Closing in on 20 years since a trip to the Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival in Samois-Sur-Seine inspired them to launch their popular, well-traveled (New York, The Midwest, France) Gypsy jazz band Franglais, the husband and wife vocal/guitar duo of Eve Seltzer and Ben Wood finally release the aptly titled Pairings, their restrained and soulful yet dazzlingly adventurous debut album.
As grand a sound their intuitive chemistry and fresh arrangements create as a tandem, it’s likely that they may have imagined their emergence as recording artists just a bit differently. During the pandemic, the “normal time” quartet (also named Franglais) stripped down to Seltzer and Wood, who like many musicians sidelined from the road performed a weekly series of couch sessions on Facebook.
They liked the duo arrangements so much, they decided to share them with those of us who missed the livestreams. Among fresh, colorful, often deliriously scat-filled arrangements of classics like “Too Close For Comfort,” “This Time The Dream’s On Me” and electric and acoustic guitar driven renditions of “Stolen Moments” (the latter featuring Seltzer’s vocalese lyrics as a snazzy sub for Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet solo), the most curious inclusion is her original “I Don’t Wanna Sing” – which is certainly charming, of course, but happily and emphatically not true at all! Because Pairings – whose title is also a sly nod to Wood’s day job as a wine professional - is essentially an introduction to their unique style for those who have not seen Franglais live, they could have easily just gone the Great American Songbook route for the entire collection.
But blissfully, the duo ventures a bit beyond this realm, complementing Seltzer’s two originals with a playful twist on the Jewish folk song “Joseph Joseph” (originally a 1923 Yiddish tune later popularized by The Andrews Sisters) and a sweetly surprising spin through Laura Nyro’s “Save The Country.” Though Nyro wrote it after the assassination of RFK, it’s as relevant now as ever and deserves attention in this jazzier context.