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THE GREAT LARRY ADLER
Original recordings Vol. 1 (1934-1947)

The Continental
Smoke gets in your eyes
Rhapsody in Blue
Caprice Viennois
Ritual Fire Dance
Bolero
Night and Day - Tiger Rag
Caravan
Sophisticated Lady
Solitude
You hit the spot - The touch of your lips
I’ve got you under my skin
Beguine
Malagueña
Londonderry air
Hora staccato
Clair de lune
Romanian Rhapsody

NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120608 [62’ 32"]


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.

Christopher Fifield


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