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Jolie Môme

Juliette GrécoOver the weekend, I enjoyed reading about the most recent concert by one of the greatest living French singers, Juliette Gréco (Sylvain Siclier, La rentrée parisienne d'une âme forte, Juliette Gréco [The Parisian return of a powerful soul, Juliette Gréco], February 28, in Le Monde), who was at the Olympia in Paris, on 27 to 29 February. (On March 11, she will appear in Aix-les-Bains, at the Palais des congrès; on March 13 in Marseilles, at the Docks des Suds; on March 14 in Albi, at the Scénith; and from November 16 to 18 back in Paris, at the Casino.) Here is a translation of some of the review:

There she is. The orchestra on the garden side, gathered together along the length of Gérard Jouannest's piano, and her bursting forth from the heavy black curtain behind her. She gets an ovation, even before the first note, in the ritual that, like the hearty applause and worshipful bravos between each song, sets her in stone as the "grand lady of French song." There is nothing statuelike in her gestures, her tone, her way of giving life, comic and tragic, to the smallest word. In 26 songs, Juliette Gréco surprises us with sensations and emotions. Her smile is enigmatic where others would have relied on a pout, her fist tightens when others would wait with open arms, she scoffs her way through a love song ("Ne me quitte pas" [Don't leave me], very different from the weepy character created by Brel), and emphasizes with her tone and vocal découpage a grayer, rainier impression of a perky them ("Trois petites notes" [Three little notes], by Georges Delerue and Henri Colpi).

On this recital, Gréco mostly chose new songs from her recording Aimez-vous les uns les autres ou bien disparaissez! (Love one another or disappear!), with, first, "Je jouais sous un banc" (I was playing under a bench) by Gérard Manet. Because we think of her feeling uneasy with nostalgia, she seems to interpret these songs with more desire and relish than her classics. For those, she would not feel obliged to sing anything that did not suit her, or that no longer suits her, in order to please the audience. So, when she revives "Jolie môme" (Pretty girl), it's not to get it over with and even less to give a vision of it fixed in the past.

This is Juliette Gréco, now as then, for an hour and a half. . . . The technique is not perfect: sometimes a word is lost or there is a lack of breath. This is of little importance, because there is is a powerful soul at the heart of all songs.
If you've never heard of her, there is a lot of information (in either French or Italian, but not English) and some more pictures at this site: Juliette Gréco. (The picture shown here is how I imagine her when I listen to her, but for pictures of her in a concert in 2000, go to Hubert Marot's site on La Chanson Française.) Above I called her a singer, and while she does indeed perform songs, she is not a singer in the sense that Susan Graham is, but in the sense that Serge Gainsbourg is. That being said, I find the sound of her voice and the persona she presents in performance to be very seductive. Even though I have never seen her live, I like to listen to her most famous recorded songs, like "Jolie môme," "Je suis comme je suis," "Accordéon," and especially "Il n'y a pas plus d'après." The sounds in these tracks incarnate a France I never got to know because it was gone before I went there for the first time, but I can still experience it at a certain distance.

Buy the CDs mentioned in this post at Amazon:
Les plus grandes chansons de Juliette Gréco (selection)
Juliette Gréco, Aimez-vous les uns les autres ou bien disparaissez! (2003)

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