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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Val Wiseman with Martin Litton’s Ellingtonians

Sophisticated lady

LAKE LACD 263 [63:02]



In A Mellotone
All Too Soon
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
Sophisticated Lady
Me And You
If You Were In My Place (What Would You Do?)
Swampy River
Just A Lucky So And So
Just Squeeze Me (But Don’t Tease Me)
Mood Indigo
Hey Baby
Pitter Panther Patter
Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'
Prelude To A Kiss
Take The ‘A’ Train
Val Wiseman (vocals)
Martin Litton (piano, arrangements)
Trevor Whiting (reeds)
Julian Ferraretto (violin)
Murray Salmon (bass)
Rod Brown (drums)
rec. Theatre Royal, Workington, April 2008. 


The majority of titles on Val Wiseman’s latest disc are best known as Ellingtonian instrumentals – some of them indeed only acquired vocals after they’d first been recorded by his group. Words were sometimes added long after the song had seeped into the bloodstream of the band’s repertoire - though Alyn Shipton, who writes the booklet notes, hasn’t been able to locate a vocal arrangement of In A Mellotone.

The choice of material in any case offers known and less well-known songs. For every Sophisticated Lady you’ll find a Hey Baby, for Take The ‘A’ Train try If You Were In My Place (What Would You Do?) The balance is nicely weighted and listeners who might predict another run through of canonic Ellington material should be aware of the unlooked for trinkets that they would otherwise miss.

So a few thoughts then. In A Mellotone sports some fine Ray Nance style violin from Julian Ferraretto and a good ensemble between the violin and Trevor Whiting’s saxophone. Val Wiseman has long since developed into one of our most versatile and accomplished singers whose frames of reference are never predictable though always based on the finest selections from the multi-volumes of American popular song. Her choice of All Too Soon shows how discriminating she is in this respect and this is an aspect of the disc that enhances its interest. Martin Litton has written the arrangements and as admirers of this investigative and swinging pianist will know that means quality. I assume he and Whiting devised a strategy of overdubbing because though it’s not otherwise mentioned in the notes some discreet work has been done to allow a fatter and more terraced saxophone sound.

A highlight was Me and You in which the front liners trade choruses and the springy propulsive rhythm ensures a fine mattress for them and for Wiseman’s warm, wittily phrased vocals. Litton shows us his – and Ellington’s – ragtime and stride corpuscles on Swampy River – plenty of rubati and teasing rhythms here whereas other members of the band are evoked elsewhere – Hodges on Sophisticated Lady for example or Ben Webster on the mobile, blues-drenched Just A Lucky So And So. Mood Indigo is unusually intimate and Whiting sounds well on the clarinet here. Throughout in fact the instrumental passages are well varied to avoid this becoming another vocal-and-tenor workout. The violin certainly adds colour in its Nance-Stuff Smith way.

The idiomatic ease of Take The ‘A’ Train – with Wiseman scatting in emulation of Ella – ends a carefully worked out and arranged selection of material, interpreted by a superior stylist still far too under-appreciated.

Jonathan Woolf

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