Considering his iconic status as Broadway’s towering genius, Stephen Sondheim hasn’t made much of an impression on the jazz canon. I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz singer tackle “Send in the Clowns,” his only song that can fairly be called a standard (well, aside from the West Side Story tunes that feature his lyrics). Sondheim’s work is generally viewed, with some justification, as being tough to cover. But by embracing the emotional complexity of his oeuvre, Cyrille Aimée offers an object lesson in how to make difficult material one’s own with Move On: A Sondheim Adventure.
As an autobiographical song cycle tracing the vertiginous trajectory of an ill-fated relationship, the album works on every level, drawing strength from the original contexts of the songs while serving her particular needs as a storyteller. What’s most impressive is the way Aimée draws on her varied musical experiences, starting with the lapidary loops on the unaccompanied version of “When I Get Famous.” She summons the street beats of New Orleans, her adopted hometown, on “Take Me to the World,” and mines a deep vein of ambivalence with Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, a longtime collaborator, on “Marry Me a Little” and “With So Little to Be Sure Of.”
Accompanied by a French piano trio on a jazz ballad treatment of “Loving You,” Aimée lays bare the abject self-abnegation that plants early seeds of doom in the relationship. But the rollercoaster is just getting started, hitting a romantic peak with “Un Baiser D’Adieu,” her Sondheim-approved translation of “One More Kiss.” Whether or not Move On leads other jazz singers to check out Sondheim’s songbook for material, Aimée has taken the composer out of cabarets and into the jazz clubs that have shunned his music for far too long.