The French Connection

Ricky Nye celebrates two-year-old album with the French trio that made it possible

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about a band doing a string of local dates to celebrate the release of an album. It is unusual when the album is nearly two years old and the band has to fly in from France for the shows.

For Cincinnati’s Boogie Woogie Blues piano master Ricky Nye, it’s turning out exactly the way he envisioned it, if slightly after the fact.

“You can’t have a CD release party if the band’s not there,” Nye says with a laugh over drinks at Gaslight Cafe in Pleasant Ridge. “It would be different if I was purely a solo act, but I operate with a band here. And it’s no disrespect for the guys I play with here to bring these guys over.”

The CD in question, Ville du Bois, began in the spring of 2008 while Nye was in Paris on one of his semi-annual European treks. Nye — former Raisins keyboardist Rick Neiheisel, to fans of a certain age — had booked a string of Parisian dates with a massively talented trio of musicians he'd met three years earlier through pianist Julien Brunetand, a friend and veteran of Nye’s annual Piano Summits, who occasionally used the threesome as his own backing band.

Although the trio (guitarist Anthony Stelmaszack, upright bassist Thibaut Chopin and drummer Simon Boyer) rarely work together in this configuration, their chemistry with Nye completing the quartet is undeniable. They reassemble whenever Nye schedules dates in Paris.

When Nye arrived in Paris two years ago, he spent his first day at Chopin’s house, listening to the bassist’s gargantuan Blues collection. One of the pieces Chopin cued up was a solo album by Stelmaszack, which Nye was astonished to learn had been recorded in Chopin’s home studio.

“They recorded Anthony’s album with one microphone in one square room,” Nye says. “I said, ‘This sounds so good,’ and Thibaut said, ‘We can do this. It’s no problem.’ ”

In the briefest amount of spare time that could be wedged into Nye’s hectic schedule, the group convened at Chopin’s house and recorded the tracks that ultimately became Ville du Bois. With on-the-fly rehearsal time and only skeletal preparation (including adding a couple of mics, reflecting the bass’ sound with boards and muffling the drums with couch cushions), Nye and the group he initially dubbed the Bluesicologists (rechristened the Paris Blues Band for the current release shows) coalesced into a band. Over the course of a couple of days, they sounded like an outfit that had been together for years.

“We established an immediate bond,” says an incredulous Nye. “I’m thinking, ‘How are we possibly going to make a full-length album happen in two days?’ And inside, I’m going, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,’ but being with these guys is like a tranquilizer for me, they’re so laid back. So I just have to go with them. When I play with them, I lead the band but I get inside their groove. They said I’m one of the few piano players they work with that plays with them.”

With the completion of the quick but potent sessions, Nye tried to negotiate some kind of payment for the trio but they refused, counter-offering a more interesting form of compensation.

“I said, ‘It’s only fair that I pay you,’ and they said, ‘We’re not concerned about that,’ ” Nye says. “Then they were like, ‘Maybe we can come over to the States some time.’ It’s stayed in the works since then.”

A variety of economic and unrelated circumstances, including Nye’s 2008 car accident that resulted in a broken thumb, prevented him from lining up shows and bringing Stelmaszack, Chopin and Boyer to the U.S. to perform. With the planets finally in a favorable alignment, dates are scheduled — in fact, the first show happened last weekend (look under "More Local Notes" in last week's Spill It column) — and Nye couldn’t be happier at the prospect of playing Ville du Bois with the band that helped create it.

“I tried to stage it last year, and it just couldn’t happen,” he says. “People around here might think they’re going to get some bizarre version of American music, but they are not beret-wearing, baguette-toting guys. They speak great English, they’re real easy going and they’re all outstanding players. These guys study this shit and … their knowledge is deeper than mine. I’ve learned so much from these guys.”

RICKY NYE AND THE PARIS BLUES BAND ( perform Thursday at Blue Wisp Jazz Club, Friday at Rabbit Hash General Store, Saturday at Chez Nora and Sunday at Maifest (3 p.m.) in Covington’s MainStrasse district. Get show and venue details for the Blue Wisp here.

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