Saturday, March 27, 2010

CD of the Day - "Michel Legrand: Cops and Robbers"

CD of the Day
Michel Legrand: "Cops and Robbers" (MGM/Kritzerland) 1973/2009

I was only 9 years old when I read, in the April 26, 1973 issue of DownBeat, the news about a new score that Michel Legrand had completed for the film "Cops and Robbers," featuring an all-star jazz cast in the soundtrack recording. So, I immediately added such title to my Want List of vinyls, specially after I became aware that my idol Airto Moreira was the percussion player. Frustration followed. Although the film was released in August '73, a soundtrack LP never came out. Worst: there were very short pieces of Legrand's score in the movie, except for the main theme, sung by the baritone voice of drummer Grady Tate.

When a VHS video and, more recently, a DVD copy of "Cops and Robbers" became available, I got both. But I had lost my hopes for the soundtrack album.

However, miracles happen! And, some months ago, 36 years after its recording, Legrand's complete score finally saw the light of the day in a CD issue limited to 1000 copies! It was possible thanks to an agreement between MGM and the Valley Village-based Californian label Kritzerland.

The CD booklet reproduces some images of the movie and includes a nice set of notes by Bruce Kimmel, who produced the CD release. "As a listening experience, it's great to finally unearth what is basically an unknown Legrand score, especially one this good," Kimmel wrote. "One presumes that Legrand created the album sequence and we've left it as it was designed. The album master tapes were in great shape, and the sound is unmistakably 1970s, and that's a good thing."

The "bad thing" is the lack of data regarding the sessions. Not even the original album producers are mentioned: the legendary George Avakian, who signed Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck to Columbia, and the controversial Norman Schwartz, by then heading his own Gryphon label after his experience at Skye. The Russian-born Avakian is still alive, but Schwartz died in 1995 at age 67.

All the musicians are equally uncredited on the CD data. And what a stellar ensemble! Lee Konitz, Gary Burton, Johnny Coles (Gil Evans' favorite trumpeter - after Miles Davis, of course), Dick Hyman, Toots Thielemans, Billy Butler, Russell George, Richard Davis, Bernard Purdie, Airto Moreira (his percussion arsenal being prominently featured throughout the score, stealing the show in many moments), Grady Tate, Gloria Agostini and the strings concertmaster, David Nadien. Plus a large choir. The score includes jazz, r&b, pop, funk, classical, choral and liturgical music. My personal favorite tracks are "The Sellers," "Uptwon," "The Buyer," "The Lush Life" and "The Chase." That's what I call a true collectors' item.
"Cops and Robbers" was a well reviewed and received 1973 caper film starring Joseph Bologna and Cliff Gorman, written by the great Donald Westlake, and directed in off-handed improvisatory style by Aram Avakian.

Michel Legrand was hired to compose and conduct the score and he created a terrific and eclectic bunch of cues, some of them classic Legrand 70s funk, some pretty, some atonal and weird, and all wonderfully Legrandesque. However, the film’s director seemed to have something else in mind; seemingly he wanted the music to mostly function as part of the sound design – as source music, as pad, as everyday life, and not really as conventional film scoring.

Save for only one or two cues, Legrand’s music always seems to be coming out of radios (the radio broadcasts seem to always be present), and the cues that might be considered score cues still almost function as source music in the film itself.

While a soundtrack album was prepared at the time of the film’s release, it never came out, probably because if people had seen the film they would have found little need to purchase it, since so little of the music is heard – sometimes only a few seconds. But the album is fantastic, and it’s a shame the music wasn’t actually used more prominently in the film because it’s Legrand at his 70s best. The title song is infectious in the way Shaft’s title song is (with a similar-style vocal), and each track is completely its own musical picture. We’re thrilled to release what is basically an almost never-before-heard Legrand score.

Beautifully mastered for CD from the album masters, Cops and Robbers is a must-have for any film score aficionado or Legrand fan.

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