Marion & Sobo Band – Esprit Manouche

“Music is known to make you feel a little bit better” sings Marion Lenfant-Preus on ‘Till a quarter to three’. That is certainly true of the Marion & Sobo Band with their new release ‘Esprit Manouche,  recorded right here in Bonn. This is very definitely a Band affair, featuring timeless songs impeccably sung, played by talented musicians and painstakingly produced. Don’t worry about dipping your toes in the perhaps uncharted musical waters of Gypsy Jazz – you will certainly be glad you got your feet wet after hearing Esprit Manouche (Gypsy Spirit)!

Much of what you will hear on the CD is set out straight away on track one. ‘Amour Confidentiel has cracking musical interplay by the band, nifty guitar runs by Sobo, excellent violin accompaniment from Frank Brempel, and, of course, the crystal clear vocal tones of Marion Lenfant-Preus. I’m pretty confident that Confidentiel will have you looking forward to the rest of the disc even if you have no idea what Gypsy Jazz was, is or will be.

The only fault I find in track two ‘Agua’ is why it’s placed here on the disc, and not the last track on it instead. It’s thoughtful lyrics voicing concerns over Earth’s most vital asset – water – beg time to consider its message. Don’t worry that you won’t get that message linguistically either, it flits from language to language almost imperceptibly. I remember this track as something of a show-stopper at the band’s CD release concert this year and, for me, it’s the stand-out track on an album of great music. It also showcases Marion not just as an excellent singer but also as a very talented songwriter – a further example of her talents in this direction is the story song ‘Elektronenswing’ that leaves the listener intrigued by the songs subject:

“Jede Nacht, legt er die PLatten auf, Und tanzt dann bis Morgengrauen, ganz alleine quer durch den Übungsraum” begging the question “”Ist das normal?” and the answer “Ja normal, was ist normal, normal, normal?!!!”

I love this song. A vignette of life, individualism, and the celebration thereof.

In the interview accompanying this review (see below) Marion & Sobo reveal the inspiration for their music comes from travelling, travelling and more travelling. Not surprisingly, therefore, the music on here is as fresh and varied as anything I’ve heard anywhere this year. Linguistically alone it’s a varied programme. The English-language tracks ‘Till a quarter to three’ and ‘Undecided’ both have an English 1930’s tea-room quartet feel about them. ‘Undecided’ is, of course, a well-known song of that era (by Charlie Shavers) but Marion’s own ‘Till a quarter to three’ sounds like it was written on the same afternoon as Shavers classic.

Other classics here, like ‘Jovane Jovanke’ and ‘Lule Lule‘ have a bright and modern sound without losing their timeless appeal. The latter in particular is a perfect ‘Live’ song with it’s infectious chorus that builds up so forcefully. There really are so many highlights here really that it would take too long to list them song by song. Frank Brempel’s violin playing is a delightful counterpoint to Sobo’s flying guitar solos but his contribution to this discs success goes beyond that in his excellent (and painstaking I suspect) production and mixing. The sound is bright, balanced and crystal clear so that every instrument can really be savoured. Well done Frank and ‘Blue in Green’ studios in Kessenich.

There are excellent guest appearances here too: the piano embellishment from Yoshinao Mikami on ‘Elektronenswing’ and trumpet from Simon Doetsch that adds an extra texture to ‘Undecided’ and ‘Reve Tropical. ‘The two Stefans (Rey and Berger) keep perfect tempo on Double basses and whilst Sobo’s stunning acoustic runs get most of the attention, Jonas Vogelsang’s contribution is an important one too, as was clear from the live show at Stadtgarten recently.

So, quite a long list of musicians deserving praise here. Proof if proof be needed of the wealth of musical talent that the Bonn area has at its disposal.

Take a bow Lady & Gentlemen for an excellent album!

With so much diversity on it, ‘Esprit Manouche’ is never boring, and if you love uplifting and timeless music you will love this collection. The only disappointment is that it has to come to an end. In case you fell in love with that voice be prepared on the final track for bad news as Marion proclaims “Too bad baby. I’m not into you!” But fear not, Romantic nights can still be yours. You just have to buy this CD and share Marion with a group of very talented male musicians – it’s not called The Marion & Sobo BAND for nothing.

To sum up: ‘Espirit Manouche’, a super collection of timeless compositions perfectly produced, awaits your listening pleasure. As the song elegantly declares – music is indeed known to make you feel a little bit better!

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