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Michel Legrand Remembered at RFH

Michel Legrand Remembered (Royal Festival Hall, 20 September 2019. Review by Andrew Cartmel) Produced by Fane and hosted by long-time Michel Legrand collaborator Jeremy Sams, this lavish concert was originally conceived as a performance to be led by the man himself. With the passing of the master in January, the event transformed into a tribute to this ebullient musical genius.

Michel Legrand: the man… (Photo © Danny Kaan)

In accord with Michel Legrand’s love of big bands, the evening was built around Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, conducted by clarinettist Pete Long, and it deftly intertwined the strands of the composer’s different musical genres. In his role as host, Jeremy Sams described how Legrand had written over two hundred film scores, “And orchestrated every note of them himself, which was unheard of.” The evening achieved lift-off early on with What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life. Sams advised musos that Legrand’s song was in the Phrygian mode. Non-musos had to be content with merely being knocked out by its loveliness. Richard Hadfield sang, and he was so good that musicians in the band were exchanging approving looks. Pianist James Pearson, filling the shoes of the great man, created a yearning sound, slow and slinky, accompanied by drummer Sebastian De Krom’s brushes. The feeling was mysterious and seductive, giving way to clean clusters of notes from Pearson and the thrumming punctuation of Geoff Gascoyne’s double bass while the horn section played with delicate restraint, providing a moody backdrop. A beautiful performance of a beautiful song, slow and rapturous. I Will Wait for You from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a feature for solo violinist Tasmin Little. Her playing was liquid and loquacious, set against the deliberate pace of the rhythm section and a kind of cynical commentary from the horns which suggested Kurt Weill. But then Little’s violin returned, floating over them, piercing in its sweetness and clarity. So much so that it seemed to melt the cynicism of the horn section and soon their playing was all heart, too. Then Little began to play hot gipsy violin, moving to an ecstatic, lyrical rising phrase – a little jazz bird ascending, rather than a lark. 

… remembered. (Photo © Danny Kaan)

Alison Moyet was the guest vocalist on Nobody Knows, returning to the Weimar vibe with a Lotte Lenya feel to her performance, accompanied by Geoff Gascoyne on electric bass, giving a staccato urgency to the piece. Melissa Errico sang His Eyes, Her Eyes – the other song from The Thomas Crown Affair – supported by Mark Armstrong on trumpet and Karen Sharp, who delivered a lovely low and smoky tenor saxophone solo. Dingo was a film about a jazz trumpeter featuring Miles Davis and Legrand wrote the score with Miles as the soloist. For Dingo’s Lament Jeremy Sams announced, “We don’t have Miles, but we do have Mark Armstrong.” And Armstrong played his open flugelhorn with magnificent restraint and dexterity and depth of feeling, with subtle and tasteful support from the rhythm section. The airiness of Armstrong’s impeccable playing and his lightness of touch floated the music up towards the stratosphere, like an offering. And even a stonehearted cynic might find himself wishing that, out there somewhere, Legrand could hear it.

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