In 2022, Michel Legrand would have turned 90 (February 25). Composer, conductor, pianist, singer, stage director: Michel broke down the barriers between jazz, symphonic music, musical comedy and popular music. A musical legend, three times Oscar winner, Legrand left a prolific body of work, with themes that have taken hold in the collective memory for several decades. "Legrand (re)imagined" is an elegant and contemporary tribute to the late prolific composer Michel Legrand by the world's finest composers and pianists.

If Michel Legrand’s discography had a birth certificate, it would be the album I Love Paris, the record he made in 1954. And ever since that day, the composer made a point of respecting orders to the letter... while freeing himself from any obligation to them. « That project, » he said, « was one where I tried to inject something daring, and pulverise those routine instrumental discs by imagining each title with a colour of its own. Nadia Boulanger used to say, ‘the stronger the constraint, the more freedom you have’! » In Legrand’s first lifetime as an arranger, he developed that method with iconoclastic new readings of standards written by Cole Porter, George Gershwin or Thelonious Monk. Today, seven whole decades later, Michel Legrand may well have flown away, but his work remains: an immense, abundant opus that shows the way for new generations, like a lighthouse beaming in the dark. Michel chose not to make choices, particularly between the different cultures that made up his personal DNA: music that was baroque, romantic or Impressionist, modern jazz, or pop. Michel Legrand was the composer who represented synthesis, the missing link between Bach and Miles Davis. His modernity remains intact, illuminating his desires for curious blends, superimposition, and fusion. It also shines out in his condemnation of any established order. Michel used to say, « To me, a beautiful bossa nova is just as important as some of Wagner’s pieces.

And so we come to Legrand (re)imagined, which invites a galaxy of today’s artists to make the great Legrand’s world their own, sharing the same freedom with which Michel treated his own great elders. The artists here are Chad Lawson, Akira Kosemura, Luca D’Alberto or Alban Claudin, and they come from the United States, Japan, Italy or France. Michel Legrand never had time to know them, but every one of them, at various moments in their lives, encountered the music written by Legrand. Here, these artists had a simple mission: « Listen to your heart, choose a work that is Legrandesque... and give it a new reading that’s unlike any other. » All the artists are pianists, but sometimes they opted to slightly arrange their choice, and sometimes they produced a solo piano version. The only common denominator is that all the pieces they chose were 100% born in films, from the “Nouvelle Vague” years (Cle´o from 5 to 7, the Demy films) to Michel’s Hollywood period (The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42 and Yentl, three Oscar-winning scores.) When you listen to Legrand (re)imagined, you can hear the tracks unfolding with grace and balance, like as many acrobats: each title is legible, identifiable and, at the same time, the subjectivity in each artist takes them into a brand-new elsewhere. Take Lambert in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for example, and Elliott Jacque´s in Yentl. They re-phrase the melodies while steering their lyricism towards a level ambience that wraps the listener inside it. Akira Kosemura substitutes the original euphoria found in Toujours, jamais with “inner” feelings taken at a slowed-down tempo that is introspective, brushing the surface with melancholy. And while Stephan Moccio makes the ballad Brian’s Song crackle with revitalised energy, Gonzales drifts weightlessly across Summer of ’42 in the wake of the great Bill Evans.

There is an objective paradox behind this adventure: to reduce the music of a composer – a man whose lush arrangements are worshipped by many – to a couple of lines. Yet this was also a way to renew our acquaintance with compositions that we thought we knew by heart... and here they take on a new sparkle, the kind that occurs when you peel away the skin. As Lalo Schifrin observed to Stravinsky in Los Angeles, after discovering the Rite of Spring reduced for two pianos, « ... a magnificent woman wearing all her finery and jewels. But she’s even more beautiful naked! » That image is confirmed by Legrand (re)imagined: outlines and minimalism also suit the musical father of the Umbrellas. Since Michel Legrand himself worked on developing his melodies at the piano, this is almost a return to the foundational stage of composition, but it takes place in the light of artists whose vocations he sometimes contributed to shape. To that one can add the enthusiastic testimony of a filmmaker, musician and music-buff whose life, if not his whole destiny, Michel Legrand turned upside down. His name is Damien Chazelle, whose La La Land came as a tribute to Michel. According to Chazelle, « Legrand is a natural son of Rameau and Debussy... but he was born in Harlem. His soul is white and black, and he’s as baroque and impressionistic as the blues. That me´tissage is precisely what touches the most intimate part of me. » Michel Legrand is here, alive, contemporary, and at the forefront of the present. It’s now your turn to (re)imagine him. Stéphane Lerouge

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