Juliette Greco ‘Chante Brel’ (Universal France) 3/5

Juliette GrécoThe queen of Left Bank existentialist music in 1950s Paris, Juliette Greco has carved out a unique niche in the French music scene and now at the age of eighty-four is still going strong. Throughout her career Greco has made a virtue out of re-interpreting other singer-songwriters compositions and has been particularly successful in her reworkings of Brassens, Ferré, Gainsbourg and Prévert and are all strongly recommended. For her latest studio project she has teamed up with pianist and arranger Gérard Jouannest (Brel’s original accompanist during the classic era of the 1960s) for a recording devoted entirely to the work of Jacques Brel whom Greco has occasionally covered, notably on 1961’s ‘On ‘noublie rien’ and ‘J’arrive’ from 1971 (the latter being reprised on the new album). This works best in the pared down versions with just Jouannest to accompany the vocalist such as on ‘Je suis un soir d’été’. Here the essence of Brel is faithfully conveyed and Greco’s idiosyncratic and sometimes whispering delivery is indeed quite haunting. It is a pity that this approach was not continued for the entire album, all the more so because a Japanese only release of the pair interpreting Brel does exist and French connoisseurs have pointed this out on web discussions. Instead, Jouannest also operates as arranger for a larger orchestral ensemble and this comes at a price. The strings can actually get in the way as on ‘Ne me quitte pas’ which has quite a jazzy intro, or on ‘Les Vieux’. As for Greco’s singing ability, it has been criticised by some in France in the past, but on a number such as ‘Amsterdam’ she proves that she is still fully capable of delivering the goods and her style has always been an extremely theatrical one which is not necessarily to everyone’s liking. Where the strings do combine with her voice well is on ‘Tango funèbre’ where the added layer of texture heightens the dramatic nature of the song to good effect. For a useful overview of her career, the 2CD ‘Je suis comme je suis’ (Universal France, 2009) is an excellent introduction, though larger retrospectives are now available.

Tim Stenhouse