Alongside and thanks to his ACT colleague Youn Sun Nah – who took him with her on her tour of France and into the studio band for her album "Same Girl"– the 33 year-old accordionist Vincent Peirani is undisputedly the French shooting star of the last two years. The French Jazz Magazine named him Artist of the Year 2013 for the wealth of variety, technical top-difficulties and percussive inventiveness that the Nice-born Parisian enticed out of his accordions on his so aptly entitled ACT debut album "Thrill Box". The jury of the Académie du Jazz honoured him with the coveted "Prix Django Reinhardt" award almost simultaneously.
No less in demand is Emilee Parisien, who is two years younger, comes from Cahors and also lives in Paris. Like Peirani on the accordion, Parisien is seen as the reinventer of the soprano saxophone and as its leading French protagonist. Parisien started at the College de Jazz in Marciac at the gentle age of eleven, and later played at the legendary festival there together with greats the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Christian McBride. In 2009 he won three major prizes: the "Prix Frank Ténot" at the Les Victoires du Jazz, the "Jazz Primeur" awarded by the French Ministry of Culture and Foreign Affairs and the prize from the festival organisation AFIJMA. In 2012, one year before Peirani, he was awarded the "Prix Django Reinhardt". Most recently he caused a furore mostly with his own quartet, which improvises freely and with a fascinating homogeneity on material ranging from Wagner to hip-hop.
But Peirani and Parisien are not only similar in terms of their success. They found out that they also shared a passion for intoxicating sound cascades, an open ear for exciting motifs across the entire range of styles, and a desire to improvise, free of all technical constraints when they played together in the quartet of drummer Daniel Humair. From that moment on it was only a matter of time until they did a project together. That project is now here, in the form of "Belle Époque", and it is at the same time Parisien's debut as an ACT artist.
They originally planned the album to be an homage to Sidney Bechet, the Paris resident and long uncontested master of the soprano saxophone. And it begins with that man's "Egyptian Fantasy", which the two transform into a lively echo of the past: Peirani with a vibrant accordion counterpoint and Parisien with the weightless melody. Bechet's "Song Of The Medina (Casbah)" shifts between ethereal meditation and shimmering, ecstatic dynamism, as does Henry Lodge's old "Temptation Rag" before it, here as a new musical game of catch. They collaborators then take it yet another step further with two compositions from each of them and Duke Ellington's "Dancers In Love" that closes off "Belle Èpoque".
In their own very personal way, they process the legacy of their great predecessors. In Peirani the great French accordion tradition from Richard Galliano to Jean-Louis Matinier can be seen – despite his unmistakable own style of sound and technique. And one can also interpret Parisien's playing as a genuflect to the other masters of the alto saxophone: Bechet, John Coltrane, Steve Lacy and Wayne Shorter – and at the same time as an homage to the inventor of the saxophone Adolphe Sax, who would have turned 200 this year.
And so it is that "Belle Èpoque" is intriguing, not only with its instrumental innovation, but also thanks to its entirely harmonious merging with tradition. And it is quite simply a dream how these two exceptional musicians harmonise with each other and put themselves at the service of the other – be it Peirani, who supports the saxophone melody on "Hysm" like an organ, or inversely Parisien, who uses the accordion double on "Schubertauster", or both, in transforming the venerable "St. James Infirmary" to a joint sound-finding experiment full of click and squeezing sounds.
And so, ultimately, one can understand "Belle Èpoque" in many ways: as an invocation of the grand days in which the musical tradition began, to which Peirani and Parisien belong. But it can also be considered a look forward at the new, so promising époque that has just begun, and to which they belong even more: that of jazz music that overcomes old borders to strive for freedom and beauty.