Music

Jean-Michel Bernard Plays Lalo Schifrin – Film Score Review

“Jean-Michel Bernard is the musical mirror of my personality. To me it is amazing that I found a real ‘soul brother’ in the sum of his expressions (composing, conducting, performing, etc.).

I cannot find words to reflect my admiration for his genius, a real miracle because he is my double. Once again, VIVA! Jean-Michel.”

LALO SCHIFRIN

Grammy award-winning and Oscar nominated Lalo Schifrin is an Argentine composer, pianist and conductor who scored a number of acclaimed tracks for television and film. His most memorable pieces are probably the original 60’s Mission Impossible theme and the title track for Bullitt.

This album is a celebration of his music, the result of a meeting of minds between Schifrin and French pianist, composer, educator, orchestrator, and music producer Jean-Michael Benard. Produced in France and the US, Benard attempts to translate his love for Schifrin’s scores in his own unique style. The album goes on UK release on the 13th October under label Varese Sarabande.

The first thing to say about this album is that it is so much fun, Benard infusing Schifrin’s with lively jazz riffs and some effortless cool sounds. It is a clear labour of love and one that Schifrin, in the quote above, clearly appreciated. Not all tracks are as strong as the originals, but some are certainly lifted too and there are some delightfully playful moments that will make you want to tap along to the beat with a smile on your face.

So first up is the Mannix theme which is a cool and playful, with some effortless, wonderfully 60’s jazz beats. It’s a whole lot of fun, filled with great jazz horn movements and piano rifts. Jean-Michel Bernard recaptures that feel of the original TV series score perfectly as he recreates it for the album. This is followed by Benard’s version of the classic theme to Bullit (a film and theme I both love). Here it is recreated as something slick, cool and mysterious; that use of 60’s jazz drawing the audience back to the film, but with a slightly heightened, synth feel and an air of danger in the mix; this is a much grander version than the original which does lose a bit of that mystery from the original. But it is still wonderful to listen to though.

Next up is the theme to Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 prison drama starring Paul Newman. While the original score is a much simpler guitar theme, Bernard brings wind instruments, piano and percussion and in this case it absolutely works, adding something to the original. It’s a more melancholy piece, given the prison setting, but it is lovely to listen to. The piano movement at the end is a delight. Bernard adds an extra, jazzy edge to the Dirty Harry theme, while still making it instantly recognisable as the theme from the Clint Eastwood movie. There’s a smooth, subtle tone to the quieter parts too, before he builds to a slick, funky ending.

The samba beats of Lalo’s Bossa Nova are give a jazz lounge feel, that is effortlessly cool while also adding a liveliness that lifts it from the original version. There’s a great trumpet solo too. And then we come to the iconic Mission Impossible theme, which begins with a great piano intro and percussion beats that adds a playful edge – Jazz club meets spy drama in one. It’s smooth and chilled and just utterly fun. I could have listened to this version all day.

These first six tracks are possibly the best on the album, though there’s some great stuff later on too. The Fox from That Night is not one I was familiar with. It has a dreamy, 60’s Bond-esque feel and Bernard gives it a piano solo  which is simple but beautiful, even though the original is a bit bland to listen to. There’s a nice latin American feel with the solo horn too. Tango Del Atardecer from 1998 film Tango is given a playful percussion feel that loses some of the passion and elegance of the original but still manages to deliver an intense tango piece.

There’s some very enjoyable jazz pieces in The Cat, from 1965 movie Once a Thief,  which is big, ballsy and very slick. While the theme from Les Felins is sultry, smooth and effortlessly cool, a slightly more dramatic version on the original soundtrack to the 1964 film. Particularly noteworthy is the chaotic jazz feel as the trumpet plays over the main theme.

There’s a sultry trumpet solo too in the theme from Steve McQueen’s 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid; there’s a melancholy feel over the effortless piano accompaniment but this is really pure 60s jazz club in tone. Bernard revamps Introduction to The Plot as a simple piano piece before launching into one of my favourite Schiffrin pieces The Plot itself. Both loose the dramatic of the original, but the intro is cool and slick, while The Plot makes use of percussion beats for a moody piece.

Cheketeers Suite starts with a simple piano piece before mixing in wind instruments, creating a beautiful piece that is admittedly a little cheesy. It does feel a little repetitive at over minutes though, but the change half way through helps as the piano movement delivers something a little more melancholy. Manteca from Ins And Outs (1982) is stronger though as Bernard really elevates the original, bringing some moody jazz and overall fun back to the album as it nears its end. It will have you wanting to dance, though it does start to feel a little too hotel lobby after a while. It has an absolutely effortless piano throughout and a great samba feel to the climax.

Finally the album ends with Chano , which is fun, playful with a great snazzy, impressive piano piece, though it is more hotel lounge than jazz club and the Mannix Ballard, a piano version of the earlier piece which is impressive, if a little cheesy too.

If you like jazz or just want to listen to something is cool, slick and fun, then this album has it all. There’s a healthy dose of cheese though which is evident in some of Schifrin’s (admittedly dated) work and some of the later pieces border on a little bland, but with lively jazz remixes of themes from the likes of Mission Impossible, Bullitt and Ins And Outs, you’ll be left with a big smile on your face.

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