Jazz Fest’s Lagniappe Stage can feel like a musical time-out, where bands stand in the corner of the Fair Grounds while all the other bands play outside. For Helen Gillet, it was a safe space where she could be as delicate, hushed, or rowdy as she wanted.
Gillet plays the cello, and she accompanied herself by looping parts to build a virtual band behind her, banging on the body of her cello to create percussion parts.
Her music is fundamentally lovely. For all of her technological magic, she’s a classically trained cellist first, and her musical happy place is the French song in all its melodic glory.
Gillet subtly tested the full house in the Lagniappe Stage by singing the final choruses of “Atchafalaya” more and more quietly. A few minutes later, she added dissonance to her sound without shaking anyone off.
Women behind me gasped in recognition and sighed with joy when they recognized Gillet’s version of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You,” complete with a fuzzed-out solo that bordered on heavy metal.
The success of “She’s Got You” further emboldened Gillet, and her textures and energy became more aggressive, less pastoral. With a good groove in place, she stood up first to dance, then hugged her cello to her chest and played it as she danced.
The moment was good showmanship, but it didn’t come at the expense of Gillet’s impressive musicality or sense of daring. It was an expression of simple pleasure in a show that was rarely as simple as she made it seem.