JJ Milteau

Jean-Jacques Milteau

The latest release by Jean-Jacques Milteau is the result of an unusual approach for a French artist : JJ went to the United States to record this album with the legendary musicians of the "Royal Studio" in Memphis, who have been instrumental in many Soul and Rhythm and Blues hit singles since the 60s. The album has been named after this musical journey : "Memphis".

JJM left for Memphis looking for a specific sound. Not the raucous bluesy sound of the early Wolf records, but rather the "soul" sound of Booket T, Issac Hayes and the famous Memphis Horns. And that is probably the single most interesting aspect of this album : there is a coherence of sound, an atmosphere, that makes it unlike anything JJM has released in the past.

Of course, the participation of three great blues/soul artists, namely Little Milton, Mighty Mo Rodgers and Mighty Sam McClain is certainly part of the reason why this album works so well. Each one of them walked into the studio with an original song and a cover they had chosen. Interestingly enough, the originals are very bluesy, and the covers very soul-y... These three guys have great vocals (and great guitar in the case of Little Milton) and, while their singing styles are every different, they all fit extremely well within the musical context of the Royal Studio.

And what about the harp ? Well, let's say that those who may have thought in the past that JJ was a harp players' harp player should be surprised by this latest release : the harmonica is still the main solo instrument of the record, since it's present on all cuts, but JJ's playing is neither demonstrative nor technical : it blends with the whole sound, and in particular plays with and around the horn arrangements with ease and fluidity. The long-term evolution of Milteau's playing in the last few years is clearly apparent in this album which seems to me like the result of a deep search for sound : simple phrases, melodic improvisations and a tone that has such a rich texture... If I didn't fear being accused of blasphemy, I'd say that Milteau is going down the Miles road...

Some tracks, of course, stand out more than others : the originals of Little Milton ("Things are gonna change") and Sam McClain ("At last, on time") in particular should please blues fans, while the sometimes funky ("TMCP"), sometimes soul instrumentals (like the superb "Master Lester") should please R&B fans.

Ultimately, this album will appeal to music fans more than it will seduce fans of instrumental prowess (not that the two are necessarily opposed !). As a collaborator of Planet Harmonica recently told me, "you can lend it to a friend without telling him it's harp" ! A very accurate description, and, in my opinion, part of the reason why this is the best album JJM has released in a long time...

Ben Felten

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