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