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Natalie Dessay crosses over to Michel Legrand

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At the end of October, Natalie Dessay joined the ranks of the many operatic vocalists to make the move away from the usual classical repertoire. The result was a joint album with Michel Legrand in which she applied her approach to song stylization to eighteen of his compositions, seven of which came from soundtracks he had composed for films. The title of the release is Entre Elle et Lui (between her and him); and, as crossover albums go, this is one that may have found its proper place in at least some jazz collections.

This is due (probably in no small part) to the fact that, when Legrand is not hard at work arranging his scores to fit the needs of film directors, he is no slouch as a jazz pianist. He may not be up there will Bill Evans, but he definitely knows that making music is more than just following marks on the score page. Jazz listeners can therefore take some satisfaction in his improvisatory approach to his own music; and, as far as the vocal work is concerned, that leads to more than the occasional chemistry that justified calling this album “between her and him.” (The two of them also perform against some solid rhythm backup from Pierre Boussaguet on bass and François Laizeau on drums.)

Most of the selections are in French, and those are the ones most securely in Dessay’s comfort zone. Her English is less secure. There is also one selection in Russian for which I would have preferred not to have to contend with the Cyrillic alphabet in the accompanying booklet. Several of the selections are duets, the most charming of which is “Les Moulins de Mon Cœur” (which got mistranslated into “the windmills of your mind” for American consumption). She sings this one with Legrand, who definitely does not have a singer’s voice but still brings just the right seasoning of Gallic rhetoric to the song.

My guess is that this will turn out to be a “guilty pleasure” recording, particularly for faithful Dessay followers; but that does not make it less of a pleasure!


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