It was not my intention to write this review as a tribute to Larry Adler, but his death last month at the age of 87 has sadly turned this into an obituary as well. I had the good fortune to meet him just four years ago for a highly entertaining interview at his London flat, and he turned out to be both a wonderfully witty man and also extraordinarily knowledgeable. It was pretty awe-inspiring to be spending time (despite some awful coffee!) with a man who had made up a mixed tennis doubles with Garbo, Dali, and Chaplin. These 15 tracks were recorded so recently, one wonders if they are the final recorded legacy of this genius of the mouth organ - yes, mouth organ and not harmonica as he so earnestly insisted, so quite what he made of Decca's subtitle '15 Harmonica Classics' is anyone's guess. Adler was, with Tommy Reilly, a pioneer of the instrument, inspiring such comments as 'The Goddam thing sounds as if I wrote it for you' from his hero Gershwin about his Rhapsody in Blue, whilst eliciting works for the instrument from the likes of Vaughan Williams, Milhaud, and Villa-Lobos. He recorded over 200 discs from the era of 78 rpms to present-day CDs and performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall, and the ruins of Hitler's Reichkanzlerei to Milton Keynes.
As to the music itself, despite the evergreen Genevieve, which earned him life-long royalties and paid for his children's education, his rendition of Dinicu's Hora Staccato, adapted from the Kreisler arrangement, is unsurpassable and shows his wizardry of the instrument. His sensitivity in Massenet's Méditation from Thaïs, Debussy's Clair de Lune, the Adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and the cor anglais melody from Dvorak's New World Symphony is so stylish that one forgives the principle of even contemplating such arrangements, not the case with either Khachaturian's famous Sabre Dance or de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, however, which are thrillingly full-blooded. Alfvén's familiar Swedish Rhapsody is charming, Adler's own Screw's Blues (in duet with himself in the latter part) is sexy, while Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, with catchy pizzicato accompaniment by arranger Douglas Gamley's orchestra, is a foot-tapping number. What these works illustrate is Adler's wonderful versatility (tone colour and effects as well as supreme breath control) and self-belief in the most unlikely of instruments. The famous duo partnering Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue on a piano roll recording is included (Adler and the composer had once played it impromptu at a party, eliciting the remark by Gershwin quoted above), while the same composer's Summertime from Porgy and Bess (Adler's all-time favourite) ends the disc, and even the very last notes he plays are different to anything else on the recording.
He'll be playing his harm --- whoops sorry Larry!, mouth organ in the sky with Gershwin now, and you can bet it'll be either Rhapsody in Blue or Summertime. Either that or he'll be downing another scotch with Al Capone or Bugsy Siegel, before playing another set with those three famous tennis partners.