had the chance to talk to member David Lewis (trumpet, flugelhorn and piano) about the new album.

Q - Great to talk to you. "5" is your first album in nine years after the band had taken a four-year break. Did you feel additional pressure since the group hasn't released an album for a while? What were your goals for the album and do you think you achieved them?
Rather than feeling any pressure, we just felt lucky to be able to come back to the group with renewed inspiration and  pleasure in playing with one another. We were also lucky in meeting the album's producers (Dominique Blanc-Francard and Bénédicte Schmitt at Labomatic Studio), who brought a fresh approach to the recording/mixing phase. 

One of our main goals was to co-write everything as opposed to just arranging each other's tunes like we did in the past, the idea being to go directly to the essence of our collective sound. This meant more time in the rehearsal studio than usual and a longer gestation period for the album, but we are very happy with the result and we feel even more like a group than before.  

Q - Why did the band take a hiatus and do you think it helped the band? 
The band needed a break after 10 years of intensive touring, bearing in mind that Belle, Potzi and François had already been performing together in other bands since 1990! We had gone from playing cafés, cellars and barges in Paris to touring the world in quite a short time and I think everyone needed the chance to pursue other projects including, in some cases, starting families. 

The hiatus enabled us to come back to the band with renewed enthusiasm, but with the experience gained during the first part of our career.
Q - The members of Paris Combo come from very diverse backgrounds. What makes it all work?

At the outset, there is a common love of jazz in its various incarnations, but each group member is multi-faceted. Potzi, our guitarist, is emblematic in that his love for Django Reinhardt is obvious, but he also played in rock 'n' roll groups early on and his North African background is obvious in some of our songs. 

Then there's Belle's love for the French chanteuses of the '30s and Rumanian music, but also her background in the French post-punk movement. When I met the group, coming from a classical and jazz viewpoint, it seemed obvious that we could combine different musical influences and link them together.
Q - I'm sure you've heard your music described in a variety of ways. How would you describe your music? Who are your biggest musical influences?
Our music is a sort of hybrid pop (in French) with a streak of jazz running through it. How's that?! The way in which Belle presents the show also has a strong cabaret feel to it. Probably not the simplest description. Django Reinhardt and Duke Ellington remain big influences, but Belle would also mention the B52's and The Specials.

Q - Over the years, the band has played in many different countries. Is there something about the band's music that makes it able to connect with so many different audiences?
Belle's stage presence and voice combined with the group's musical world make it possible to communicate with audiences even when there is a language barrier. We try to have people up and dancing by the end of the show, which creates another strong connection.

Q - What did the band learn playing the cafes and barges along the Seine? How do you think the band's music has changed since first forming?
The atmosphere in some cafes is really part of the overall performance and hopefully you carry some of this away with you to more formal surroundings. I also think this is where Belle's repartee comes from. Playing on barges taught us that even the Seine can be quite rough in bad weather! 
Q - Does the band have any dream projects or collaborations ?
We would love to record the symphonic arrangements that we performed at the Hollywood
Bowl in 2011. A film project involving the group would also be fantastic!