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Albums of the Year 2018: Fiona Monbet - Contrebande | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2018: Fiona Monbet - Contrebande

Albums of the Year 2018: Fiona Monbet - Contrebande

A French jazz violinist with a bright future

The 'spiritual daughter' of Didier Lockwood: Fiona Monbet

2018. Another year when strong presences who have shaped and defined the music for decades, and whom one had fondly imagined might be around for ever, are gone from our midst. Unique vocalists Aretha Franklin and Nancy Wilson have passed away. And trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Tomasz Stańko. And a true original of the piano, Cecil Taylor.

In France, the jazz scene was shocked to its core in February by a death which came completely from the blue. One of the greats of jazz violin, an energetic and pivotal figure in French jazz, Didier Lockwood, was suddenly gone at the age of 62. 

Casting an eye around for Lockwood’s legacy, one needs to look no further than a former student whom he considered his “spiritual daughter”. Fiona Monbet (b.1989) is a stupendous violinist in her own right with an astonishingly quick mind and the finger-speed to match it, allied to flawless tuning. She has absorbed his specific heritage, all that freedom, delay and devil-may-care. She also has both his wonderful knack of being able to surprise the listener and all his assuredness when it comes to leading a band in ratcheting up the intensity. And there is a lot more to her besides. Monbet’s mother is Irish and that heritage comes through vividly too, plus there is an evident understanding of and empathy for the Balkan heritage. 

Monbet’s second album Contrebande, her first for five years as leader, is a constant delight. It has been permanently on my car CD player since mid-October and I still find it more-ish. She throws out energetic challenges to her team of Pierre Cussac on accordion, Antoine Boyer on guitar and bassist Damien Varaillon, but they also have the capacity to match her when what is required is lightness, lyricism or airiness. I heard her perform a showcase gig in Paris in October with two out of these three swapped for other players; the solid authority of her bandleading skills made those musicians into a band every bit as unified as the cohort on the record.

This album is more than a calling card. It announces the start of a big international career that will be fascinating to watch as it develops. 

Two More Essential Albums from 2018 

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens (Blue Note)

Camilla George – The People Could Fly (Ubuntu) 

Gig of the Year

Bill Frisell solo at Cadogan Hall (EFG London Jazz Festival) 

Track of the Year

Michael Wollny (with Emile Parisien) "White Blues" from Wartburg (ACT)


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