The Mel Tormé Collection 1944-1985
Rhino R2 71589 Vocals
sound of Mel Tormé's voice is one of the most pleasant
things imaginable. Certain voices are a matter of taste:
June Christy (we like her), Dean Martin (that vibrato
really bugs us), Ethel Merman (Blow, Gabriel Blow!).
Other voices are universally pleasing (Ella, Frank and
Nat come to mind). Mel Tormé has such a swell voice
that he could have made a career just being a regular
crooner, but what makes him such a great talent is that
he continually has taken chances with melodies, rhythms
and harmony. The fact that he has been so inventive
is also probably why the general population doesn't
consider him in the same league as Ella, Frank and Nat.
don't fault Tony Bennett for his newfound celebrity
among MTV viewers and nouveau lounge lizards. He can
be very good but Tormé is exciting. A new generation
rediscovering great music can have some trouble putting
the whole story into perspective but this fancy box
set will help put Mel on top where he belongs.
are so many great tracks on this collection that it
can be overwhelming. Disc One covers mostly his work
with the Mel-Tones, a singing ensemble that included
Exotica guru Les Baxter. Tormé earned his nickname "The
Velvet Fog" during this period and it's clear why.
The recordings and arrangements sound a bit dated now
and 22 tracks seem like a lot but there's much to enjoy.
performances on Disc Two in comparison with the ones
preceding it are almost like the difference between
black & white and color films. We start out with
a live solo gig at Gene Normand's Crescendo nightclub
where Mel swings and banters freely. Both All This
and Heaven Too and Isn't It Romantic from
his Lp It's a Blue, Blue World are gorgeous.
In fact, this is our new favorite version of Isn't
it Romantic. The disc continues with the great tracks
from his Bethlehem records era. These works with the
piano-less Marty Paich "Dek-Tette" are really
what secured Tormé as one of the greats and the song
selection here is intelligent and well thought out.
Three continues with the same strong material from various
labels and moods. There's a great novelty number in
the English-language version of Ernesto Lecuona's Malagueña,
with orchestration by Billy May. The only track from
the really wild Mel Tormé Swings Schubert Alley
is Too Close for Comfort, which seems like a
slight considering how perfect and important this album
was. Still, the highlights are too numerous to mention.
Four poses some big problems. We like the beatnik version
of 42nd Street but the Esquivel-inspired take
on Vince Guaraldi's Cast Your Fate to the Wind
is a mess. What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life
is a definitive version but why even include the Tormé-penned
A Day in the Life of Bonnie and Clyde? His vocal
version of Comin' Home Baby with Ray Charles'
Raelettes is cute but the follow-up Right Now
sounds trite. True, the '70s and even the '80s proved
troublesome eras for classic vocalists but these selections
seem disjointed and at odds with his recorded output
at the time. Almost anything from his strong 1977 release
The London Sessions (Sandstone D2 33083-2) is
better than his duet with Barry Manilow's Big City
Blues. It's just not a good song and neither is
the inexplicable Theme From Arthur (The Best That
You Can Do), which has the added feature of sounding
as if it were recorded in a shoe box. Even more curious
is the lack of anything representing his later work
with George Shearing. This might have been due to licensing
restrictions.We've seen these fellows live and have
many of their platters. Their output is among the best
of both of their careers.
Four aside, we couldn't have hoped for a better tribute
to one of the finest singers anywhere. Our advice is
to buy the box, buy Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley
(Verve 821 581-2), buy anything by Mel and George Shearing
on the Concord Jazz label and then continue filling
in the gaps as you go. We must also mention how good
the accompanying 62-page booklet is. Author Will Freidwald
(Jazz Singing) has cleverly and concisely summed
up Tormé's career and music in his usual witty way.
We read the Tormé autobiography It Wasn't All Velvet
and while it was somewhat interesting, reading about
his gun, motorcycle and wife collecting wasn't as good
as reading about his music.
review appeared Summer 1996
beautiful" describes these haunting CDs. Evora
is from Cape Verde, which the tourist books advise is
only interesting if you're keen on seeing how Africans
deal with relentless drought, but the secret to these
islands is the Portuguese/African mix that sounds so
familiar thanks to Brasil and so new thanks to Cape
Verde. Don't leave your music dealer without a copy
of at least one of the above.
Exotica I & II
Scamp SCP 9712-2
with even a passing interest in the Exotica and Lounge
trends should purchase this perfect re-issue of Martin
Denny's seminal Exotica and Exotica Volume
II. The sound is great, the original cover art retained
and the additional liner notes are by Denny himself.
previously mentioned how much we preferred the complete
re-release of Afro-desia (Scamp SCP 9702-2)to
the Rhino compilation Exotica: The Best of Martin
Denny (Rhino R2 70774). Exotica I & II further
makes the case that the original music in the original
context makes more sense, at least most of the time.
combination of Denny's percussive piano and Arthur Lyman
on vibes is as key to the Exotica sound as George Shearing's
piano/vibes mix was to cocktail jazz. Augie Colon on
percussion (and bird calls!) provides the fire the same
way Armando Peraza did for Shearing.
temptation is to dismiss these Denny recordings as camp.
Yes, the bird calls and jungle noises are funny and
there might be a few musical clichés here and there
but the real reason the Denny legend has lasted for
so long is the music. Denny knew a good hook when he
heard it and his choice of songs (excluding Ebb Tide)
was more important than the camp.
The Wham of Sam
reasons we'd like to forget, we were once stuck just
outside of Seattle in a boring hotel room during a rainstorm.
Desperate for something to do and having limited capitol,
we made our way to the hotel's gift shop where the selection
of paperbacks was so meager that the only thing even
remotely readable was a Sammy Davis, Jr. autobiography.
If this sounds like your idea of hell, we understand.
As far as we were concerned, along with most of our
generation, Davis was the man who embraced Richard Nixon
on television, played second fiddle to Sinatra in the
Rat Pack and sang the retarded song The Candy Man.
this same trip to Seattle, we happened to call our mater,
Lady Luck as we like to call her, and casually mentined
the Davis book. Did she ever perk up! To her, he was
hip. Her generation saw Davis as a cool cat who went
where the action was. So much for perspective.
back, we now see Davis was pretty amazing in many ways.
We would never have hugged Nixon, but the "youthquake"
of the sixties promised much more than it delivered.
In a weird way, the Rat Pack was diverse ethnically
and everybody played second fiddle to Sinatra,
not just Davis. As for The Candy Man, there's
no real excuse but to discount Davis' talent on his
one big hit would be a shame.
had a tremndous voice that was abused by the I'll-Do-Anything-for-Approval
school of show business. Luckily, he made some great
recordings and here we have one of the best. The
Wham of Sam is a collection of dates with arranger
Marty Paich that will knock you out. While the arrangements
obviously are bound to sound like a Mel Tormé set (see
the Mel Tormé review above), Davis
has a distinct voice and a wild sense of rhythm. We've
played this CD over and over and it's so completely
musical that we'd have trouble picking a favorite track.
Ballads, Blues & Big Bands:
The Best of Nancy Wilson
Capitol CDP 7243 8 34886 2 9
Nancy Wilson burst on the scene in the 1960s, she was
part of a new generation of post- Big Band vocalists.
Singers like Diana Ross, Leslie Gore and Joanie Sommers
were certainly more in vogue but except for a brief
period in the early '70s, there's always been a place
for a good vocalist, no matter what the trend.
Wilson has a sexy voice and during the period covered
by this three-CD set, she made few bad records but there's
a sameness to the way she approaches each song that
starts to get boring. Dinah Washington, especially as
she matured, had the same problem. You could read from
the album cover the list of songs and figure out exactly
how she'd phrase each song. They both did their jobs
well but there weren't many surprises.
tracks here are all good but by the end of the first
disc we caught ourselves asking, "There are two
more to go?" We much prefer re-issues of complete
albums to compilations in general, but for Nancy Wilson,
we almost insist on it. Individually, albums like The
Swingin's Mutual (Capitol Jazz CDP 7 99190 2) or
her date with Cannonball Adderly (Capitol CDP 7 484552)
are great and recommended. This huge collection might
be overkill but that's not meaning to dismiss Wilson's
it came to Latin American music, we'd always pooh-poohed
mighty Mexico. Latin pop musicians and singers from
all over the Americas have always strived to break into
the massive Mexican market and more often than not they've
produced a mediocre, not unpleasant, international sort
of pop music. On a more folkloric level, we've always
loved the mariachi bands but we've always found it a
bit frustrating because the stomping rhythms make us
want to dance but to what step? We appreciate the Norteño
and Tex-Mex bands but they really don't make our heart
flutter the same way a wild mambo does. We appreciated
Mexico's art, masks made from coconuts, novenas (candles
with different saints on them), beaches, cuisine (almost
obsessively) and language but to our shame we just skimmed
over the music.
Mexico's music to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brasil, Peru ,
Colombia or even Argentina isn't really fair. The history,
content and attitude are totally different. Much of
the music is about having a good time and yelping and
hooting are encouraged. It's without a trace of cynicism
and that can be off-putting to your average callous
romance started when talented musicologist and musician
Bro. Cleve came back from a tour of among other things,
the danzon halls of Mexico. The danzon is a fairly popular
Cuban ballroom dance that led to the mambo but in Mexico
it remains a dancehall favorite. Bro. Cleve was kind
enough to send us a tape of some of the best music and
on the flip side were recordings by the weird and wonderful
Astrid Hadad. Hadad sings traditional rancheras with
a traditional band and has a voice that knocks our socks
off. If Linda Ronstadt (who has a fine voice) weren't
so conscious of every note that came out of her mouth
and came equipped with a sense of humour, she just might
come close to the magic of Astrid Hadad.
really great news is that the best of Hadad is now available
domestically on ¡Ay! (Rounder Records
CD 5065). Much as Fellini and Rota created a fantasy
that became our idealized version of Italy, Astrid Hadad
creates the carefree, drunken, painful version of Mexico
we search for but don't quite seem to find.
opening number, Los Tarzanes, never fails to
receive an hysterical reaction when we play it for our
guests. It has it all: humour, big soaring notes, a
rowdy backup band encouraging Hadad on and a great beat.
Much of the rest of the album follows this lead and
we have to say it's one of the few discs we've purchased
in the last few years that we've played incessantly,
almost to the point of being sick of it. Most of the
songs are new to our ignorant ears but the proprietor
of our favorite Mexican restaurant in San Francisco
merrily sang along to most all of the numbers when we
gave her a copy. The one tune we were familiar with
is Por un Amor, thanks to La Ronstadt, but there's
no contesting who does the better version.
about the possibilities of Mexican music, we thought
we'd try to find some decent mariachi music on disc.
This proved to be a bit more difficult. Many of the
recordings are from third and fourth generation masters
and the sound quality is abysmal. The Mariachi Vargas
is the most renowned of mariachi bands but we couldn't
find any superior contemporary albums. We did find some
pretty rotten things by bands that made use of the electric
bass or even drums and we started to get frustrated
with our search.
because the album art looked nice, we gambled on Mariachi
Cobre's Este Es Mi Mariachi(Kukuck/Celestial
Harmonies 11105-2) and we were rewarded with a great
hour of everything that makes mariachi great. The opener,
La Madrugada, isn't anything special but the
title that follows, Las Tres Huastecas, is a
real flag-waver of a number. It has a strong melody
and an intricate string arrangement that builds to a
mighty breathtaking crescendo. Most of the numbers are
at least strong and many are memorable. All of the vocalists
have those soaring caballero voices that make the weak
melt. In fact, aside from the top-notch musicianship,
the highlight of these recordings is the male voice.
For such a macho culture, it's fascinating that they
hit those sissy falsetto yodels whenever they can. In
lesser hands this could be a disaster, but vocal discipline
is a key aspect of Mariachi Cobre. A quasi-operatic
version of the classic Estrellita (Esquivel fans
take note) is what makes us melt.
lucky, we tried Mariachi Cobre's most recent release,
XXV Aniversario (Black Sun 15022-2). It's
fine but the blood never boils the way it does on Este
Es Mi Mariachi. Not to be discouraged, we got a
hold of Mariachi Cobre (Kuckuck/Celestial
Harmonies 11095-2) from 1992. Pay dirt! The intricate
strings were back with El Balajú, the passion
was in an instrumental version of Guadalajara and
the singing on El Pastor with the falsetto climbing
higher and higher makes us weak in the knees.
three albums have the occasional klunker where folk
music meets Mexi-pop but it's really too rare to worry
humbled by the music and our previous attitude towards
Mexican music we persisted and dug into the archives
to find traditional favorites. As you can tell, we tend
to get a bit obsessive when we discover something we
like. RCA has released a series of ranchera greats on
their budget line and you'd be safe to buy most any
of them. Particularly important is Lucha Reyes' 12
Exitos Rancheros (RCA 743213114026). Astrid
Hadad cites Reyes as an influence and her dramatic over-the-top
readings are great. She strikes us as the Edith Piaf
of Mexico. Also good is the Jorge Negrete collection,
also titled 12 Exitos Rancheros (RCA 743213113821).
Many of Negrete's songs are classics, like Hijo del
Pueblo and Adiós Pampa Mia, but this collection
doesn't include our favorite, Los Altos de Jalisco.
huge mistake is to buy titles on the Orfeon label. It's
tempting because they are moderately priced and feature
great names but almost all of the ones we purchased
are vintage recordings of vocals with new orchestrations,
not particularly well done. The original recordings
are iffy at best and seem at odds with the rest of the