Review: Michel Legrand

Michel Legrand
(Ronnie Scott’s, June 7th 2011, first night of two)

I know that I will never get to hear Franz Schubert perform live. Or Poulenc. Or Gershwin. But I have now heard the composer of:

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-Watch What Happens
-Les Moulins de Mon Coeur/The Windmills of my Mind
-Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
-Chanson de Maxence/You must believe in Spring
-L’Eté 42/ The Summer Knows
-What Are You Doing For The Rest of Your Life?

…perform all of those eternal songs. Just a few feet away. And one doesn’t forget a thing like that.

Michel Legrand is the composer more than two hundred film and television scores, several musicals, the maker of a hundred plus albums, the winner of three Oscars – out of thirteen nominations – and of five Grammys.

Last night Legrand was proud, even a bit emotional, to be making his debut at Ronnie’s, in a place, he said, “where I used to come to hear people I worshipped.”

So this was the first night. Legrand had had just one brief encounter and a Sitzprobe with the elite pairing of Sebastiaan de Krom on drums and Geoff Gascoyne on bass. But experience counts, and this was a great evening. The very best musical moment was Seb de Krom’s solo feature “Dingo Rock,” which was written by Legrand for Miles Davis’ last album Dingo (1991), but didn’t make it onto the album. Legrand was able to settle back into the powerful groove, to let himself be propelled by the impeccable rhythm engine of Gascoyne and de Krom.

Similar things were allowed to happen in the encore, a medley treatment of the theme from “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,” with Legrand calling the new style after each pair of choruses – in order: Swing, Waltz, Bossa Nova, New Orleans march, Tango and a Russian Kayinka. Legrand was also mischievously, playfully, unpredictably shifting the root throughout. But it would take a lot more than that to phase Gascoyne.

There was an amusing moment in Gascoyne’s solo feature. Legrand was punctuating Gascoyne’s final cadenza in Chanson de Maxence/ You Must Believe in Spring, not so much with chords as with Bigger Splashes straight out of David Hockney. Gascoyne responded to one particularly luxuriant inundation of notes by going for a walk into a distant key, and quoting Windmills of Your Mind. From there he was let off the leash to bring his own cadenza home, alone.

Legrand is a legend, and can be permitted that kind of self-indulgence. In his interpretation of his own songs, he gives them lots of air and space with plentiful rubato. The beautifully paced decelerandos and fades at the end of numbers were something very special indeed.

His singing, let it be said, while authentic, unique, is not ideal. During Legrand’s wordless treatment of the Miles Davis trumpet part in Dingo Lament I found myself longing for a singer with control, and flawless intonation (and French too)- Brigitte Beraha where are you? – just to walk on and to bring the vocal beauty which these classic songs deserve, and to make the evening perfect.

The stories from his life which accompanied his performances were revealing and amusing. “What are you doing…,” asserted Legrand for example, was written for a film which was a complete flop. Legrand still harbours an unfulfilled ambition: to meet in person one of the few handfuls of people who were lucky – or unlucky – enough to see the movie when it first came out.

The same trio is out again tonight. Watch what happens.

A special word, in passing, in the direction of Pedro Segundo, drummer of the Ronnie’s house band (rather than the Emperor of Brazil of the same name). Waistcoated in honour of his parents who were in the club last night, on cracking form, newly garlanded with a distinction for his final recital in classical percussion as he graduates from Guildhall School, and already a major asset to the London scene.

That word is FELICIDADES!

Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies »

  1. Angela Kearney wrote by email:

    I agree entirely, although I thought the fact that Legrand's vocals were not perfect in no way detracted from the performance or enjoyment.

    There was something very special about hearing the composer performing his own material after hearing so many other vocal arrangements. I actually loved the raw emotion and the imperfections.

    So many wonderful, memorable moments. Yes, loved that GG had a little “play away” during his You Must Believe In Spring solo. Smart. Amusing. Dingo Rock was a triumph and I'd love to hear it again. The encore was exhilarating.

  2. Funnily enough, if you type in Legrand into an iphone, it automatically changes the word to Legend. Says it all really.

    A great night, and so many wonderful moments. Thanks for the great review Seb. More accurate than the usually fantastic John Fordham in the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/08/michel-legrand-review who claimed that it was Windmills of your Mind that Legrand turned into a tango, when in fact, as you rightly point out it was “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,”

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