Date: May 23, 2013
Location: Sheung Wan Civic Centre, Hong Kong.
French singer-songwriter Charlene Juarez, better known on stage as CHAT, lives up to her stage name. Her voice has a mesmerizing timbre, whose fragile sentimentality belies her secure delivery, just like a cat whisking freely but surely atop an endless maze of Parisian rooftops. In Les âmes soeurs, which appears in her latest album, Le Coeur, her musical notes are placed with a meticulous delicacy, not unlike a cat’s paw kissing the edge of slender roof tiles. While Juarez sings, she often works the keyboard with blistering attacks of fast arpeggios. L’insouciance, a number from her debut album Folie Douce, reads visually like a fast cat skipping up and down an undulating terrain of hot tin roofs. While her fingers are at it, she raps too – not in the traditional sense of chimed rhyming but in the form of a spindle rapidly spouting delicate lines of verbal goodies. She carries an airy blond hair over her gazing eyes and a gorgeous body that swings deliciously while she makes music, in such a natural way that she seems to enjoy her music much more than that spotlight moment onstage.
Unlikely as it may seem, the biggest distraction of the evening turns out to be her music. CHAT readily allows her harmonic arch to go momentarily haywire, which is fine, but the finale of her music almost always resolves to a simple tonic, often in the major key, and often in the root position in unison with the routines of a finishing bass and a concluding drum sequence. If anyone has played music with preset playing patterns on a drum machine that has a handy <end> button, an evening with CHAT sounds like a bunch of amateurs clowning about in a record studio. That sort of association is regrettable, because the rest of CHAT’s music is, for the most part, cerebral and soulful. Her song Le coeur, in her eponymous album, provides a pleasing exception: it ends not with a simple resolution but with a subtle inversion that seems to echo the waffling emotions described in the lyrics, thereby giving more body and meaning to the harmonics. Perhaps that should be her blueprint for future compositions.
The CHAT performance is part of Le French May.