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Watch What Happens With Legrand at the Keys

June 09, 2002|HOWARD REICH



"Michel Legrand

by Michel Legrand"


No one is going to accuse Legrand of being a great jazz pianist, but his performances of his own film music prove so urgent, distinctive and emotionally charged as to make them indispensable. Better yet, he plays solo here, which allows him to radically reinvent classics such as "The Summer Knows" (from "The Summer of '42") and "The Windmills of Your Mind" (from "The Thomas Crown Affair") in personal, idiosyncratic ways.

Although he brings a touch of Duke Ellington to "Watch What Happens" (from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"), a hint of Debussy to "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" (from "The Happy Ending") and a bit of Rachmaninoff to "I Will Wait for You" (also from "Cherbourg"), these influences simply underscore the stylistic range of his music. Add to this the delicacy of Legrand's keyboard touch, the subtlety of his harmony and the ingenuity of his voicing, and you have Legrand tunes reinterpreted as only a composer could.



"Waltzing With Zoe"


Only a few of the acknowledged giants of orchestral writing still toil in the recording studio, and Brookmeyer stands among the best of them, as every track of this tour de force affirms.

Leading the New Art Orchestra, Brookmeyer presides over a radiant, rambunctious big band in shrewdly conceived compositions. One marvels at the momentum and rhythmic drive he brings to the finale of "Seesaw," the puckishness and harmonic astringency of "Child at Play," and the sublime colors and ethereal tone he sustains in "For Maria." Here is the rare large-ensemble jazz recording in which everything works, from the originality of the compositions and the high craft of the arrangements to the thorough musicianship and technical elan of the players.

Brookmeyer packs so much musical information into every cut that multiple hearings are required to savor the detail of his work.

*** 1/2



Justin Time

Anyone who has heard Bluiett perform live knows that he reigns as one of the more magisterial baritone saxophonists in jazz, but his horn sounds even mightier when he's playing with Baritone Nation, the reed quartet that raises Cain throughout this thunderous recording. To hear Bluiett and fellow reedists James Carter, Patience Higgins and Alex Harding playing at full tilt, as they do during several passages of a whimsical retooling of "My Girl," is to gain new respect for the sheer force and color of the baritone sax. Listen to the way-down-low notes on "Humpback," the ebullient dance rhythms on "Zippin' " (both penned by the great Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson) and the bristling counterpoint on "LG's Place," and it's clear that these four saxophonists hardly need a rhythm section. Nevertheless, they have a dynamic one in Kahil El'Zabar, who proves virtuosic on African drums and provocative on improvised vocals. Although the idea of a baritone band might seem like a novelty, Bluiett and friends persuade listeners that such an ensemble can sound as natural as any.

*** 1/2


"Live at the Village Vanguard"

RCA Victor

By now, Harrell's gifts as composer, arranger, trumpeter and improviser are well established, but they're expressed with particular clarity on this live recording. With the exception of an occasional intonation problem, Harrell's quintet offers controlled, often poetic accounts of original tunes that demand no less. If the exotic scales of "Asia Minor" and the pervasively melancholy spirit of "Where the Rain" attest to Harrell's skills at writing superior melodies, "Design" reminds listeners of the ingenuity and unpredictability of his uptempo music.

As always, Harrell's trumpet lines are works of art in themselves, and nowhere more than in the standard tune "Everything Happens to Me," which Harrell dispatches with a gauzy tone and nonchalant phrasing that are distinctly his.


Howard Reich is jazz critic at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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