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Mich En Scene - Songs of Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel as a singer didn't have the best voice, but his performances were always soaked with emotion, and his songs more like poems set to music. When you perform his songs in a way that combines the rawness of his feeling with an accomplished musicality the result is Mich En Scene.

Mich En Scene is a quartet led by chanteuse Micheline Van Hautem and superbly supported by Frederik Caelen (on accordion and sometimes piano), Frank De Kleer (Spanish guitar) and Bob Wisselink (double bass). Their CD Songs of Jacques Brel may become my favourite Brel album. It's brilliant. I despair that they toured here a few months ago and I missed them.

Van Hautem's treatment of the songs are by turns sensitive, playful, wistful, despairing, ironic and primal, but always sensuous and perfectly judged. Watch for the preponderance of rolling "Rs" though: you may never feel like gargling again!

The arrangements (accordion, piano, guitar, bass, clarinet, saxophone or cello) are inventive and evoke the atmosphere of a Paris cafe at night. Not sure if this was intentional, but I was certainly transported. Special mention has to be made of the accordion. Under Caelen's frantic hands the instrument doesn't so much accompany Van Hautem, but goads and dances with her.

Some performers like to interpolate French and English lyrics when performing Brel songs. Anne Wood does it for "If you go away/Ne me quitte pas" on the Songs of... CD and Mich En Scene do it for "Amsterdam" (my favourite Brel number). Here too the result is seamless.

Not all the numbers are my favourite renditions of the songs. For example, I miss the group vocal arrangement on "The old ones/Les vieux" ala Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris, and the accompaniment on "Ne me quitte pas" is possibly a fraction too indulgent. Another minor quibble (nothing to do with the performance) is that "The impossible dream/La quete" is incorrectly attributed solely to Brel. (He wrote the French lyrics but not the original song.)

None of this distracts from the fact that I haven't been this engrossed by a CD for ages. Experiencing it is like walking in on a slow act of fellatio.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 21, 2005 8:14 PM.

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