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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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THE FOUR FRESHMEN

It's a Blue World -
Their 30 Finest 1951-1960

NIMBUS RETROSPECTIVE RTR4219

 

 


  1. It’s a Blue World* [2:54]
  2. Tuxedo Junction* [3:02]
  3. Poinciana* [3:00]
  4. It happened once before** [2:27]
  5. Crazy Bones** [2:03]
  6. Mood Indigo** [2:40]
  7. We’ll be together again** [3:07]
  8. Street of Dreams** [1:53]
  9. Day by Day** [1:56]
  10. Angel Eyes** [3:30]
  11. Love is just around the Corner [1:59]
  12. Speak Low** [3:02]
  13. Somebody Loves Me** [2:04]
  14. You Stepped out of a Dream** [2:16]
  15. Guilty** [3:31]
  16. Charmaine** [2:15]
  17. Graduation Day^ [3:01]
  18. Easy Street^ [2:08]
  19. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye^ [2:38]
  20. After You’ve Gone^ [1:58]
  21. There Will Never Be Another You^ [2:25]
  22. Give me the Simple Life^ [1:58]
  23. The Very Thought of You^ [2:20]
  24. Liza^ [2:25]
  25. It Could Happen to You^ [3:23]
  26. Nancy with the Laughing Face^ [3:09]
  27. Candy^ [2:13]
  28. Get Your Kicks on Route 66^ [2:44]
  29. Their Hearts were full of Spring^ [2:41]
  30. Goodnight, Sweetheart^ [2:44]

The Four Freshmen (Bob Flanigan (lead tenor, trombone and double bass); Don Barbour (second tenor and guitar); Ross Barbour (baritone, drums and piano); Hal Kratsch (1951)*, Ken Errair (1951-56)** or Ken Albers (1956-60)^ (bass, trumpet and double-bass)

rec. 1951-1960. ADD [78:57]

 

If you needed proof how versatile an institution Nimbus is, it’s well illustrated by the two CDs from that label which arrived in the same post: this and a recording on the Nimbus Alliance label of Piano Quartets by Frank Bridge, Arnold Bax, William Walton and a young composer, Ian Wilson, performed by a young Irish group, the Cappa Ensemble, thereby doing more than their share to support the cause of British music and young musicians on the one hand and to bring us refurbished music from the past on the other.

Back in the day when The Gramophone magazine still possessed its definite article and cost 1/6 (8p), The Four Freshmen’s records received regular airings and won praise not just for the quality of their vocals but for the instrumentalists who appeared with them. Five of the items here, for example, come from a Capitol LP – apparently their first to be released in the UK in 1956 entitled Four Freshmen and Five Trombones (LC6812) – which earned credit for the singing but also – indeed, mainly – for the quality of the arrangements, made principally by Pete Rugolo, and the trombones-plus-rhythm backing which matched and gave point to the singing. That LP cost £1.5.0½ (£1.25), the equivalent of at least £40 in today’s currency, so the CD under review, with three times the content, offers excellent value: £7 post free from MusicWeb – here.

That’s exceptionally good value when reissue albums from this period often contain much less than the 79 minutes on offer here. Of several CDs of The Four Freshmen currently available, I haven’t found any that rival this Nimbus reissue, though a couple come close. The Freshmen went on with different personnel well after 1960, with albums released well into the 21st century, with the release of Love Songs in 2012, but the decade represented here constituted their glory days.

The first nine tracks, dating from 1951 to 1955, are performed solely by the Freshmen themselves; the additional accompaniment to which I’ve already referred consists variously of Pete Rugolo, the arranger, with trombone quintet (tracks 10-15) or with orchestra (tracks 27 and 28), Dick Reynolds with trumpet quintet (tracks 18-22 and 30) or with orchestra (tracks 16, 17 and 25) and Jack Marshall and orchestra (track 26).

If you’re expecting nothing but unvaried close harmony, there is, of course, plenty of that, but that’s not all that there is. Try Mood indigo (track 6), for example; with Duke Ellington as one of its creators, there’s inevitably a great deal more than smoochy harmony, so it’s surprising to read in the booklet that it made hardly any impact in the charts.

I expected the least recommendable tracks to be those where it’s not easy to forget other interpreters who had or were about to make the music their own. Tuxedo Junction (track 2) will always be associated with Glenn Miller, but I enjoyed what the booklet describes as the Freshmen’s idiosyncratic interpretation. Surprisingly, there seem to be very few CDs available in the UK of the Glenn Miller original; perhaps now would be a good time for Nimbus to reinstate NI2001, which Ian Lace praised as an album not to miss – review. There’s a modern replacement on a Miller tribute album from the US Air Force Orchestra (Altissimo 75442260542), which can be downloaded from classicsonline.com.

Charmaine (track 16) was one of the glories of Mantovani’s smooth string arrangements and that’s the version lodged deep in my unconscious but here again the Freshmen make it sound very different, with Dick Reynolds and the orchestra sounding jazzy and quite unlike that silky Mantovani sound. There will never be another you (track 21), like its near-relative I know I’ll never find another you, often receives a melancholy, even doleful arrangement in the Jim Reeves manner, but here it responds well to a perky interpretation. What you won’t find here is the true sound of the blues. Despite the apparent promise of the title track, there’s nothing really intense here.

The advantage is that there’s probably more here to appeal to a wider potential audience. For the older generation there’s plenty of sentimental repertoire, such as Goodnight Sweetheart on the closing track (30), though it’s not performed in an over-sentimental manner, and for those looking for something livelier there’s music such as Crazy Bones (track 5), an even jazzier relative of the more familiar Dry Bones, and the perennial favourite Get your Kicks on Route 66 (track 28). Perhaps the most sentimental track here is Their Hearts were full of Spring (track 29) and even that isn’t too overdone. If you’re a fan of the Beach Boys – no, I’m no relation, despite my name – and need further encouragement to try this CD, I understand that they were admirers of The Freshmen; indeed, the influence is there to hear. Fans of Manhattan Transfer, too, have been known to fall for the appeal of The Freshmen.

Even the earliest tracks, from 1951, have come up sounding extremely well in these transfers by Alan Bunting. Nimbus are renowned for getting the best out of 78 and early LP material and they’ve done an excellent job here. I regularly listen to transfers of classical and light-classical recordings of this vintage from Beulah for my Download News reviews and I’m always very impressed with the way that Barry Coward coaxes the information out of the old grooves, but these Freshmen recordings have, if anything, come up even better. There’s not a trace of surface noise and no tape hiss is audible unless you listen on headphones at high volume, all achieved without any impairment of the musical sound. Some of the louder instrumentals, such as those on track 4 ( It happened once before), would have presented a challenge to the BSR turntables and arms that were common in 1950s players, but there’s not a trace of distortion here.

I’d been aware of the Freshmen as a teenager – yes, I am that ancient – without knowing much about them, so Ray Crick’s excellent booklet notes filled in the details admirably, including the important part played in their discovery and early recording career by Stan Kenton.

Those of a certain age will be the obvious target group for this CD – I’m thinking in particular of a group of elderly patients at my local hospital whom I visited weekly until recently – but potential younger listeners should give it a try, too. The price is attractive enough to encourage not just those of us past our sell-by date.

Brian Wilson

 

Another review of the same album by Tony Augarde

 



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