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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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Mel Tormé

Four Classic Albums


[78:16 + 80:46]




CD 1

Mel Tormé & The Marty Paich Dek-tette

1. Lulu’s Back in Town

2. When the Sun Comes Out

3. I Love To Watch the Moonlight

4. Fascinating Rhythm

5. The Blues

6. The Carioca

7. The Lady Is A Tramp

8. I Like To Recognise The Tune

9. Keepin’ Myself For You

10. Lullaby of Birdland

11. When April Comes Again

12. Sing For Your Supper

Recorded Hollywood, January 1956

Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley

13. Too Close ForComfort

14. Once in Love With Amy

15. A Sleepin’ Bee

16. On the Street Where You Live

17. All I Need is The Girl

18. Just in Time

19. Hello Young Lovers

20. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

21. The Old Devil Moon

22. Whatever Lola Wants

23. Too darn Hot

24. Lonely Town

Recorded Los Angeles, January-February 1960


Tormé-Volume 1

1. That Old Feeling

2. Gloomy Sunday

3. Body and Soul

4. Nobody’s Heart

5. I Should Care

6. The House is Haunted

7. Blues in the Night

8. I Don’t Want To Cry Anymore

9. Where Can I Go Without You

10. How Did She Look

11. ’Round Midnight

12. I’m Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life

Recorded Hollywood, June 1958

I Dig the Duke, I Dig the Count

13. I’m Gonna go Fishin’

14. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

15. I Like the Sunrise

16. Take The “A” Train

17. Reminiscing in Tempo

18. Just A Sittin’ And A Rockin’

19. Down for Double

20. I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town

21. Blue and Sentimental

22. Oh What A Night For Love

23. Sent for You Yesterday (And Here You Come Today)

24. In The Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)

Recorded Los Angeles, December 1960-January 1961

It is tempting to call Mel Tormé the perfect jazz vocalist – at least on the male side of the art. He has an utterly smooth voice (once famously compared to velvet), perfect intonation coupled with vocal agility, and an unfailing sense of swing. He was a consummate musician, being an accomplished arranger and a very decent pianist and dummer. While still in his teens he worked – as vocalist, drummer and arranger – in a band led by Chico Marx (!). But it is also tempting, I find, to think of him as too perfect. He lacks the kind of imperfection, the vulnerability, out of which a really great vocalist such as Billie Holiday creates her art, and perhaps because of this lack of the grit in the oyster, he can sometimes seem emotionally uninvolving. It is no accident that so many of his best recordings (such as these four albums) were made in the company of top musicians of the West Coast ‘cool’ school of jazz. Further, his perfection – the absolutely polish of every performance – can lead to a uniformity of effect. Certainly, I found that in my initial attempt to listen to the whole of this 2-CD set straight through my attention often began to wander.

But enough of the caveats. If you haven’t any Tormé in your collection, snap up this set of reissues from Avid. At least three of these four albums (my only slight doubt is about Tormé Volume 1) would probably be included in most admirers top half-dozen Tormé recordings.

Mel Tormé & The Marty Paiche Dek-tette is surely one of the singer’s very finest recordings. It benefits greatly from the superb arrangements by Marty Paich for a band including such figures as saxophonists Bob Cooper, Bud Shank and Jack Montrose, trumpeter Don Fagerquist and trombonist Bob Enevoldsen; the presence of Albert Pollan’s tuba and (particularly) Vincent DeRosa’s French horn allows Paich to create some lovely, distinctive colours. Paich, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Mel Lewis ensure a surefooted swing in the rhythm section. Tormé himself is in fine, energetic form, floating over the rhythms with his impeccable sense of swing. There is some striking scat singing on ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, some gorgeous ballad work on ‘When the Sun Comes Out’, and a well-constructed account of the rhumba rhythms of ‘The Carioca’. In truth, every single track on the album has its pleasures and rewards to offer.

Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley is a match for and perhaps even superior to Mel Tormé & The Marty Paiche Dek-tette. Again, the arrangements are by Paich, and again they are imaginative, well-made but with enough space for personal expression by instrumentalist and singer alike. Shubert Alley, a narrow pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of the Broadway theatre district, was often used, by way of synecdoche, to represent Broadway; this then is an album on which Tormé sings a number of songs from Broadway musicals, ranging (chronologically) from 1943 – ‘The Surrey With The Fringe on Top’ (from Oklahoma) to 1959 – ‘All I Need Is The Girl (from Gypsy). But please note the verb “Swings” in the album’s title: these are often quire radical reinterpretations. Lyrics get changed in places, e.g on ‘Whatever Lola Wants’); tempi are altered – so that ‘Hello Young Lovers’ is given a considerable increase in speed; sometimes Tormé’s melodic improvisations leave the original tune some way behind (as on ‘All I Need Is The Girl’). The results are exciting and individual. Stand-out tracks include ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Hello Young Lovers’, ‘Just in Time’ and ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’. In his original sleeve-note Lawrence D. Stewart includes a quotation from Marty Paich: “Most singers want to finish singing, and then have the band come in for a bar and a half – and then they’re on again. But Mel’s always saying ‘Let the band play, let the band play.’ Its quite unselfish from his standpoint and it doesn’t overload the album. It makes for good listening”. It certainly does! There is relatively little space for soloists here, even so, but there are plenty of beautiful textures created by Paich, in an orchestra involving, at various times, Bill Perkins, Art Pepper, Red Callender (on tuba) and Frank Rosolino. A delight from beginning to end (except that on my review copy, track 13, ‘Once in Love with Amy’ played correctly on only one of three CD players I tried. It is only fair to report that on the copy a friend had bought there was no problem).

Tormé (the original title,without the addition of ‘Volume 1) was the singer’s first album for Verve. Once again, Tormé is joined by a band led and arranged by Marty Paiche – but the results don’t have, at least not consistently, the electricity which characterisesMel Tormé & The Marty Paich Dek-tette and Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley. There is a little too much that is rather languorous; so, for example, ‘Gloomy Sunday’ isn’t really much more than ‘gloomy’; nor does ‘Body and Soul’ do much to excite the listener. Rather too many of the songs chosen are, for my tastes at any rate, soaked in self-pity. There are too many moments when the performance seems to be striving too hard for a weight of emotion that isn’t achieved. The presence of a string section is more intrusive than helpful. Elsewhere, however, there is more of the ‘lightness of swing’ one expects from the combination of Tormé and Paich. ‘Blues in the Night’, by far the longest track on the album, is something of a tour de force. This song by Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer doesn’t so much require a blues singer as a singer who can sing about the blues convincingly. Here Paich’s arrangement, with its use of the tuba (the player is not identified by Avid but, according to other sources was John Kitzmuller) is constantly inventive and shifting in texture and the singer’s work is entirely free of the lassitude that prevails elsewhere on Tormé; the whole track, in both its subtlety and its power, ‘justifies’ the rest of the album, with Tormé singing very ‘dramatically’. This and ‘Round Midnight’ will, I suspect, be the only tracks from Tormé to which I will return with any regularity.

The last album in this reissued set – here called I Dig the Duke, I Dig the Count, but which has sometimes also been issued as The Ellington & Basie Songbooks – is altogether more satisfying and exciting. The arrangements, this time, are by Johnny Mandel and, if not quite as distinctive as those by Maty Paich, they are well situated to the occasion. Without slavish pedantry, Mandel respects the originals (the first six written by Ellington and/or Strayhorn, the second six by Basie or his associates) in crafting arrangements which truly swing, and which are inviting for all participants. Apart from Tormé’s own excellent contribution – one can hear his love of this material – there are solo spots for such as tenorist Teddy Edwards (referred to, presumably for contractual reasons, as Ed Theodore in Leonard Feather’s original sleeve-notes!), notably on ‘Down for Double’; altoist Joe Maini, strangely referred to as Joe Maine, on ‘Sent For You Yesterday’, where Tormé interacts delightfully with the saxophonist; trumpeter Jack Sheldon and trombonist Frank Rosolino on ‘Take the A Train’. Tormé is at his best and jazziest (he can sometimes sound like merely a very good popular singer) throughout, sounding thoroughly involved. These twelve tracks are a fine way to end a valuable reissue.

Glyn Pursglove


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