His books, 100 Jazz Patterns for Chromatic Harmonica and Classical Themes for Chromatic Harmonica, have even created the desire for me to study the instrument for myself.
On December 20, 2015, Yvonnick went into the studio with an incredible line-up consisting of Peter Bernstein (guitar), Jared Gold (Hammond B3) and Allan Mednard (drums) and came out with the 2016 release, Breathe. Yvonnick co-produced the album with the same Lorin Cohen on whose album I first heard the young harmonica player.
Yvonnick composed all but two of the songs on the album. He is an inspirational composer and arranger. I could not wait to get my hands on the CD.
The album opens with Blues Comes Down the Seine and the swing is on. The whole quartet is in on the groove with Jared Gold’s B3 providing the kicking bass. Gold was the organist for some of John Abercrombie’s most exciting stuff. Allan Mednard brings the same skill set he used for Kurt Rosenwinkel and Aaron Parks and he lets it loose from this, the very first, track. Peter Bernstein (Joshua Redman, Diana Krall) gets a sweet solo that fits so well with the contributions of all four members.
It is, of course, Yvonnick Prene who takes center-stage. He often plays as the mirror image of the guitar but also takes on delightful runs of his own. In just three short years since Jour de Fete, his growth as leader and composer is exponential. The band is tight but Yvonnick makes room for each artist. Every solo, every run, from each of them is a moment to be treasured. No one disappoints.
Michel Petrucciani’s Looking Up follows next. The cymbals and rim-playing from Mednard create the background for the melodies coming from organ, guitar and harmonica. You almost hear a Caribbean beat underneath it all. Bernstein’s solo is rich and in touch. Yvonnick’s harmonica is stratospheric and lively. The piece is hopeful and focused. The optimism is palpable. The combination of B3 and harmonica is fascinating as they lock tones. Smoking stuff.
Breathe opens with a wistful harmonica that is more restful than meditative. Mednard’s drum patterns are the perfect fit for the melodies that the harmonica and guitar and Hammond push forth. Check out that Hammond solo because Gold knows just how to phrase.
Got to Go is an arrangement of a Monty Alexander original. The bluesy approach is cool while the rhythm section turns in something a little more soulful. This piece contains some of Yvonnick’s most ethereal yet authentic playing. There is a sense of melancholy that is touching and sweet.
After the emotional Got to Go comes the riotous Mr. Tix. The dialed-in harmonica, guitar and organ over the splendid drum work is tight as you hoped. After the spirited harmonica solo comes a more patient guitar followed by the raucous organ. Despite the melodic transitoriness, the rhythm section is constant and on top of it all and Mednard’s drum solo is one blazing stroke after another.
The Comedian opens with Afro-Cuban rhythms and light-hearted melodies. Bernstein’s accompaniment to Gold’s B3 solo and then a reverse is one cool dialogue. Yvonnick joins late in the piece but builds upon what has already gone before. What a well-written song! Pure fun from start to finish.
Armorica follows after. There is almost--almost—a taste of All of Me that plays well between harmonica, organ and drums. This plays well and the artists made the most of it but with a sense of respectful understatement. Yvonnick’s fluttering phrases are entreating and the piece as a whole draws one in close.
As Night Falls closes out the album beautifully. The languid nocturne imagines energy left unspent yet reclined in deliberate repose. The inviting nightscape beckons action and involvement in some twilight affair. The energetic drums push the action while the harmonica delightedly swirls above the energy.
Breathe is a wonderfully moving and artistically satisfying venture into a rare quartet of less than customary instruments. The combination of harmonica, guitar, organ and drums offers the opportunity for unique artistic conversation and chorus. The compositions and arrangements are sterling and the musicianship is inspired. Yvonnick Prene has proven his growing experience in leadership, writing and performing. He is the harmonica of the present and future.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl