Michel de Villers (as, bs), Claude Dunson (tp), Charles Verstraete (tb), Hubert Fol, André 'Teddy' Hameline (as), Jean-Claude Fohrenbach, Maurice Meunier, André de Bonneville (ts), André Persiany, Jacques Denjean (p), Geo Daly (vib), Jean Bonal, Harry Montaggioni (g), Georges Hadjo, Alf 'Totole' Masselier, Alix Bret (b), André Baptiste 'Mac-Kac' Reilles (d, vcl), Georges Martinon, Bernard Planchenault, Roger Paraboschi, Paul Rovere, Kenny Clarke (d)
Reference: FSRCD 951
Bar code: 8427328609517
Michel de Villers (1926-1992) was one of the most influential French reed players in modern jazz, known by most of his fellow musicians by his nickname: “Low reed.” From a very young age, de Villers excelled on alto sax and clarinet. After gaining the attention of fans and musicians as an amateur, he was hired by Django in 1946. Shortly afterwards he began recording as a leader, improvising with cohesive drive and swinging passion, with a clear tone and vocabulary straight from the leading swing alto players—Benny Carter, Willie Smith and Johnny Hodges.
Looking to achieve a more modern sound, he adopted the baritone as his main instrument in 1949, swinging authoritatively with a muscular fullness of tone, but with the initial fierceness of his attack tempered by the cool influence, of Bird first, and Mulligan later. His skill as a soloist and improviser put him among the best European baritonists when Jazz-Hot awarded him from 1950 onwards first place in their annual readers’ poll. This led to calls from American jazzmen on their way through Paris. His fame spread to the United States when in 1956 he was voted one of the best new baritone players by the Down Beat international critics’ poll.
This CD set contains all his small-group recording sessions as a leader during his most prolific years (1946-1956). The way he makes his sounds swing so naturally may lead one to believe that perhaps others possessed better technique or ideas; but the truth is few surpassed Michel de Villers in soul and feeling. In his own words: “I get bored deeply when it does not swing.”
"De Villers was a regular poll winner in Jazz Hot magazine from 1950 until the poll ended in 1965. He also placed high in the Downbeat critics’ poll when his fame spread to the USA. The earliest tracks in this collection, from 1946, feature him on alto with a curious but not unattractive blend of mainstream alto sax punctuated by bop phrases taken from Charlie Parker. Shufflin’ At The Hollywood by Lionel Hampton is pure swing era, the alto sound fat and rich. His own Blues At Eleven is back to the bop with a strange French variation of scat from drummer Reilles, switching for a moment to vocal. De Villers quotes from Salt Peanuts during a wild alto burst. There is more of a hint of the boppers and Bird in Lover Man, a slow and lyrical solo. By this session he had Kenny Clarke on drums, an early visit that later became full-time immigration.
Sometime in the early 1950s De Villers switched to baritone and this is the instrument that appears to have suited him best. Fisher’s Wife has him swinging merrily on the big sax, with full tone and plenty of invention. He was very good on all styles and two instruments although his bop-influenced baritone is the most impressive on these fascinating tracks made in Paris. He himself said “I get bored deeply if it does not swing”. Mostly though, it did."
Jazz Journal (April, 2017)
"The great feature of Spain-based Fresh Sound Records is that they find obscure artists of the 50s-80s that deserve a second (or even first) listen. Here is an artist from France that show an influence of American swing and bop, but feature it in his own distinct style. The excellent liner notes give histories of the artist, putting his art into perspective of the time period.
Michel “Low Reed” de Villers played both alto and baritone sax, mixing the swoon of Johnny Hodges on the former and the warmth of Gerry Mulligan on the latter. These sessions from 1946-1956 mix hot and cool sounds in settings ranging from hip quartets to moderate sized orchestras.
On alto, de Villers’ lilting horn is drop dead gorgeous on the Old World “Blues at Eleven” and sounds like Rabbit with Bird tendencies on “How High the Moon” and “Sweet Lorraine” while dripping with passion on “Lover Man” and the ballad “I’m Sorry.” He bops with the best on “Stuffy” and is lovingly modern on “I Surrender Dear.” For his baritone sax, he sweetly swings on “Fisher’s Wife” and gets a Kansas City feel on “Indiana.” Some 1954 Orchestra settings have him in the midst of a velvety sax section, not dissimilar to Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” Band, with soft and sensuous harmonies on “These Foolish Things” and “I Only Have Eyes For You” while showing some muscle on “Somebody Loves Me.” A discovered fresh water pearl!"
George W. Harris (April 2, 2018)