Legrand Affair [Ghostlight 8-3336]
French composer Michel Legrand created a niche of his own in world cinema, circa 1965-80. He first became prominent in the late 1950s as a jazz pianist, but it was the 1964 film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" that launched him to international prominence. "I Will Wait for You" — an English-language lyric for the film's love theme — was a major hit, as a result of which Hollywood quickly called. Legrand has something like 200 film and television scores to his credit, including those for the films "The Thomas Crown Affair" (featuring his Oscar-winner "The Windmills of Your Mind"), "Summer of '42," and "Yentl."
He has remained active for more than 50 years, although never equaling his early years of success. As movie opportunities dwindled, he moved over to television. He has also has tried his hand at theatre, with the 1997 Paris hit Le Passe Muraille — which transferred poorly to Broadway in 2002, as Amour — and the 2008 London failure, Marguerite.
Amour had a bumpy time of it at the Music Box, but among its assets was the performance of Melissa Errico as the heroine Isabelle. Errico and Legrand have now collaborated on a grand collection of Legrand songs, under the title — what else? — "Legrand Affair." No-expense-spared, it seems, with a 100-piece orchestra. That's right, 100 pieces. Produced by Phil Ramone, co-produced by Richard Jay-Alexander.
Errico does a great job on these songs, and I admit to very much enjoying Legrand's music and style. Which nevertheless leaves me with a bit of a problem, or maybe a 100-piece problem. I won't say that "Legrand Affair" is over-orchestrated; Legrand has (obviously) music in his fingertips, and his orchestrations are a prime element in his work. But he is in a rhapsodic and contemplative mood, here, with all those strings. If you're in the mood for lounging in a sea of symphonic-flavored ballads, you'll be fine. Legrand has every right to say "these are my songs and this is how I want them done." I'll go along with that. But this CD reminds me of Leonard Bernstein's late-in-life recordings of West Side Story and Candide. Authentic, because the composer himself was in full control; but lifeless and mighty slow. Yes, Bernstein conducted these mid-to-late-1980s recordings and did not conduct the mid-to-late-1950s original cast albums. My feeling, though, is that the recordings without Bernstein are far closer to what Bernstein intended.
But we are talking of Legrand, here, not Lenny. Yes, this big orchestra sounds glorious; and yes, the Errico-Legrand marriage works wonderfully well. Singer and songs make for an impressive "Legrand Affair."
Michael Feinstein: The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life [Concord Jazz CJA-33097]
Speaking of music from the '60s dressed up for an impressive (though not 100-peice) band, we have Volume II of Michael Feinstein's "Sinatra Project." This is Feinstein's attempt to recreate the essence of Sinatra for today. Not by imitating Sinatra or singing all those standards with authentic orchestrations, but by applying the Sinatra style and taste to what we might call Feinstein versions of songs formerly sung by Frank and the Gang. The results are admirable. "The Good Life" makes superb big-band listening, 12 songs that indeed capture the essence of Frank and at the same time sound wonderfully good. Feinstein's partner in this is arranger/conductor Bill Elliott. This is the same Bill Elliott who did additional orchestrations for the current Roundabout Anything Goes. Here he has 30 or so pieces — plus Feinstein, both as vocalist and pianist on a quarter of the tracks — and Elliott knows precisely what to do with them.
(Semantical note: in theatre they are called orchestrators, men — most usually — who take existing arrangements from the rehearsal hall and distribute the notes amongst the members of the orchestra. In the recording and band world, though, orchestration is the final step of the arranger's job. While some great arrangers happily adapted to theatre — Ralph Burns and Eddie Sauter come immediately to mind — others tended to look at theatre guys like Russell Bennett and Don Walker as skilled orchestrators but not really arrangers.)
Feinstein and Elliott don't pull their songs from the 1960s, exactly; it's the sound of the era in which they are interested. And, specifically, arrangements in the style of Nelson Riddle and Billy May. You've got standards of various stripes. Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and Louis Jordan's "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" on the one hand; "Sway," "For Once in My Life" and "The Good Life" on the other hand; and "The Way You Look Tonight" and "The Lady Is a Tramp" on the third hand. (Sinatra's house-composer Jule Styne is represented with "All I Need Is the Girl," combined with Loesser's "Luck Be a Lady.") Listeners on the lookout for something different will be amused to find Duke Ellington's "C'est Comme Ca," which was sung not by Frank Sinatra but by Theodore Bikel. In the three-performance 1966 flop Pousse-Cafe. And you know what? In the hands of Feinstein and Elliot, it's not bad.
A side note to readers: Mr. Feinstein and Barbara Cook are in residence through December at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The big news is that prices have been reduced for this engagement to a $60 cover with no food minimum, a more-than-significant reduction from the usual tariff at New York's top niteries. If you've always meant to someday get over to Feinstein's, this is a dandy time to do so — with Michael and Barbara there to serenade you.
Broadway's Carols for a Cure: Volume 13 [Rock-it Science]
Here comes the annual holiday album for the benefit of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The two-disc set, as always, features selections from the casts of current (and recent) shows contributing their efforts. This year's disc starts with a carol from the cast of How to Succeed (including D. Radcliffe) and goes on to include offerings from the people of Memphis, Chicago, Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia!, Wicked, Catch Me If You Can, The Addams Family, Sister Act, Rent, Rock of Ages, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Anything Goes, Avenue Q, Baby It's You! and Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. War Horse, too. "Carols for a Cure" can be purchased in participating theatres in New York and elsewhere, or on the web from broadwaycares.org.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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