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Music Reviews

Monica Mancini
The Dreams of Johnny Mercer
Concord Jazz CCD 4937-2

Reviewed by Peter Wagenaar

Monica Mancini's debut album, released in 1998, was a tribute to her father, composer Henry Mancini. Until then I had been unaware of her existence and I feared the worst: a sentimental indulgence by a non-singer whose name and connections would have ensured her the money and the opportunity to record, with a full orchestra no less, a vanity album disguised as an "homage".

I was wrong! Mancini has a beautiful voice, warm and full, and a relaxed, unfussy approach to a song that respects the composer's melody and ensures that you really hear the lyrics. On her debut album she was supported by veteran Patrick Williams' stunning arrangements. These recalled the glory days of the late 1950s when full orchestras and innovative arranging were the order of the day but which, in the interim, seem to have gone the way of the vinyl record.

Monica Mancini

Mancini's second album is a tribute to lyricist (and occasional composer) Johnny Mercer, her father's sometime collaborator, several of whose works had been featured on the debut album. Patrick Williams arranged three of the new album's twelve numbers too, including the jewel in the crown, When October Goes, a spare, beautiful lyric about loss and remembrance. It's one of seven songs on the album with music by Barry Manilow and a very interesting history. These lyrics were previously unused works which Mercer's widow discovered after his death in 1976. She gave them to Manilow, who set them to music in the 1980s. The other six remain relatively obscure, but When October Goes became an instant standard, recorded by many singers since its first appearance in 1984, and Mancini's soaring, 5-minute plus version ranks among the very best.

The non-Manilow songs strike a good balance between the well-known Mercer standards and the more off-beat. The former include a gorgeous, once-through rendition of Skylark and a very unusual arrangement of Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, in which Mancini's sole "accompaniment" is a vocal chorus comprising herself and bass Alvin Chea. Among the more uncommon items are The Weekend of a Private Secretary, a novelty number very much associated with Mildred Bailey, which Mancini carries off with humour and panache, and Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight), with music by her dad, Henry. It's therefore ironic that this is the album's one misfire. Monica Mancini's forte is setting a lush romantic mood, and she completely misses the predatory urgency that this song calls for. Not that it's unpleasant to listen to; it's just that every time I hear it I find myself remembering Lena Horne's single-mindedly sexy, and for me definitive, version.

But for the rest, the album is pure joy. I'm not sure that I would call it "jazz", however, despite the fact that it says "Concord Jazz" on the packaging. Mancini's approach has more in common with that of, say, Jo Stafford than with Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday and I would be inclined to call her a classic pop singer rather than a jazz singer. But however you decide to label The Dreams of Johnny Mercer, it's a classy item and well-deserving of repeated listening. On an entirely personal note, I also love it for sentimental reasons. I first listened to the album last year on a visit to upstate New York shortly after it was released. It really was late October and the entire album, but especially When October Goes, remains indelibly associated in my memory with autumnal vistas, white wooden houses bedecked with Halloween paraphernalia - and the feeling of being on holiday.

Track Listing:
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive
Something Tells Me
Skylark
The Weekend of a Private Secretary
With My Lover Beside Me
When October Goes
On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe
When the Meadow was Bloomin'
Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)
Love is Where You Find It
At Last
Just Remember


 



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