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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

June Christy
Gone for the Day & Fair and Warmer
Capitol Jazz CDP 7243 4 95448 2 6 Vocals, Jazz

june christy

June Christy is a tough one. There's something about her voice in combination with the smart songs and experimental arrangements that rarely fails to satisfy. Some people find her over-stylized, flat, a poor man's Anita O'Day (whom she replaced as vocalist in the Stan Kenton Orchestra) or just plain sour. We can understand the criticism but we don't agree. When all the elements were right, she was one of the best.

Although not exactly part of the West Coast Jazz sound, her recordings evoke for us a glamorous yet melancholy portrait of 1950s Los Angeles. Most obvious in her seminal hit Something Cool, but apparent throughout her stint at Capitol Records, are images of a woman with slightly too-short bangs in a strapless floral summer dress driving her large Pontiac down Hollywood Blvd. to a dark bar. Even on the uptempo numbers, the quality of her voice suggests a despondent woman trying to convince herself as much as the object of her affection that things are rosy.

It's quite possible we're reading too much into June Christy, and even if this is the case, enjoying her as just a singer is easily done. We're not alone in thinking her best years were at Capitol with fellow Stan Kenton-alumnus Pete Rugolo as her arranger. Downplaying the piano and using complicated but never fussy arrangements, the sound is the perfect example of ‘50s modern.

The recent re-issue of her two albums Gone for the Day and Fair and Warmer are more than welcome. Gone for the Day is an ode to a weekend in the country with songs like Lazy Afternoon, Give Me the Simple Life and It's So Peaceful in the Country.  The tracks are taken mostly at a slow pace. More typical and more pleasing is the album Fair and Warmer. There's no theme and the tempos are more balanced. We like Christy singing slow ballads, but we go nuts for the peppy arrangements, especially on songs that are traditionally sung at a slower tempo, like I've Never Been in Love Before. Both albums are clever mixes of standards and more obscure songs like Ethel Merman's The Best Thing for You from Call Me Madam.

As much as we love the June Christy sound and plan to greedily consume any new releases that come our way, we also must add that in general, one June Christy album at a time is usually enough. She's rather intense and unique and 45 minutes at a time is just about right.

 

marti5

 

Other albums of interest:

June Christy
Something Cool
Capitol Jazz CDP 7 96329 2

This is arguably her best album, here re-issued with her Capitol singles and a few rarities. The song Something Cool will never be sung better. And in addition to being a dramatic tour de force, it should be the anthem for the Cocktail Nation.

 

June Christy
The Misty Miss Christy
Capitol Jazz CDP 7 98452 2

Personally this is our favorite album. In particular we love the subtle swinging arrangements like A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening and Sing Something Simple.

June Christy
June Christy and the Stan Kenton Orchestra
Collector's Choice Music S21-18053

On this collection of singles from her association with Stan Kenton, both Christy and Kenton sound surprisingly playful and optimistic. Christy is still under the influence of Anita O'Day but it's interesting to see her develop as a stylist. Kenton thankfully tones down his tendency to make "important" music.

 

  Danzon hall in Mexico

Rotterdam Conservatory Charanga Orchestra
Cuba: The Charanga
Nimbus NI5528 Cuba

Orquesta la Moderna Tradición
Danzonemos
Candela 42849302 Cuba

Are you ready for today's lesson? Once upon a time there was a European dance called the contradanza. Brought to Cuba, it became a much more boisterous danzon. Often, towards the end of a danzon, there would be a break in the beat and the dance would go from being an odd mixture of  ragtime and tango (not literally, just the feeling) to what we now consider the mambo. That is except in Mexico, where it was imported to become a national favorite, without the freeform ending. The orchestra configuration was referred to as a charanga orchestra. The most distinct aspects were the presence of strings, and often the flute was a featured soloist. The danzon is not to be confused with the style called charanga, also played by a charanga orchestra. Of course there's also the pachanga, derived from the charanga, but let's not go into that.

The very fine book, The Rough Guide: World Music, defines the danzon as "one of the most European styles of traditional Cuban music." That's not half the story. It starts out very grand and most of the time ends up with a wild abondon. We love the long anticipation before getting to the hot mambo section, much like eating a Tootsie Pop. Whatever you call it, it's been neglected stateside, and along with the completely unrelated boogaloo, it's possibly the last great movement in Cuban music to discover.

Who would have thought that such an exciting interpretation of the danzon would come from Holland? Cuba: The Charanga is very traditional but never boring. We love the recording quality; it sounds as airy and open as if it were recorded in a danzon hall and it gives the percussion a slight echo. It also gives the almost classical music arrangements a more casual feel. Most of the tracks are winners with the stomping percussion, cascading grand piano and pulsing strings. Normally we find the flute as irritating as a gnat, but here it works perfectly.

Orquesta la Moderna Tradición also plays a traditional danzon but it's a much jazzier and innovative version. Following the music takes a slight bit of concentration but the variety will be more appealing to some. Compared to the Rotterdam orchestra, it's not as grand, but it's awfully good.

Rotterdam Conservatory Charanga Orchestra:
marti5

Orquesta la Moderna Tradición:
marti4 

See also our review of the soundtrack recording to the Mexican film Danzon.

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