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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Louis Armstrong
I've Got the World on a String / Louis Under the Stars
Verve 314 559 831-2 Jazz / Vocals

We are hardly experts on the great Louis Armstrong. His voice is really appealing and his trumpet playing evokes cliches about the archangel Gabriel and the gates of heaven. We have lots of his early work and always check out his non-Hello Dolly-style later work. Of course his duets with Ella and Oscar Peterson should be in every collection. Now we think we'll add this fine 2-CD set to our Louis must-haves.

Both discs have sublime mid-1950s arrangements by Russ Garcia (Frances Faye, Margaret Whiting, Mel Torme, etc). The recording quality is so clear you can hear Louis blooble (our own word) his lips before playing a solo. With a few exceptions, the songs are all standards but with Louis' authoritative vocals and Garcia's fresh arrangements, the music is anything but stale.

For us, the highlight is the strangely moving Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen. Without a trace of irony, Louis sings the more traditional Nobody knows but Jesus instead of the more secular Nobody knows my sorrow. It's really sweet and when after he makes his declaration and solos, it's almost like a cry for understanding. He's accompanied by tasteful strings and the occasional strum of a guitar. You'd have to be a pretty cold fish not to be moved.

Liner notes are by historian Richard Sudhalter. He may know a lot about early jazz (he wrote Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz 1915-1945) but he doesn't know prune pudding about 1950s cocktail culture or even the chic of Louis' style in this period. Coincidentally, he toots his own trumpet on Alex Pangman's new CD, also reviewed in this issue of MrLucky.

Original Soundtrack Recording
Men with Guns
Rykodisc 10437 Soundtracks

Perhaps you're like us and don't make it to the movies much these days. It seems that by watching the advertisements on television, we've pretty much seen the highlights of the flicker. There are exceptions and for us, Men with Guns was one of them. Several years later, the haunting film still lingers. As does the music. We've kept this disc nearby since its release in 1998. Aside from evoking images from the film, it's a great primer on Latin American musical genres of all types. On its own, it's a cohesive program of really fine music, but it's also a smart starting point for those who have a new curiosity about Latin music and suspect that Ricky Martin is not the apex of this culture.

The CD is a collection of short original pieces that range from New Age-y segues to hot Salsa tidbits. They provide the framework for the longer pieces from other sources. Ramon Ropain's Mi Cumbia is a simple piano and drum cumbia that is so infectious, it might just send you to the Internet to find out what else he's done. Les Miserables Brass Band's El Dios Nunca Muerte had the same effect. (Don't bother, there's no mention of them anywhere!)

We recommend both the music and the film.

Teri Thornton
I'll Be Easy to Find
Verve 314547755-2 Vocals / Jazz

 

When Teri Thornton sings the first lines from Somewhere in the Night on her new album I'll Be Easy to Find, you might just breath a sigh of relief. Here's that classic sound you've been looking for. A great big boozy seen-it-all voice singing a strong song with a modern big band is quite a gift. Thornton's rubber band voice is a little over the top, but with the plethora of mediocre jazz-ettes doing their best to be as bland as milk, we welcome the vocal acrobatics.

The problem is Ms Thornton's sound is really intense and a little goes a long way. The fault lies partly with the length of contemporary CDs. We've said for awhile now that much more than 45 minutes is a long time to spend with anybody.

So listen in sessions, but listen. This is the way to sing jazz at the turn of the century.

Alex Pangman
They Say
Sensation Records 769748018-2 Vocals

The Alex Pangman Website

Even with albums we like quite a lot, we often find we play them once and then file them away for a rainy day. A few choice platters get to hang around the hi-fi for a few weeks and except for our Tom Waits and Keely Smith collections, no titles get to live permanently outside of their homes on the shelves. Well, They Say by Alex Pangman isn't getting filed away anytime soon. This swinging pre-Swing event just gets more enjoyable with each and every listening.

Without sounding the least bit condescending, Ms Pangman manages to turn the clocks back about 70 years and make it still sound fresh. She has an intense, sincere and familiar sound but it's not derivative and her generous breaks to allow the boys in the band to blow makes for a really fine outing.

The band is fine and dandy, too. Our complaint is that Jeff Healy's swinging guitar is recorded too low in the mix, as is John Ryan's strong piano. Steve Mellor's clarinet is recorded too loud and he has the habit of only playing "hot". We'd say he's the Ethel Merman of the group. And hats off to drummer Steve Torrico for his restraint and authentic period playing.

Pangman is enthusiastic, authentic, a little green and thoroughly engaging.


 



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5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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