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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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CARMEN McRAE

The Complete Ralph Burns Sessions
featuring Ben Webster

Phoenix 131553

 

 

1. Last Night When We Were Young
2. Midnight Sun
3. Yesterdays
4. Good Morning Heartache
5. Mr.Meadowlark
6. Skylark
7. Bye Bye Blackbird
8. Flamingo
9. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
10. When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano
11. His Eye is on the Sparrow
12. The Eagle and Me
13. When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along
14. Bob White
15. Baltimore Oriole
16. Chicken Today and Feathers Tomorrow
17. Speak Low
18. But Beautiful
19. If You'd Stay The Way I Dream About You
20. My Future Just Passed
21. We'll Be Together Again
22. I'm A Dreamer, Aren't We All?
23. Star Eyes
24. I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You

Carmen McRae - Vocals
Ralph Burns - Arranger, conductor (tracks 1-16)
Jack Pleis - Director (tracks 1-4, 17-24)
Joe Wilder - Trumpet (tracks 1-4, 17-24)
AI Klink - Tenor sax (tracks 1-4, 17-24)
Andy Ackers - Piano (tracks 1-4, 17-24)
Danny Perri - Guitar (tracks 1-4, 17-24)
Ralph Burns' orchestra (tracks 1-4)
Jack Pleis' Orchestra (tracks 17-24)
lrving "Marky" Markovitz - Trumpet (tracks 5-16)
Fred Kelin, Don Corrado, Dick Berg, Tony Miranda - French horns (tracks 5-10)
Ben Webster - Tenor sax (tracks 5-16)
Al Cohn - Tenor sax (tracks 11-16)
Don Abney - Piano (tracks 5-16)
Mundell Lowe - Guitar (tracks 5-13)
Barry Galbraith - Guitar (tracks 14-16)
Aaron Bell - Bass (tracks 5-13)
Ted Sommer - Drums (tracks 5-10)
Nick Stabulas - Drums (tracks 11-13)
Don Lamond - Drums (tracks 14-16)
Five voices led by Ray Charles (track 11)

 

This CD assembles various recordings that vocalist Carmen McRae recorded under the musical direction of Ralph Burns in 1955 and 1958 (although the last eight tracks seem to have been directed by Jack Pleis). The sleeve-notes class Carmen alongside the top three singers in the jazz world (Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan) and although I might not place her quite as high, McRae was undoubtedly one of the best jazz singers: clear in diction, using jazz phrasing as if it were second nature, delivering every song with conviction, and with a technique that could meet the severest challenge. Note, for instance, how long she holds the final note of Midnight Sun (a good 15 seconds) or how she reaches the high notes in Baltimore Oriole without any sense of strain.

Mention of Midnight Sun draws attention to the fact that this album contains four songs with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Midnight Sun is a marvellous example of his audacious way with words: rhyming "rich and ruby chalice" with "alabaster palace" and "aurora borealis".

On some tracks, the accompaniment includes a ten-piece string section, which tends to dilute the jazz content. Personally I prefer the tracks where Carmen is backed by a small jazz group. These include tracks 5 to 16, which all have birds as a theme, originally released on an album called Birds of a Feather. The front cover claims that these recordings feature tenorist Ben Webster but he is not on the first four tracks or the last eight, and he only appears briefly on some other tunes. Nevertheless his contributions are very effective when he is used. For example, when his smooth, mellow sound comes in on a song like Skylark, it raises the whole tone of the performance. He gets to play a whole glorious chorus on the swinging Bob White.

The arrangements are of the high standard one expects from Ralph Burns. He uses French horns to good effect on such tracks as Flamingo. The quality of the backings blends with Carmen's special vocal qualities to make an album worth obtaining.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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