Thursday, May 13

There are evenings when overlapping events at different venues prevent a decent-sized crowd from forming at a remarkable show. In their first Tucson performance, despite being worn out from traveling, Los Angeles-based Jessica Fichot was gracious and affable as she and her band played to a sparse but attentive handful of people at Solar Culture last Thursday evening.

Singing in her native French, Jessica opened with "1, 2, 3," a song from her 2007 release Le Chemin (The Path). The tune featured Jessica playing a toy piano and offered a glimpse of her self-described gypsy-jazz style. Her vocals were delivered with delicate confidence, the music both playful and polished. In addition to vocals and toy piano, Jessica played an accordion on several numbers.

She was clearly choosy in the selection of her talented touring band. Robby Marshall played clarinet, flute and saxophone; Michael Papillo slapped and bowed a double bass; and Antoine Salem strummed a beautiful-sounding acoustic guitar. Each contributed various percussive elements as well. Extremely tight in their delivery, they captured the essence of French folk, jazz and cabaret.

While most of her lyrics are French, Fichot also sang in other languages. The Spanish tune "Los Peces en el Rio" is a Christmas song that she prefers to play as if it's a drinking song, she said. They covered a popular Russian cartoon theme song, and performed an exquisite number called "Algiers, Algiers," sung in Arabic. The performance was reminiscent of a stripped-down version of Pink Martini, but no less elegant and worldly.

The brief encore consisted of the song "Le Grenier," a bouncy clarinet- and accordion-filled jazz number that capped off a lovely set.

Local, gritty-voiced, gothic-Americana genius Gabriel Sullivan opened the show, with Chris Black assisting on violin and accordion. The passing train provided the perfect backdrop for Sullivan's homage to a homeless friend, a song called "Sewer Cats," which is featured on his debut full-length album By the Dirt. A Chris Gaffney cover, "The Gardens," was especially memorable. Sullivan and Black are two of the more prolific songwriters in town, and each project they're involved with is well worth checking out.

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