CD REVIEW: Sidney Bechet – French Movies

Sidney Bechet – French Movies
(Moochin’ About MOOCHIN10. CD review by Nicolas Pillai)

This CD collects the scores of three films recorded by Sidney Bechet in 1955 and 1956: Série Noire, L’Inspecteur Connaît La Musique (aka Blues) and Ah! Quelle Équipe!

Published by Jason Lee Lazell’s Moochin’ About label, the single disc comes in elegant card covers, nicely illustrated with an image of a pensive Bechet on the front and the film posters of each film within. Remarkably, the liner notes tell us that Bechet acted in all of these films, leading this reviewer to fervently hope that an enterprising DVD company will furnish us with a boxed set. L’Inspecteur Connaît La Musique sounds especially intriguing – in which a bandleader (played by Claude Luter) murders a musician (Bechet) ‘during a fit of despair at not being able to finish a blues composition he was writing!’

When these recordings were made, Sidney Bechet was enjoying a period of commercial and critical success in France. He had moved from America in 1950 and married in 1951. In the last decade of his life, Bechet was no longer the terror of Montmartre; in 1928, he had been involved in a shoot-out with a fellow musician which wounded a passer-by and landed Bechet eleven months in a French jail cell. Indeed, the Bechet of the 1950s was practically an honorary Frenchman but these recordings do not find him resting on his laurels.

The tracks from Série Noire perfectly capture the milieu of the post-war French policier. On the opener, Pourtant, Bechet’s confident blowing summons up the rain-slicked streets of Paris and the jaded slouch of dance-hall denizens. A measured performance on Blues Dans Le Blues leads into the strident, dramatic A Moi d’Payer, with the sequence peaking at the magisterial Trottoirs de Paris.

L’Inspecteur Connait La Musique is a more traditional film score, with Halle Hallelujah containing diegetic crowd noise and applause which contributes to a jam session feel. These tracks feature compelling work from the sidemen (unlisted), and particular emphasis is placed on a boozy piano.

Ah! Quelle Équipe! furnishes the collection with the most tracks, which demonstrate a compelling tonal range, from the chirpy Coquin de Boubou to the spirited Le Train Du Vieux Noir with its vocal interjections.

Bechet is front and centre throughout, and given the quality of his performances here, it is interesting to note his deprecating recollections of the films in his autobiography:

“Anyway, in 1955, […] I made two films in Paris. One was called Série Noire, and I played a bandleader up in Montmartre, and that great actor Erich von Stroheim was in it. The other was just called Blues and it featured Vivian Romance. Both were what you’d call, I suppose, ‘thrillers’. I suppose they weren’t the best films ever made, but in both of them I got to play some music the way I like, and I don’t care how the hell it comes about – that’s what I’m there for and that’s what I want to do.”

That defiant spirit is very much in evidence in these recordings, the ‘natural noise of good’ which Philip Larkin described in his Ode to Bechet.

Categories: miscellaneous

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