(Saturday, May 2; Lagniappe Stage, 12:45)
Helen Gillet has been serenading New Orleans for years. After playing three different Jazz Fest sets last year (with The New Orleans Bingo Show, The Glorioskis, and her own personal set), she returns, with a new album in tow (Bangkok Silver). She took some time to answer some questions of mine about this upcoming Jazz Fest.
WYAT: What does it mean to you to make it to Jazz Fest again?
Helen Gillet: Last year was the first time sharing my own music at Jazz Fest. My mother, Christine Gillet-Stewart, was in the audience. She passed away this February 2015 and this year's performance will be dedicated to her.
WYAT: What inspired the new album?
Gillet: The title to this second album was inspired by the silver lining of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds (“Both Sides Now” was one my mother's favorites) and the importance of travel in my life. I found a series of pictures I had taken in Bangkok several years ago that I liked, including a PERFECT tough Thai poodle that made it onto the CD itself. The self-portrait on the front is cheerful, real and fun, a much needed levity to balance out the heaviness of my life this past year. [Musically] It was time to record the music that had materialized out of my solo improvising night after night. I added some lyrics from my journal to some instrumental ideas and also wrote a few new tunes for the album. Also, for many years now, I have wanted to record Boris Vian's "Deserteur" which is a hauntingly beautiful French war song. I was inspired to record it for this album because of my sound engineer's 1930's RCA microphone, which Harry Truman had used to give his war time speeches! I could not pass up the magic of recording this old war song into this war time relic. The amazing sound of the cello recorded through this microphone brought tears to my eyes. It felt as though I was listening to a cello quartet in a Parisian Underground Bunker. I wrote a tune during the process of recording called "Alvar," inspired by the loss of my friend and saxophonist Tim Green, who died in 2014. He was a uniquely gifted improviser and inspired musician who lived on Alvar Street in New Orleans. Alvar is a harsh biological environment of high altitude limestone with rare vegetation growth. Tim was truly a rare gift to our musical world.
WYAT: What do you think will be different this time?
Gillet: Bangkok Silver illustrates my current technique of live looped performance which has greatly progressed over the last three years. All of the songs were recorded with a first layer of real time live performance using my Boss RCA 50 loop pedal (same as always) in studio.
This album is a lot more rhythmic, raw and darker sounding than my self-entitled debut solo album. I let loose with a harsher, more experimental punk rock cello sound although I still play more classical and sweetly on tunes such as “Deserteur” and “Weed Tree”.
WYAT: How does it feel doing a solo show?
Gillet: Honest and exhilarating.
WYAT: What would you like the environment at the show to be at?
GIllet: I love the intimacy of the Lagniappe stage but also want people to get up and dance if they feel it!
WYAT: What do you think you've learned or changed over the last year that will be reflected in the show?
Gillet: My music has always been difficult to describe in terms of genres or the musical check-boxes we find ourselves faced with as artists. I have learned to fully embrace the positive side of that this year. I am enjoying the freedom of allowing myself to play any style of music I gravitate towards in any moment on stage.
I asked Helen if there was anything she would like to add. She asked me to leave this:
Alvar by Helen Gillet (for Tim)
To saints and sinners he said no
He went riding on a train of coal
A joy of life infused his art
Tim's melodies were off the chart
He was so restless limb to limb
When all at once it came to him
A lullaby that lay him down, down, down
On an Irish pillow on the ground
That night, a Coltrane fell into my arms
In that red house where he lay cold so I took him home
Now he looks on as I rehearse and as I grow old
Hi-Ho mixes were loud and rough
So we shared French songs and Willie Ruff
My fears were rough and my worries loud
He wished me well he was so proud
In Malham Cove and Kinnekulle
Against the odds to rock he clings
A rare Green leaf on a limestone plain
To often flooded in the Spring