"Afternoon in Paris" A Musical and Sonic Delight

If you're looking for a good place to delve into the Sam Records reissue catalog beyond the obvious Chet Baker entry point, try this record featuring pianist John Lewis originally issued by Disques Versailles (MEDX 12005) in 1956.

This is essentially a collaboration between the Modern Jazz Quartet minus Milt Jackson and three French musicians: tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen, bassist Pierre Michelot and the guitarist Sacha Distel, who had quite a life. He passed away at 71 in 2004, which means he was but 23 when this album was recorded. Wilen played very well for a 19 year old!

Interestingly, both MJQ drummers—the original, Kenny Clarke and the later, Connie Kay—play on this record as does the group's bassist Percy Heath, with various combinations playing on the album's six tunes.

The tunes are a combination of standards ("I Cover the Waterfront", "Dear Old Stockholm", "All the Things Yo Are" and "Willow Weep For Me") and one each by the absent Milt Jackson (his classic "Bag's Groove") and a Lewis original, which is the title track.

The pace is relaxed, thoughtful, ultra-refined and deliberate as it must be with Lewis leading. It also swings unfailingly. Fans will hear familiar, comfortable Lewis motifs and a sublime blending of piano and Distel's cleanly articulated hollow bodied guitar lines.

The mono recording is superbly transparent, particularly in terms of instrumental layering, bass articulation and especially brushwork and drums generally. The weakest aspect is typical of the era: the piano is somewhat cloudy, but still harmonically rich with generous sustain.

Ray Staff cut at AIR Studios from a master tape copy with Pallas doing the pressing. The presentation is equally fine, with a fold-over laminated cover and Jean Claude Bernath's evocative photograph richly reproduced both on the cover and in an insert.

This epitomizes how a record reissue should be done. You will not regret your purchase. You will regret missing it when the limited to 1000 copies issue sells out. Highly recommended! (Available through Acoustic Sounds and other online record vendors).

As for Sacha Distel, if you take a look at the cover you will see a handsome young man—the son of a Russian emigre and a French-Jewish pianist. Looking at the photo I thought to myself "this kid must have seen a lot of action in Paris!" and it turns out it was with prime Brigitte Bardot in 1958. Allegedly they split a year later after he spurned her marriage proposal. He later became better known as a singer/entertainer who had a hit in Europe covering "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", the Bacharach/David tune popularized in America by B.J. Thomas. Distel later married a champion Olympic skier and lived with her happily after after.

Roy Martin's picture

This was released by Atlantic with vertical bars of red, white, and blue marring the cool cover picture of Lewis and Distel strolling by the Eiffel Tower. Extensive liner notes on the rear cover by Ralph J. Gleason. Are his notes included on the reissue?

Speaking of RJG, every time I read his stuff I'm reminded of the National Lampoon parody of Rolling Stone magazine in which his "column" is subtitled, "The grownup who digs the kids' music."

Michael Fremer's picture
Wasn't on French original.
784533rpm's picture

I have this on WAXTIME RECORDS reissue.Sounds fantastic.

Michael Fremer's picture
Was cut from a CD. How fantastic it sounds should be measured against this version cut from tape. I should find the EarWAXtime and compare...
PAR's picture

There seems to have been a particular creative magic between France and John Lewis and the MJQ. Think of "Concorde" and "No Sun in Venice" (Italian location, French film).

As for Sacha Distel it is worth noting that he is also the co-composer of "The Good Life" (Tony Bennett et al).

Sacha was a very popular artist here in England( something never to be counted on for a Frenchman). Mind you those astounding good looks didn't hold him back.

Michael Fremer's picture
To include "The Good Life" in review....