CHINA MOSES, daughter of Dee Dee Bridgewater and director Gilbert Moses, has been steeped in music and the theatre world since she was a child. Exceptionally gifted, she released her first single Time (1996) at the age of 16 along with her first video directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. This success was followed by three albums: “China” (1997), “On Tourne en Rond” (2000) and “ Good Lovin’ ” (2004), turning her into a force to be reckoned with on the French R’ n’ B scene. Her albums saw her work with Swedish hip hop label Breaking Bread as well as renowned names like DJ Mehdi, Diam’s, Karriem Riggins, Guru, Anthony Marshall and sound engineer Bob Power. In 2008 her curiosity led her on an adventure with a metal/soul band that experimented with a fascinating fusion of rock, funk and hip hop (Sound Good To You) in a quest to discover new sounds. She did the voice over for Princess Tiana in the French version of Walt Disney’s film The Princess and the Frog (2009). She also sang on André Manoukian’s “So in Love” album, recording several songs including the title track. With that old saying sharing is caring close to her heart, she loves to share her passion for music by appearing on music channels such as: MCM (1999-2001) and MTV France (2004-2011). In 2011 she joined the team for the 8th season of French TV show Le Grand Journal on Canal+ which she left in July 2012. Since October 2011 she has been presenting Jazz Radio’s Made in China programme which airs Mondays to Fridays from 7 to 8pm. In a bid to manage her diverse activities as an entertainer, China launched her own production company in 2008 called MadeInChina Productions.
The career of pianist Raphaël Lemonnier on the other hand has always been focused on jazz. He made his debut at the age of 16 with the Nimes Big Band under the direction of Jeff Gilson and then went off on tour for a month to New Orleans with Labory’s Creole Jazz Band. He developed a passion for boogie-woogie which he studied with Philippe Lejeune. The expert teaching he received by Philippe Duchemin also helped to open up wider jazz horizons. With his heart set on living his passion for jazz to the full, Raphaël hotfooted it to New York in 1997. He played in some of Manhattan’s top clubs and became one of a rare species of French students who played with pianist Jaki Byard (who recorded with Charlie Mingus & Eric Dolphy…). As a tribute to Erroll Garner (one of his main influences along with Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines and Count Basie) he recorded his first album entitled Raphaël Lemonnier Jazz Trio (1997). Upon his return to France, he worked on musical notation with Yvan Jullien and participated in a number of festivals (Nimes Jazz Springtime, Jazz in Montauban, Tangier Jazz Festival…). His activities also included composing music and jingles for TV channels LCI and ARTE. Far from remaining confined within the strict boundaries of jazz, his music became enriched by diverse influences as a result of different and positive encounters with other musicians, including a collaboration with Flamenco guitarist Gregorio Ibor-Sanchez that led to a composition about the Spanish War. He also performed with songstress Camille at the Café de la Danse in Paris. That’s where he met China Moses, one of Camille’s backing singers. Something clicked between them and they created a show called “Gardenias For Dinah”, a tribute to their mutual idol Dinah Washington. She was the inspiration for the album This One’s For Dinah which was released in 2009 by Blue Note and given a unanimous, big thumbs up by the critics.
Her latest, Crazy Blues, is a project that features China as both vocalist and producer. It was conceived as a tribute to some of the Great Dames of Blues and Soul whose careers have fascinated China over the years. They include Dinah Washington and some of her precursors and peers: Mamie Smith, Helen Humes, Lil Green, Ma Rainey, as well as stars like Esther Phillips, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Etta James, Ann Peebles and Donna Summer. This project was not without its challenges. If you walk cautiously down a musically majestic pathway marked by sublime masterpieces from the past, sung by exceptional musical greatness and the splendour of a bygone musical era you risk being the centre of unflattering comparison, a bit like being an amateur painter in a museum reproducing great works of art without revealing any secrets. To avoid this trap China Moses and Raphaël Lemonnier decided to exploit the resources provided by their own personal journeys marked by discovery, musical encounters and passion without worrying too much about labels or being confined by specific genres. Therefore the songs veer from the originals with an innovative twist on composition and arrangements by Raphaël Lemonnier – who sometimes incorporates a Wurlitzer piano. As well as utilising the skills of musicians well versed in this type of exercise, they added horn orchestrations by Francois Biensan to bring a breath of fresh air to Why Don’t You Do Right, a classic by Lil Greene with a memorable version by Peggy Lee; Crazy Blues by Mamie Smith which kick-started the trend for blues singers, Cherry Wine, the duo with Sly Johnson, originally sung by a young Esther Phillips, and Donna Summer’s hit Hot Stuff. With the same spirit in mind, You’re Crying is performed on this album using a string section – arranged by Jean-Claude Ghrenassia – that does not appear in Dinah Washington’s version. Other songs on this album include the iconic Work Song by Nina Simone; Closing Time, a duo with Hugh Coltman, who also penned the words put to music by Raphaël, a song that brings the atmosphere of a bar at the end of the night to life and The Mailman The Butcher and Me, an original composition by China and Raphaël dedicated to different men evoked in the blues scene such as the doctor in Dr Feelgood, the dentist in Long John Blues and the TV repair man in T.V. Is The Thing This Year. An agile rhythm section backs the time-honoured and talented performances of a range of soloists. And to top it off there’s China Moses, with her wonderful voice. Her growing confidence is evident in the authority of her performance of Resolution Blues by Dinah Washington, You’re Crying (embellished by an exquisite solo by Luigi Grasso), the joyful dynamism of Etta James’s I Just Wanna Make Love To You and coy emotion of Just Say I Love Him immortalised by Nina Simone with a fabulous trombone intro played by Bastien Ballaz.
In short, by favouring spirit over form, these interpretations are a million miles from being a simple copy of the original. Along with these album songs, other songs have been recorded specifically for stage performances such as: Kitchen Man by Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, Today I Sing The Blues by Helen Humes and Aretha Franklin and Love Me Or Leave Me sung so memorably by Billie Holiday. And that’s because China and Raphaël prefer nothing more than to perform live in front of an audience surrounded by their musicians. ‘We have been on tour to India, Japan and Montreal,’ she says ‘We opened for on B.B. King and Dionne Warwick. Our stage performances are organised like a show. I love to tell stories, I see myself as a jazz storyteller and I like to make sure that people smile in between songs.’ A wonderful programme indeed.
- Alain Tomas, 2012