JASSO PINNACLE CONCERT 2021:
LE GRAND JAZZ – A CELEBRATION OF
THE MUSIC OF MICHEL LEGRAND AND BEYOND
Friday (5 November 2021)
There cannot be any person who grew up during the 1960s and 1970s who will not recognise a melody by French composer, arranger, pianist and conductor Michel Legrand (1932-2019). Winner of three Oscars and five Grammies, his music was celebrated in this enjoyable concert by the Jazz Association (Singapore) Orchestra (JASSO) led by founder and Music Director Jeremy Monteiro, as part of the Voilah! French Singapore Festival.
What does a Legrand melody sound like? The Summer Knows from the 1971 movie (Summer of ‘42) is an excellent example, a minor key tune tinged with a bittersweet melancholy that cuts to the bone and lingers on, once heard not easily forgotten. Jeremy Monteiro’s first experience of it was the recording by Ronnie Aldrich and his Two Pianos (Decca Phase 4), and possibly for many others as well. This evening’s take conducted by Monteiro was a more upbeat version, joined by French guest soloists, saxophonist Syvain Beuf and trumpeter Nicolas Folmer, who performed via live video conference from their homes.
Just as exuberant was Watch What Happens, with Monteiro taking on the vocals while leading from the piano. This arrangement by Michael Veerapen also allowed the saxophone to shine in solos as well. Further vocals were provided by American veteran Richard Jackson and local teenager Maya Raisha. Jackson was all soul in What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, another archetypal Legrand melody for which his deep baritone, as smooth as satin, was best suited. This performance chanelled an unspeakable sadness which could only come from personal experience. Raisha joined him in How Do You Keep The Music Playing?, but hers was one of youthful ecstacy. Oil and water do not mix, and thankfully they did not come together until briefly at the end.
Legrand’s music was also an inspiration for several original works by the performers. Valse pour Michel (Waltz for Michel), a joint creation of Monteiro, Folmer and Beuf, had an insouciant Parisian lilt, which opened slow and languid but later picked up on speed. Beuf’s Espoir (Hope), was a song crafted in the midst of the pandemic, in form of a waltz with exciting sax extemporations. Folmer’s Le Chateau de Guillaumes, inspired by castle ruins in the south of France, sang the moody blues on his trumpet, while casting a knowing nostalgic look. Both Frenchmen solo’d in You Must Believe In Spring, another piece which began slow and built up a head of steam.
I Will Wait For You from La Parapluies de Cherbourg (1965) is another Legrand evergreen, however its immortal melody was almost lost in Associate Director Weixiang Tan’s dissonant arrangement that leaned to the avant-garde. The tune was simply the best part of this number, so why ignore it? It was left to Sean Hong Wei’s sax and a grandstanding close to save the day. Monteiro’s own Seul A Paris (Alone In Paris), in the style of the French chanson, was filled with the moody blues and soulfully rendered by Maya. Singapore’s “King of Swing” might well have been a dyed-in-the-wool Frenchman in a previous life.
The concert closed with Louis Guglielmi’s La vie en rose with Maya taking on the role of chanteuse Edith Piaf (who had popularised it). Styling it in her own very upbeat way, she was aided by a very busy Rit Xu on flute. There was time for an encore, which saw a return of Jackson in Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves, another unforgettable melody which saw scat-singing and trombone solos aplenty. However trust Weixiang Tan to transforming it to almost beyond recognition, which to these ears seemed like modernism for its own sake. Call me old fashioned, but melodies are meant to be loved and cherished, protected like prized gems. Shun and ignore them to your peril!
Anyhow, this concert by the 14-member JASSO was in many ways an artistic and musical triumph. Further performances from this extremely talented and enterprising outfit are to be welcomed with warm and open arms.