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Michel Legrand: Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand

The first two tracks of Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand show how what Legrand calls the “game” of “improvisation in all styles” can be thrilling for both player and listener. “I Will Wait For You,” from Legrand’s soundtrack to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, begins with a soft unharmonized statement of the theme, its chromatic plaints hanging poignantly unresolved, which builds to a thunderous climax strongly reminiscent of Legrand’s countryman Cesar Franck. Then the music almost strips a gear as Legrand moves into an angular jazz vocabulary, jarringly syncopated, before returning to Franck for the cathartic conclusion. “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, opens with ecstatic filigree over a persistent left-hand melody before the left hand suddenly cops an attitude and propels the number to a frenetic, almost dizzy conclusion.

Given the daring invention of these first two tracks, it’s odd to hear Legrand slowly settle into a jazz-ballad idiom for most of the rest of the album, as on the yearning “The Summer Knows,” the pleasantly languid “You Must Believe in Spring” and the exceedingly delicate “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Most of these tunes originated in romantic cinema, so they’re already sentimental. Hearing them back to back like this will either induce swooning or snoring, depending on your temperament. If Legrand had kept playing his game past the opening rounds, this would have been a knockout disc; as it is, you’ll have to make the call based on just how hard this kind of sentiment hits you.

Originally Published