Roger Davidson & David Finck: Umbrellas & Sunshine: The Music of Michel Legrand

This recital of Michel Legrand songs is a conscientious project, from the refined musicianship of Roger Davidson and David Finck to the classy CD package, the informative liner notes by James Gavin, and the pristine sound by engineer Roy Hendrickson. Davidson is a classical pianist and composer who took up jazz midway in his career and has become an articulate improviser. Here he lavishes his harmonic knowledge upon Legrand’s rich, elegantly modulated progressions.

Every track is carefully conceived and complete. At the moment when bassist David Finck enters “The Easy Way,” it quietly and dramatically becomes “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” with luminous new chords on the bridge. “The Summer Knows,” with Finck’s drawn-out arco yearnings, is lovely.

But something is missing. Legrand’s film scores contain piercing, poignant, bittersweet love songs that alter the emotional intuitions of those who hear them. When Davidson plays, twice, “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (“I Will Wait for You”), his hard touch and dignified (even stiff) phrasing put him at one remove from the song’s tenderness. When Blossom Dearie sang “La Valse des Lilas” (“Once Upon a Summertime”), it was flawless romantic ephemera. Davidson’s version is pretty but too formal and stately to render the song’s fragile epiphanies of memory. The part of the performance that comes closest is Finck’s brief, rapt solo.

A more essential set of piano interpretations of Legrand is Renato Sellani’s Grand Piano, on Philology. Sellani cannot read Legrand’s music, but plays it like he has internalized its mysterious truths of the heart.