Michel Legrand ‘Bonjour Paris’ (ÉL) 4/5

michel-legrandPianist, arranger, composer and conductor, Michel Legrand and music were a marriage made in heaven and his versatility is exemplified on this condensing of two film soundtracks onto a single CD. Legrand combined elements of French Romantic classical (Debussy and Ravel) with symphonic string accompaniment, musical hall bal musette with accordion and even human whistling, and of course jazz, both in big band and more intimate combo formations. All three elements are expertly interweaved on this set which sometimes comes across as a medley of individual pieces. The title track of the compilation and title of a late 1950s French film forms the main part of the CD and individual compositions are invariably made up of different sections and styles, so that the seductive, ‘Parlez-moi d’amour’, has a pared down brass and string section with accordion and then a larger ensemble. Throughout there is great subtlety with the use of flutes on the gorgeous, ‘Les lavandières du Portugal’, and again on the ballad, ‘Hymne à l’amour’. Highly inventive is a complete re-working of the immortal, ‘Mon homme’, that Edith Piaf made her own. Here, the intimacy of the spoken word sing is re-created by means of a tenor saxophone with an added echo and strings in the background. To convey s typical Parisian milieu, Legrand deploys accordion. Thankfully, he never resorts to cliché and even on Offenbach’s, ‘Quadrille de la vie parisienne’, better known in English as ‘french can can’, Legrand finds a new way to communicate and on Léo Ferré’s, La guinche’, takes a more vibrant tempo than on the original with a playful arrangement and execution. Even more audacious is the reworking of Trenet’s opus, ‘La mer’, which in the intro at least, owes more to Debussy’s own deeply impressionistic vision of the sea before unexpectedly the listener hears the sound of a banjo. The second film soundtrack, from the Chris marker ‘Joli Mai’ (1962) has the major bonus of the title track being sung by none other than Yves Montand and this, combined with some haunting whistling, makes for a memorable tune that lingers long in the mind. As with El/Cherry Red re-issues, the inner sleeves are lovingly illustrated with black and white photos of the era, a panoramic vision of Paris at its most romantic and the original covers to both of the vinyl releases and even a Polish poster of one of the films.

Tim Stenhouse

Errol Garner ‘Ready Take One’ (Octave Music/Sony Legacy) 5/5

errol-garnerLast year saw the emergence of the complete, ‘Concerts be the sea’, live recording, arguably the greatest ever piano jazz album (some might argue strongly for Bill Evans ‘Live at the Village Gate’ from 1961), and this was a treat for jazz devotees with an additional CDs worth of previously unheard material plus an interview. How do you follow that? Octave Music found a way by trawling the archives and locating three separate studio dates plus a further single date in Paris. All had in common an identical quartet format including the same percussionist José Mangual Jr. and virtually the same rhythm section throughout with minor changes in personnel, with Jimmie Smith on drums and Ernest McCarty Jr. mainly on the bass (George Duvivier and Ike Isaacs elsewhere). Thus, there was a cohesion to the music and the sound quality was comparable to anything that Garner recorded elsewhere for major labels in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The result is a revelation and its own right a truly outstanding re-issue, or rather to be exact a first issuing of material including six originals and the rest standards that are given that unique Garner phrasing with exquisite arrangements as only the maestro is capable of. Of the new pieces (to our ears at least), ‘Down Wylie Avenue’, is a stunning uptempo number that has the listener hooked from the outset and a strong latin jazz vamp as does, ‘High wire’, which comes across as though garner might have been listening carefully the then new sound of Eddie Palmieri, or maybe it was the other way round. Fans of cu-bop will immediately be taken by the reading of, ‘I want to be happy’, and of course Garner did record back in the mid-1950s a whole album in this vein entitled, ‘Mambo with Garner’ that has stood the test of time remarkably well.

Three and a bit separate sessions, then, but you would hardly notice because the same intensity is maintained and virtually the same line-up ensures a seamless transition from one number to the next. A rare gem of a recording and full marks to the teams at Octave and Sony for locating the music in the first instance and then re-mastering it. Among the co-production personnel, current pianist Geri Allen offers her own perspective on the garner genius and his legacy is most definitely enhanced by this superlative discovery.

Tim Stenhouse

Ray Charles ‘The Atlantic Years in Mono’ 7LP (Rhino) 5/5

ray-charlesThese sides practically dating between 1952 and 1959 defined Ray Charles’ illustrious career, and, while even this mighty tome is not the complete picture of his Atlantic tenure since the live recordings such as ‘Newport 1958’ are missing and fully deserve a special re-issue of their own on vinyl (even more so if additional numbers can be located in the archives), nonetheless this stunning box set is in a league of its own and a clear five-star recording, such is the outstanding quality of the compositions and the execution of the music by Charles and his band. What is surprising about viewing these individual albums collectively is that they cover a seven-year period in Ray Charles lengthy career in other words an album per year, yet they are still definitive examples of his art. They include the following albums in chronological order: Ray Charles (1957), The Great Ray Charles (1957), Yes, Indeed! (1958), What’d I Say (1959), The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959), The Genius After Hours (1961), and The Genius Sings The Blues (1961).
It would be churlish to even attempt a track by track analysis, but Charles somehow managed to almost single-handedly move rhythm and blues and jazz music into the modern era with his hybrid style that electrified a younger audience in search of something beyond the conventions of the ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’ approach to popular music. That Charles achieved this by taking the emotional intensity of the gospel vernacular and added secular lyrics may have earned him the damnation of the preacher (though one suspects the music was so catchy that the odd preacher or two might be caught illicitly listening to these sounds before carefully hiding the blasphemous content of the vinyl tucked away under a settee, or concealed in a closet), but earned the eternal respect of listeners, writers and Atlantic records alike, the latter of whom who would, at a later stage, transform the approach and fortunes of one Aretha Franklin from MOR singer to soul diva par excellence. How does the vinyl sound in mono format? As ever with such questions, the answer is necessarily subjective and dependent on the quality of hifi equipment one possesses. To this listener hearing the music through the prism of a Marantz amplifier, the sound was clean and crystal clear and compares most favourably with any previous CD version. As for the cover art, the original albums are faithfully reproduced and that means that the Lee Friedlander photos conjure up the 1950s jazz and rhythm and blues scene to perfection and evoke the era with Charles in his prime and looking every bit the start hit maker.

The only minor drawback of this re-issue, in comparison to say the ‘Complete Atlantic Recordings’ in the CD box set format, is that the latter was infinitely superior in its inner sleeve coverage with the contribute of several longer articles from authoritative jazz writers including Leonard Feather to illuminate the recording sessions and to provide a wider historical perspective on matters, whereas the present package simply reprints in A3 format the album covers (is this really needed when the replica original covers are already included with the vinyl?) and contains relatively brief notes from Charles’ biographer David Ritz. Otherwise the equation Genius = Jazz + Blues can emphatically be applied to the music recorded on Atlantic records by Ray Charles. These are the building blocks of twentieth century music that can proudly stand alongside ‘Kind of Blue’ and ‘A Love Supreme’.

Tim Stenhouse

Léo Ferré ‘Monsieur Mon Passé Intégrale 1950-1960’ 9CD (Le Chant du Monde) 5/5

leo-ferreSinger-songwriter and lifelong anarchist, Léo Ferré was unlike any other singer in outlook, yet still was considered an integral part of the post-WWII French chanson tradition. This lovingly presented box set that folds out in concertina style covers the decade from 1950 when Ferré was already a mature thirty-four and signed for French independent label Le Chant du Monde year old until 1960, after which time he signed for major label Barclay. Precious few singers were so devoted to the spoken word as Léo Ferré and he expertly interweaved his lyrics with the music of bal musette, jazz and tango, all of which give an authentic and novel side to his music.
It is significant in that not only did Ferré develop into a marvellous songwriter for others, most notably for Catherine Sauvage and including the riotous foursome harmonies of les Frères Jacques, but he was perfecting his craft as a lead singer, and this meant not only writing for himself, but experimenting with the classical poetry Charles Baudelaire, transposing the lyrics into musical melodies that he wrote for them. Such ambitious projects mark Ferré out from the rest, and even his contemporaries, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens, collectively referred to as the ‘Holy Trinity’, could only stand and admire the creative mind of Ferré.

While it would be impossible to attempt a comprehensive review of every CD contained within, the decade crucially witnessed the emergence of songs that would be performed throughout Léo Ferré’s career and these included, ‘Graine d’Ananar’, ‘Le flamenco de Paris, the Left bank favourite, ‘Paris Canaille’, and a song whose title neatly sums up the vocation of Ferré himself,’La vie d’artiste’. Other wonderful recordings are early versions of later hits for the singer such as the immortal, ‘Jolie Môme’, which he re-cut for Barclay in the early 1960s and scored a major success with.

A real bonus are the two live concerts from the prestigious Olympia concert hall and Bobino, both of which date from the late 1950s and are fine examples of what Ferré could achieve in a live context. Equally of interest, is a French national radio broadcast from 1951 with actor Jean Gabin (who was Jean Renoir’s favourite actor and a symbol of the turbulent Popular Front era in French history during the mid-late 1930s) reciting. Quite simply music of this level of complexity and intelligence is not made any more, yet even for the uninitiated the glorious melodies are so captivating that even if you do not understand the French language beyond basic level, the instrumentation will still captivate you and what is sometimes underestimated is what a beautiful voice Ferré possessed. A worthy contender for world roots music re-issue of the year, even if it has been available in France previously.

Tim Stenhouse

Amit Friedman ‘Long Way To Go’ (Dot Time) 4/5

amit-friedmanThere are things worth waiting for. Amit Friedman’s much-awaited second album, Long Way to Go, released on Dot Time Records, is definitely one of those things. Joined in by most of the Israeli jazz heavyweights from his previous album, Sunrise, the album is fresh and riveting from beginning to end. Amit Friedman has managed to create a cool, clear, melodic set of 12 pieces that showcase a variety of vibes and musical influences.
The album features a collage of musical feels, all held together by Friedman’s cool, fluid style. As expected, Amit Friedman remains unpretentious throughout the album, with a soulful phrasing that is fluent but never ostentatious, even when tackling faster tempos. He has a pellucid timbre which appeals to a large array of jazz aficionados.
The album kicks off with the track title, “Long Way to Go,” a smooth tune which, through the oud, meddles that Middle Eastern resonance so dear to Amit Friedman. However, Amit is foremost a jazz player and his solo is superb. His tone is clean, warm and has an unfeigned fluency. The fast-paced “Enough is Enough” offers an energetic and tense interplay between the saxophone and the piano before they delve into an upbeat groove. “Blues?” captured my ear. It is an enlivening tune with a catchy refrain in which each instrument is given a piece of the melody to experiment with whilst moving it along in assertive lines. “Human Blanket” must be my personal favourite piece on the album. The tune grabs me from the very first notes played. There is an all-surrounding warmth to Amit Friedman’s performance, reminding me why I loved his first album so much. The melody is mellow at first but then slowly picks up enough speed to jostle the listener out of his reverie. This is exquisite jazz, with a piano solo that tickles all the senses and a saxophone’s serpentine solo that sways eloquently.

Throughout the album, the band members enjoy repeating, answering and toying with each other’s phrases. Tunes like “Rona,” “Candombe” and “Shirupiri” offer the listeners plenty of catchy runs, great hooks and lilting grooves. “Abadi & Salt” is an infectious tune with a cheerful repetitive riff and is another one of my favourites. Once again, the solid playing between the piano and the saxophone is pure delight.

Amit Friedman doesn’t leave us without vocal melody, as the album features three guest singers. The lovely “Momento,” with its Latin vibe and which is sung by Claudia Acuna, a rising star on the New York scene. “Momento” is a pleasant juxtaposition from the previous spirited “Enough is Enough” and Acuna’s intimate and stirring vocals are an introduction to Friedman’s brief solo which only prolongs the seduction. The mellow “Silent Blue” with its Bossa Nova feel is sung by Tamar Eisenman, whose voice is flirtatious and finally, the feet-tapping track “Love Must Be the Way,” sung by Yemen Blues’ lead singer Ravid Kahalani and which fizzes with energy as it closes the album on a high note.

With such a potpourri of colourful tracks, Amit Friedman is anything but ordinary. He cements his reputation as a notable composer and master of his instrument, and offers us a listening adventure that is simply magnetic. The album is definitely worth seeking out.

Nathalie Freson