Zaz is the impressive debut album by the French jazz-pop artist of the same name. Zaz takes a fresh approach to her music. Gypsy jazz rhythms, pop hooks and Mills Brothers-esque vocal solos collide in a cohesive and fully realized musical vision. The blend of styles never seems awkward, pretentious or contrived. At its best, this recording contains legitimately great pop music. Even at its worst, these songs still tower above their Top 40 pop peers.
The album's first two tracks are pop powerhouses, and the best two tracks on the disc. The opener, "Les Passants," establishes Zaz's personality and approach confidently and immediately. Her voice is captivating, at once husky and lithe, and capable of navigating each song with seasoned skill. As the strutting gypsy-jazz guitars meld into a short and catchy chorus, it feels remarkably natural. "Je Veux," the album's second track and hit single, succeeds on a similar level. The singer's short opening vocal solo manages to display jazz skill and undeniable pop smarts at the same time. This song too, is quite a fusion, but never sounds like an experiment. It has gypsy-jazz guitar fills, trumpet-like vocals and a catchy melody all held down by bouncing piano chords borrowed from classic 60s British pop. Despite its ambitious nature, it sticks to a three minute pop format and manages to get stuck in the listener's head in a way that is not cheap or irritating. Other highlights include the folky "Le Long de la Route" and the minimal "Trop Sensible"
Zaz certainly trails off a bit after the first two tracks, but this does not sink the album. After all, pop music is singles music, and Zaz is more than held together by its standout tracks. That said, the album does have a slight problem, namely the songs written by French pop star Raphael. While not all of them are necessarily bad, they do not seem to fit with Zaz's musical vision. Further, some tracks, like the saccharine "Eblouie par la Nuit," seem like obligatory pop ballad concessions that compromise the daring attitude of the album's best tracks. Still, Zaz had a hand in writing 6 of these songs, and does an admirable job interpreting of the others with her own personal stamp.
Credit should also go to the production on this record. The playing is technically proficient without ever detracting from Zaz's attractive vocals. The sound is full and professional throughout. This not likely to thrill jazz purists, but this music is charting new territory in its own way, and is a worthy addition to any jazz or pop music collection.