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Pascalito: Manhattan’s French Connection

The musical melting pot of the French singer

Pascalito Neostalgia album cover

Like Beyoncé, Bjork and Bono, he goes professionally by just one name: Pascalito. It sounds Italian, but he is French, originally from Paris, where he was born Pascal Sabattier. A dozen years ago, while still in his late twenties, he relocated to New York. Raised by musical parents on a varied diet that extended from Henri Salvador and les deux Charles, Trenet and Aznavour, to Chet Baker and Tony Bennett, he is a bandleader, songwriter and vocalist, or as he bilingually bills himself, a “world chanteur.”

Many a Manhattan-based jazz singer can provide detailed analysis of the risks inherent to their chosen path. Perhaps, though, Pascalito is the only one who can do so systematically. Like so many of his vocal confreres, he must support his artistry with a day job. He is a risk analyst for a major investment bank (which, given Wall Street’s recent travails, may actually be a more perilous profession than jazz singer).

Pascalito’s debut album, Le Blues d’Orphée appeared in 2007. Sung entirely in French, it proved an ideal showcase for his light, rich voice. In true Aznavour spirit, he is at once a fine pop-jazz stylist and a superb storyteller, as demonstrated across a playlist that extends from classics, including a splendidly tender reading of Jacques Brel’s “La chanson des vieux amants,” to such familiar-in-translation pieces as “Les feuilles mortes,” Trenet’s “Que Reste-t-il de nos amours” (“I Wish You Love”) and the title track, the French version of the Brazilian gem “Manha de Carnaval.” Again like Aznavour, he does not shy away from grand, and often flashy, moments of showmanship, transforming “Fever” (which, en Français, becomes the exceedingly more predatory “la fiévre animâle”) into a stealthy exercise in libidinous pursuit, complete with jungle noises, echoing the Pet Shop Boys with the dance-floor fervor of his Halloween-themed “La citrouille de Toussaint” and taking “Donne lui du rêve” (Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me A Grape” in liberal translation) to fresh hedonistic heights.

Pascalito enjoyed his first taste of national exposure when selections from Le Blues d’Orphée were featured on two popular cable series, Burn Notice and Damages. His second album, the recently released, self-produced Neostalgia, evocates his continued maturation as both a singer and songwriter, and more widely embraces his global musical influences and interests. Featuring a vibrant assemblage of accompanists- guitarist Keiji Yoshino, violinist Sarina Suno, tenor saxophonist and flautist Stan Killian, percussionists Javier Diaz and Rogerio Boccato, bassist and arranger José Moura, and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Foyer – whose roots extend from Texas to Tokyo, the twelve tracks blend his passion for pop, jazz, bossa nova, Flamenco, swing, blues and tango.

Neostalgia heavily favors original material, with nearly two-thirds of the songs written or co-written by Sabattier. He opens with the sensuous and infectiously danceable “Tango de non retour,” then reduces the Latin rhythm to simmer for “Solestalgia,” an indigo-hued serenade to a lost, lamented love. “La citrouille de Toussaint” is repeated from the previous disc, but slowed to become more appropriately mysterious and atmospheric. The fervently romantic “La pluie sur la peau” (a second reinvention from Le Blues d’Orphée) finds Pascalito effectively paired with silken-voiced Jessica Medina. His bouncy “Le blues de fleuriste” pays peppy homage to his mother. The tributes continue with his moody “Motsicien Bleu,” dedicated to the great Toulouse singer-songwriter Claude Nougaro, a superbly relaxed reading of “Dans mon ile,” included in honor of its composer, the singular Salvador, and a second tango, the punnily titled “Yang est le nuit,” shaped in colorful praise to legendary accordionist Emile Carrara. Most personal of the original compositions is “Bossa Nova City,” a Paris-Rio-New York travelogue that delightfully defines Pascalito’s musical melting pot.

Four very different, though consistently intriguing, covers complete Neostalgia‘s luxuriant tapestry. “Here Comes the Rain Again” swaps the pounding storm of the Eurythmics’ original for the gentlest of mists. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is fitted to a stealthy bossa beat, and Caetano Veloso’s “Luz do Sol” loses none of its tender luminosity when converted to “Soleil d’Or.” Most arresting, though, is the closing track, a softly rapturous reimagining of Alex North’s “Love Theme from Spartacus” dedicated to his dear friend and fellow multicultural music anthropologist Tessa Souter.

If you’d like to share your comments about Pascalito or have suggestions for future installments of Hearing Voices, please direct your email to [email protected].

Originally Published