Posts Tagged ‘Vocal Jazz’

Sarah Vaughan: Sophisticated Lady – The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

SarahVaughn_Sophisticated Lady1979-80 sessions with six previously unreleased tracks

This 2-CD set collects the twenty-one tracks originally released in 1979/80 on the Duke Ellington Song Book One and Two, and adds six contemporaneous masters that are now being released for the first time. The track list has been reordered to follow the chronological progress of the underlying recording sessions, with the six unreleased arrangements by Benny Carter kicking off the set. All six were re-recorded with new Billy Byers arrangements for the released albums, giving listeners a rare opportunity to hear how an arrangement affects a vocalist’s choices, and how the vocal and backing can form very different conversations on the same material. The sessions feature fine performances from a number of jazz luminaries, including J.J. Johnson, Zoot Sims, JoePass, Grady Tate, Bucky Pizzarelli, PeeWee Crayton and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, but the light shone most brightly on a resurgent Sarah Vaughan, whose run in the ’70s had led her to Pablo and a series of superb late-career releases. Vaughan’s performances are thoughtful and controlled, hanging emotion on every syllable. The musicians take their cues from Vaughan, adding tasteful accompaniment and fluid solos that echo her mood. This set is a great way to hear Vaughan at the height of her late-career powers, as well as a superb take on the Ellington catalog. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Ad Libs: The Complete Blue Cat Recordings

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Astonishing stereo re-masters and demos of Brill-era vocal group

Blue Cat was a subsidiary of the Red Bird label started in 1964 by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The parent label cashed in on the girl group craze with the Dixie Cups and Shangri-Las, but Blue Cat also cracked the Top 10 with the label’s second single, “The Boy from New York City.” Written by saxophonist John T. Taylor, the song had a jazzy swing that gave the then-recently rechristened Ad Libs a distinct sound. The New Jersey quintet featured Mary Ann Thomas singing lead and a smooth male quartet providing backing vocals. A second single, “He Ain’t No Angel,” was penned by Red Bird’s house team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (and previously waxed by the Lovejoys for Tiger), but label turmoil stalled the single on the bottom rungs of the Top 100. Two more singles, “On the Corner” and “I’m Just a Down Home Girl,” fared even worse and led to the group’s departure from Blue Cat.

Judging solely by the charts, the Ad Libs were a four-single, one-hit wonder; but as this twenty-three track collection shows, there was a lot more to their catalog than found broad public acclaim. In addition to the group’s four A’s and B’s, Real Gone’s gathered a clutch of unreleased tracks, alternate versions and a cappella demos that give full testimony to the group’s vocal talent and their production team’s ability to craft memorable melodic and instrumental hooks. The B-sides are anything but throwaways, with “Kicked Around” sporting an incredible jazz bass line, sly organ bed and maddeningly memorable triangle figure behind Thomas’ thirsty flower vocal. “Ask Anybody” is a dance tune touched by doo-wop, blues and gospel, and the male leads on “Oo-Wee Oh Me Oh My” and “Johnny My Boy” show the group had more than one vocalist capable of holding the spotlight.

The finished track “The Slime” went unreleased, and, sadly, was deprived of the opportunity to ignite a worldwide dance craze based on melting like butter down in the gutter. The set’s other unreleased master, “You’ll Always Be in Style,” adds a touch of Latin soul. The set’s most arresting find, however, are seven mono a cappella demos that starkly highlight the group’s melding of doo-wop and vocal jazz. In addition to demos of singles sides (including a take on “The Boy from New York City” that shows the hit single’s more relaxed tempo to have been the right choice), four additional titles are featured, including the holiday-themed “Santa’s on His Way.” The five alternate takes include a version of “The Boy from New York City” with a distractingly present trumpet riff, and the disc is filled out with seven tracking sessions that provide a rare peak inside the studio.

Reissue producer Ron Furmanek has re-mastered many of these tracks (1-4, 6-9, 18-30) in stereo from the original 3- and 4-track master session tapes. At times, particularly on the singles, the separation and clarity of the vocals and instruments is disconcerting to ears trained by original mono singles heard through AM radio. That said, even with handclaps and backing vocals panned hard left and right, the soundstage still hangs together reasonably well, even when individual elements (such as the honking saxophone on “He Ain’t No Angel”) stand a bit forward. The tracking sessions are interesting, but fresh re-masters of the original mono singles would have been a more long-lasting treat. Real Gone’s four-panel slipcase includes a 12-page booklet with lengthy liner notes and an introduction by the Manhattan Transfer’s Tim Hauser. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett: Isn’t it Romantic

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

A fine sampling of romance-themed mid-70s sides

Tony Bennett has sustained his vocal artistry for more than sixty years. He’s gone in and out of commercial favor several times, but the singularity of his voice, musicality and taste have repeatedly lured new generations to his work. His vocal talent measures up to that of Sinatra, but his feel for blue jazz notes adds a unique touch to every recording. This set collects recordings from four mid-70s albums (Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, Life is Beautiful, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and Together Again), showcasing Bennett in duets with Bill Evans’ piano, as well as trio, quartet and orchestral settings. The songbook favors American classics from the pens of Rodgers & Hart, Mercer & Mancini, Cole Porter and others, all of which Bennett sings with inimitable ease and class. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett Home Page

Various Artists: Pan Am – Music From and Inspired by the Original Series

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Swinging collection of ‘60s jet-age pop marred by contemporary covers

The vintage picks on this fourteen-track set nicely conjure the ring-a-ding-ding jet-age culture of television’s Pan Am. Unfortunately, the inclusion of two contemporary cover versions reeks of marketing opportunism, and interrupts the vintage vibe of an otherwise finely programmed collection. Grace Potter and Nikki Jean’s fans may enjoy their renditions of, respectively, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” but the modernity of their vocal styles sticks out among the company they’re keeping here.

The set opens with the underappreciated Buddy Greco swinging “Around the World” as if he’s got Rat Pack-era Las Vegas on a string. He sports the energy of Louis Prima and the cool of a young Bobby Darin. Darin himself brings the program back on track with a terrific version of “Call Me Irresponsible.” The collection includes international space-age bachelor pad chestnuts “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Mais Que Nada,” and “Quando Quando Quando” and serves up several lesser-known, but no less superb items. Ella Fitzgerald scats brilliantly through Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Skies” and Peggy Lee opens “New York City Blues” as a smoky ballad before bursting into joyous celebration of all things Big Apple.

Shirley Horn provides a master class in jazz vocals with “The Best is Yet to Come,” a tune famously recorded by Sinatra and Basie in ‘64. Basie’s band adds its own notes of sophistication with the horn chart for Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and Brenda Lee’s “Break it to Me Gently” will break listeners’ hearts with its gut-wrenching vocal. Nikki Jean has the bad fortune to follow Lee’s tour de force, sounding cute, but inconsequential in comparison. The set ends with Dinah Washington’s superb “Destination Moon,” closing a fine set of jet-age artifacts from and inspired by the television show. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett: The Classic Christmas Album

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Forty years of Tony Bennett’s Christmas recordings

Seventeen of these eighteen tracks have been selected by the vocalist from his catalog of albums and compilation appearances on Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968), The Playground (1998), Our Favorite Things (2001), Christmas with Tony Bennett (2002) and A Swingin’ Christmas (2008). The album’s one previously unreleased title is a Marion Evans arrangement of the traditional “What Child is This.” Bennett appears in orchestral, big band and small combo settings, and though the original albums can still be found, this provides a nice sampling across forty years of his stylish takes on holiday standards. Bennett sings with a jazzy cool unparalleled by his peers or followers, and together with some hot charts (particularly those for the Basie band), he gives new life to these holiday chestnuts. The Bennett fanatic in your family may be expecting the monumental 73-CD Complete Collection under the tree, but the rest of the family will be satisfied by this warm collection of classics. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Tony Bennett: The Best of the Improv Recordings

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Sampling of a master vocalist’s indie sides from the mid-70s

At the turn from the ‘60s into the ‘70s, Tony Bennett – the vocalist’s vocalist – parted ways with his longtime label, Columbia. The parting dissolved their business contract, but also served as a declaration that having fruitfully co-existed with the commercial dominance of youth-oriented rock ‘n’ roll, he would not compromise his artistry by covering lightweight, contemporary pop tunes. He wasn’t alone, as Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Johnny Mathis and others were each having their arms twisted in the same direction. Bennett’s concert draw was increasing, and in his mid-40s, his voice offered a maturity and richness that may have been the best of his long and distinguished career. So rather than giving in to Columbia’s demands, and accepting other slights, he fled to MGM, and after failing to find success there, spent a few years without a recording contract.

His commercial fortunes wouldn’t be revived until his son Danny rebuilt his career in the 1980s, reuniting him with musical director Ralph Sharon, and, ironically, Columbia. But in the interim, Bennett founded his own label, Improv, and laid down some of the most artistically satisfying sides of his entire catalog. The label failed after only a few years (due to a lack of distribution, rather than a lack of quality goods), but without the major label bean counters breathing down his neck, Bennett was able to surround himself with the talents of Bill Evans, Charlie Byrd, Jimmy McPartland, Marian McPartland and others, and deeply explore jazz-inflections of the great American songbook. His five albums for Improv, along with a wealth of previously unreleased session tracks, were anthologized on the 2004 4-CD set, The Complete Improv Recordings; this single disc surveys many of the larger set’s highlights.

The selected tracks essay Bennett’s mastery in several different settings, including orchestral arrangements, duets with pianist Bill Evans, and a collection of Rodgers & Hart tunes recorded with a quartet led by cornetist Ruby Braff. The latter tracks show the jazziest edges of Bennett’s vocals as he dances atop John Guiffrida’s string bass and trades phrases with Braff and guitarist George Barnes. The duets are deeply thoughtful, as Bennett and Evans speak to each other through their music as much as to the listener, and the orchestral pieces have refined arrangements by Torrie Zito, including lovely bass and strings on “Reflections,” that winningly frame Bennett’s voice. Bennett vocalizes novel interpretations of several well-trod chestnuts, including “Blue Moon,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I Could Write a Book.”

The set ends with a pair of live tracks that includes a rousing take on Bennett’s trademark “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” From the thrill heard in Bennett’s voice, the enthusiastic playing of his all-star band and the crowd’s fevered response, you’d guess they were at the Fairmont atop Nob Hill, but in fact the recording was made at his record label partner’s Statler Hilton hotel in Buffalo, New York. It’s a thrilling end to a terrific set that gives listeners a taste of an artistic giant’s most independent statement of art. At just a little over twice the price for four-times the music, it’s hard not to recommend the full 4-CD set, but if a taste will satisfy you, this is a rich one. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett’s Home Page

The Anita Kerr Singers: All You Need is Love

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Soft-pop vocal arrangements of ‘60s hits

The Anita Kerr singers are among the most heard, and least known-by-name, vocal group in the history of recording. That’s because Kerr’s group was the go-to backing group (along with the Jordanaires) for hundreds of sessions during the Nashville Sound era of the early ‘60s. They appeared almost constantly on the charts backing top country hits by Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, Brenda Lee, pop records by Pat Boone, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton and many, many others. Alongside their choral work, the group recorded several albums for RCA, including the Grammy winning We Dig Mancini. In the mid-60s Kerr disbanded the Nashville edition of her group, convened a new edition in Los Angeles, and commenced recording for Warner Brothers. This is the group’s fourth, and last album for the label, and was originally issued in the flower-power year of 1967.

Kerr picked her material with an arranger’s ear for possibilities, finding new vocal interplay even in songs as originally complex as the Association’s “Never My Love.” The songs are drawn from pop, rock, folk, soul and easy listening, and Kerr’s arrangements and orchestrations always find something new, often with a vocal-jazz feel. She expands on the vocal work of the Mamas & Papas “No Salt on Her Tail” and turns the Bee Gees’ moody “Holiday” into something contemplative. Less successful are her transformations of the soul tunes, “A Natural Woman” and “How Can I Be Sure.” The album is more a period piece than the lasting art Kerr created with her hit background arrangements, but it remains a pleasant breeze that blew across the heavier rock and soul of the ‘60s. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Chet Baker: Sings – It Could Happen to You

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

West Coast vocal cool meets East Coast instrumental swing

Concord Records initiated a new pass through their Original Jazz Classics catalog in March of 2010, and they now add five more titles to the program. Each reissue features a new 24-bit remaster by Joe Tarantino, extensive liner notes, and bonus tracks. By the time of this initial 1958 session for Riverside, Baker had been complementing his trumpet playing with vocal turns for several years. This release expands upon the vocal talent shown in earlier Pacific Jazz sessions: the tone of his voice is still startlingly pure, but the intimacy of West Coast cool has become even more pronounced in his style. Baker’s vocal lines often mimic what he might play on the trumpet, but the mechanics of trumpet valves don’t impact his singing, giving the transitions a smoothness that separates his singing from his horn playing. The material selected for these sessions is drawn primarily from the great American songbook, but his then current quartet of Kenny Drew (piano), Philly Joe Jones/Dannie Richmond (drums), and George Morrow/Sam Jones (bass) are driven more by the rhythms than the melodies, particularly on the tracks featuring Jones. Baker seems more comfortable with the songs than those on this earlier vocal sets, swinging freely (though still quite coolly – compare his take on “You Make Me Feel So Young” with Sinatra’s 1956 version) and indulging his voice more naturally than before. The element of surprise that came with earlier vocal outings was dispelled by this point, but the quiet strength of his singing is still completely mesmerizing. Baker plays his horn only occasionally, scat singing a few solos and giving pianist Drew several of the instrumental leads. Drew is also exceptional as an accompaniest – adding flavor without ever overwhelming Baker’s vocals. Concord’s 2010 reissue of this set adds four bonus tracks, “While My Lady Sleeps,” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” both of which were on the original Original Jazz Classics CD reissue, and alternates of the album tracks “The More I See You” and “Everything Happens to Me.” The fold-out booklet includes full-panel reproductions of the original covers (front and back), Orrin Keepnews’ original album notes, and new liners by Doug Ramsey. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]