I go along with the observation of Larry Adler made
last year by Sting, ‘he was one of the youngest old men I’ve ever met’,
for I came to the same conclusion when I met and interviewed him in
April 1997, four years before his death, for my forthcoming history
of the music agency Ibbs and Tillett, on whose books he was an artist.
And a consummate artist he was too.
This is the first volume of recordings made by Larry
Adler covering the early years (ages 20 to 33) 1934-1947, although there
is a gap between 1937 and 1945 when he was much on the road. He was
one of the first and finest crossover artists as these 18 tracks will
testify, Rags to Ravel, Debussy to De Falla, Kern to Kreisler, all played
with total artistry. He associated with and was respected by the greatest
musicians such as Gershwin, Goodman and Stokowski. His playing is both
full of witty touches, none more so than in the Caprice viennois,
and by full-frontal virtuosity such as the Ritual Fire Dance
which follows it on this excellent CD. He stretches the harmonica (he
loathed uncompromisingly the phrase ‘mouth organ’) to its limits, revealing
a huge variety of tonal colour, almost pianistic virtuosity, and subtlety
of phrasing hitherto dismissed as beyond the scope of this ‘trivial’
instrument. The degree of tension he builds in Ravel’s Bolero
is as much as it gets in its full orchestral version, while Night
and Day and Smoke gets in your eyes will have you singing
along as if it was a vocal number. Tiger Rag is amazing in its
rhythmic vitality, Solitude will have you spotting all the many
quotes hidden within, while Caravan is full of exotic atmosphere
despite the absence of the Duke. There’s an extraordinary moment near
the end of the track, quite indescribable in terms of how Adler could
make the harmonica sound, even more so in the solo Malagueña.
He always seemed at ease in this fiery folk music, yet his Londonderry
Air is sublimely and uncomplicatedly sentimental, even when he then
proceeds to ‘swing’ almost irreverently.
The early tracks (the first dozen recorded in London)
are accompanied by Carroll Gibbons, some of the other later ones are
anonymous until the last three which are with Georgie Stoll’s orchestra.
Transfers by David Lennick are excellent and one looks forward to further
releases in due course. Inevitably included (and thankfully so) are
the numbers by Dinicu and Enesco (Hora staccato and Romanian
Rhapsody) which became his trademark. Well actually that’s not quite
true for presumably there’s that theme tune from the film Genevieve
yet to come when we get into the 1950s. Being a total fan, I can’t wait
for the next volumes.