Jean-Michel Bernard Plays Lalo Schifrin – Varese Saraband 303 067 523 8, 63:42 ****1/2:

Lalo Schifrin’s career in music began as a classical progeny. When he met iconic trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in his native Argentina durang the 1950’s. Schifrin joined Gillespie’s band and this unique merger of classical and jazz structures occurred. Although versed in jazz, Schifrin became renowned for his film (Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The Cincinnati Kid) and television (Mannix, Mission Impossible) scores. Music lovers who are unfamiliar with his name are aware of his memorable compositions. Jean-Michel Bernard is an accomplished musician and composer. His film scores include Hugo, The Science Of Sleep and Be Kind, Rewind. Like Schifrin, he has collaborated with both classical and jazz musicians. It appeared to be a natural phenomenon for Bernard to assemble a talented group of players and release a tribute to a musical icon.

Recorded in France and the U.S., Jean-Michel Bernard Plays Lalo Schifrin is a breath of fresh air. With elegant and dynamic flourishes, the Schifrin catalogue comes to life. The opening theme from Mannix is sprightly with a “60’s/70’s” jazz rock score, featuring a muted trumpet (Eric Giausserand) and Bernard’s stylish piano handling the leads. The television commercial appeal is emphatic, but the jazzy accents elevate the music. Switching to a funkier dynamic on “Bullitt”, Bernard utilizes a soulful amalgam of electric piano, slick guitar and a spacey intro. The percussion (including vibraphone) is infectious and the stellar arrangement glows with authenticity, but is evocative of the original score. Expanding on “Cool Hand Luke” with flute (Sara Andon) and marimba (Daniel Ciampolini), the lyrical melancholy of the opus is captured with glowing elegance. Bernard’s ruminative 1:13 piano solo is superb.

The album switches gears with agility on “Dirty Harry Suite”. The sophisticated nuances of Schifrin permeate the three sections ending in a propulsive jazzy conclusion. Paying homage to Argentine origins, “Lalo’s Bossa Nova” is as advertised with fluid rhythms, a nimble double bass solo (Pierre Boussaguet), flute accents and percussive piano riffs. “Mission Impossible” may be Schifrin’s most renowned composition. This version translates the spirit of the familiar song, but with compelling jazz potency. Kimiko Ono’s waif-like vocals complement the latin-sustained rhythms of “That Night”. Bernard’s fluent skills as an arranger shine on “Tango Del Atardecer”. The punctuated tempos and violin/cello solos by Laurent Korcia and Jean-Phillipe Audin are  intriguing.

The versatility is prominent. The organ-led interpretation of “The Cat” (from Les Felins) is permeated with freewheeling whimsy, while the theme from that same movie is vampy finger-snapping cool, highlighted by a moody bass clarinet (Charles Papasoff) and swirling menacing overtones. “The Cincinnati Kid” (in what seems like 5/4 time signature) feels more cinematic in tone and relies on jazz ensemble for resonance. Schifrin joins Bernard in duet on the joyous “Introduction To The Plot”. In a mere 4:24 the two masters take on Debussy (“Reverie”), Beethoven (“An Die Freude”) with snippets from “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” and “Frere Jacques”. A brief expansion of “The Plot” utilizes a march-time cadence. Schifrin returns for the trio of pieces, “The Checketeers Suite” with its gossamer interludes and rhumba structure showcasing a unique combination of styles.

Schifrin’s final duet is “Chano” a song composed for Dizzy with all of the complexity that defined Gillespie’s artistry and Lalo’s commitment to his roots. In a subdued finale, the solo piano cover of “Mannix Ballad” is sentimental as this special occasion.  Jean-Michel Bernard Plays Lalo Schifrin expands conventional soundtrack aesthetics with range and creativity!  

Performing Artists:
Jean-Michel Bernard – piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards, B3 Organ, arrangements, musucal direction; Kimiko Ono – vocal (That Night); Eric Giausserand – trumpet, flugelhorn; Daniel Ciampolini – percussion, marimba, vibraphone, timpani; Charlrs Papasoff – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, Pierre Boussaguet – double bass; Francois Laizeau – drums; Charles Papasofff – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute (Lalo’s Bossa Nova, Mission Impossible; Special Guests: Lalo Schifrin – piano duets (Introduction To The Plot, Chano, The Cheekeaters Suite); Sara Andon – flute soloist (Cheketeers Suite, Cool Hand Luke) Kyle Eastwood – electric bass (Dirty Harry Suite); Philip Chayer (electric bass (Bullit, The Cat); Jean-Marie Ecay – quitar (The Cat); Phillip Hervouet – guitar (Bullit, The Cat); Jean-Philippe Audin – solo cello (Tango Del Atardecer);Laurent Korcia – solo violin (Tango Del Atardecer); Jean-Michel Tavernier (Dirty Harry Suite, Cool Hand Luke)

TrackList: 
Manic
Bullitt
Cool Hand Luke
Dirty Harry Suite
Lalo’a Bossa Nova
Mission Impossiblee
That Night
Tango Del Atardecer
The Cat
Les Fellns
The Cincinnati Kid
Introduction To The Plot
The Plot
Cheketeers Suite
Manteca
Chano
Mannix (ballad)

—Robbie Gerson

Jean-Michel Bernard Plays Lalo Schifrin