With the recent success of "La Vie en Rose" - capped by Marion Cotillard's Oscar win in February - the music of Edith Piaf has found itself back in the foreground. To take advantage of this, Eagle Eye Media has released the concert video "A Tribute to Edith Piaf: Live at Montreux 2004," filmed at the famous jazz festival. Here, six internationally renowned vocalists team with a powerful quartet to provide a fresh, jazzy spin on Piaf's most memorable torch songs. It's a real treat for music lovers, even if, like me, you're not too knowledgeable on any of the performers; in fact, the concert also serves as a delightful introduction to Piaf's work.
The opening instrumental selections from Baptiste Trotignon and his band set the tone for the evening. On "Padam, Padam," pianist Trotignon bounces all around the tune, offering a swinging updating of the tune; bassist Rémi Vignolo and André Ceccarelli, on drums, each get a crackling solo, and suddenly the number is a fast-paced, staccato affair. Accordionist Marc Berthoumieux then joins the show, taking the lead on "Sous Le Ciel De Paris." The addition of accordion reminds us of the inescapable French flavor of Piaf's songs, and here, the mixture of light, breezy jazz and nostalgic French accordion is a sweet blend.
Swiss torch singer Michael von der Heide gently croons "Mon Dieu" and "Amants D'Un Jour." Von der Heide takes a straightforward approach, and the arrangements are relatively old-fashioned, a nice way to start the vocal portion of the night.
Ute Lumper is next, with interpretations of "Elle Fréquentait La Rue Pigalle," "Embrasse-Moi," and "L'Accordéoniste." Lumper's earthy stylings fit well with the jazzy arrangements, with a great, fiery energy on her final song.
Régine then takes the stage, first for another take on "Padam, Padam" - this one more traditional - and then "Mon Manège À Moi." Régine's performance recaptures the French cabaret style, and while it takes her a while to engage the crowd, she manages to hook them in but good by the end of her second number.
American jazz great Barbara Morrison sings only one tune, but what a performance. Her take on "Autumn Leaves" was my favorite of the night (obviously I'm showing my musical preferences here), a ballsy, pure jazz rendition complete with scat breaks. It's a perfect pairing of singer and song.
Catherine Ringer takes control of the stage with "C'est à Hambourg," "La Fille Et Le Chien," and "La Goulalante Du Pauvre Jean." The arrangements return to a more traditional touch, while Ringer's playful spin on each tune - she obviously loves to embrace the audience and tease them with sly, winking exchanges - makes for an appealing, energetic listen.
The final soloist is that powerhouse, Angélique Kidjo. Her electric updates of "Johnny, Tu N'es Pas Un Ange," "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," and "La Foule" are a treasure, and for these closing numbers, she and the band really let loose. The energy is infectious - although the real showstopper is her somber take on the middle tune, here driven with intense emotion.
All six vocalists then come together, ending the evening with a lively sing-along of "La Vie En Rose" that nicely meshes the diverse styles, a nice capper to a lovely show.
Video & Audio
Shot simply with unobtrusive camerawork, "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" looks absolutely stunning. (Was this shot for HD?) The picture is deep and rich, the musicians elegantly standing out against the simple black background. Gorgeous visuals weren't necessary, but they're very appreciated.
The soundtrack - the main reason we're here - is delivered in DTS, Dolby 5.1, and PCM stereo, all three of which shine with crisp detail. The two surround tracks don't make much use of the rear speakers, opting instead to keep most of the punch up front, to more properly reproduce the concert experience. In fact, there's only a slight difference between those mixes and the stereo track, which is equally rich and full. No subtitles are included, although as between-song dialogue is at an absolute minimum (name-only introductions and a few brief thank yous), none are needed.
No extras are on the disc itself, although the DVD case does include brief but enlightening liner notes offering information on Piaf, her songs, and those covering her in this concert.
While slim in both running time (a scant 79 minutes) and in presentation, "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" concentrates all attention on the musicians and their performances. It's a wonderful experience, definitely Recommended to fans of international music and to those curious about Piaf's legacy.