PHNOM Penh’s Chenla Theatre rocked to the sound of clapping as audience members tapped their toes and ended up dancing to the gipsy-swing cabaret sounds of French singer Belle de Berry and her partner, Australian jazz pianist and trumpeter David Lewis, on Saturday night.
From the opening number, Belle’s catlike charm and strong voice won over the spectators to her fey, original songs, each with a distinctive time signature and featuring plenty of rhythm from a very able drummer, Remy Kaprielan, and double bassist Denis Henault-Parizel, who also played guitar.
Giving introductions in her liltingly accented English to each song sung in French, her lyrics were by turn sweet, sour, upbeat and sad as Belle sang wryly about love, sex and modern life.
David Lewis wowed the audience with his ability to play mellow trumpet and keyboards at the same time, while a downtempo solo he played on a trumpet in a bowl of water produced unearthly, amusing sounds led to adoring cheers. His ability to squeeze in a variety of sounds, from honky tonk to Hammond organ, from a piano and two keyboards was astounding.
Covering new material and old songs from the band’s previous incarnation as Paris Combo, their cabaret style managed to win plenty of new fans among the mostly Cambodian audience.
Belle’s physicality, feline grace and spectacularly clear voice was a joyous event, especially when she accompanied the band on piano accordion. Her inability to say “thank you” in Khmer was laughingly corrected by members of the audience, but her charm conquered all.
Their latest album, Quizz, was on sale at the door after the concert, which was sponsored by the admirable French Cultural Centre (CCF).
Their visit to Phnom Penh was part of a tour that has seen them visit Singapore and Malaysia, on their way to France.
Paris Combo released a gold record called Living Room in 1999 and toured the world extensively.