Jacques Brel

The Olympia 1961 & 1964

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This double-disc set issued by Barclay's DRG label contains two complete concerts by adopted French son Jacques Brel at the height of his career (Brel originally hailed from Brussels, Belgium). The discs were originally issued as two separate LPs. The 1961 gig offers the premier recordings of "Madeleine" and "Les Bourgeois" in addition to 13 hits. Brel's humor is sharp, like a stiletto. His reading of his hit "La Valse à Mille Temps" reveals him to be in great spirits and apparently included a bit of theater with a prop. In addition, the reading of his classic "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (Please Don't Leave Me) is perhaps his finest on record. Accompanied by an accordionist and pianist as well as a drummer and a brass section, the sheer joie de vivre of this performance is over the top. If the 1961 concert was a milestone in the utter joy of showmanship, the 1964 gig showcased the artist full of determination and confidence. Brel was tireless in his efforts to improve his singing and his interpretive skills. They are on fine display here, and the concert is utterly moving and powerful. Opening with the chilling premiere of "Amsterdam," it is evident from the very start that the vocalist is trying to transcend his body and the song itself to enter into some reality just beyond perception. The other two premieres on this set, "Les Timides," a sensitive ballad where Brel is accompanied only by a tinkling, almost toy piano sound, and "Le Jardin de Casino," a show tune with a full orchestra behind him, are showstoppers as well. What's so remarkable is that these are three of the album's first four tunes! "Les Toros" is sheer drama and tension. "Mathilde" is pure desperation accompanied by a near marching beat. When he gets to the lines (in French) "Hands don't strike, don't tremble/Remember when I cried on you/Don't open, arms, don't reach out/Mathilde since you are here/Mother stop your prayers/Your Jacques is going back to hell....," one can almost here the audience gasp. "Au Suivant" (Next) is a rant of personal degradation and damnation that is unequaled in 20th century French chanson. This is a brilliant set, and is necessary for anyone who doesn't possess these volumes separately. This is also a great place to start for anyone wishing to encounter the seductive and dark power of Brel for the first time.

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