Four Vocal LPRs: Ella, Blossom, Cole, Alexandria
"Waiter, Ask the Man To Play the Blues"
Add Freddie Cole to the list of musicians with better-known and more talented siblings. You might have heard of his brother Nat, who was both a top-notch jazz pianist and a talented pop singer, and Freddie Cole falls just a little bit short on both counts.
This is not to say that Freddie Cole isn't capable of turning in a fine performance, for this CD, originally released in 1964, is a good effort that captures some of the magic of his brother's earlier releases. While Nat was at the time focusing on his vocal efforts with the likes of Nelson Riddle and Billy May, Freddie was sticking with the format of Nat's earlier trio recordings, albeit with drums and tenor sax added. Freddie's singing is quite a bit like Nat's, with the same relaxed, debonair diction and the selection of blues and blues-based songs give him plenty of opportunities to deliver some fine vocal numbers.
Although there's a wide variety of blues permutations, one can't help but wish for fewer 12-bar blues and R&B tunes, on which the band rolls out the clichés. And tenor saxophonist Sam "The Man" Taylor has an irritating habit of soloing behind Cole when he should be quietly riffing. However, on other numbers he does a fairly good channeling of Ben Webster, and Barry Galbraith and Wally Richardson (the liner notes don't specify who is who) provide some understated moments on guitar.
"Waiter, Ask the Man To Play the Blues" conjures up an image of a bunch of forgotten souls in a smoky cocktail lounge, and that's exactly what Cole delivers here. Although "lonely ballads" is an odd choice of words for what is ultimately a pretty chipper album, Cole has crafted a nice collection of bluesy tunes that are reminiscent of his brother's best work.
Alexandria the Great
Lorez Alexandria's version of "Over the Rainbow" sneaks up on you. First off, she begins with the obscure intro, accompanied by quiet piano, before she launches into a drastic rhythmic and melodic reworking of the famous middle part of the tune. It's safe to say that for a tune that generally gets a pretty reverential treatment, this version, like the movie from which it comes, takes us into unexpected places.
It also makes a claim that in 1964 Alexandria was one of the great obscure singers, a classic might-have-been that never got the shot she deserved. Perhaps it was the fact that she recorded for Impulse!, not a label known for their vocal efforts, or that the singer stopped recording for almost a decade shortly after this release. But whatever the reason, it's good to have this one back.
Alexandria is featured in three different settings. The first features an orchestra that at the time might have been directed in the bold, brassy style of Riddle, but arranger Billy Marx takes an opaque, melancholy approach to "Show Me" and other tunes that gives the songs an added depth. The other two are standard piano trios with a few soloists here and there, and Alexandria turns in a confident version of "Satin Doll" and a beautiful "My One and Only Love". She has wonderful diction and a keen sense of rhythm that recalls the singers that are most certainly her idols without sounding derivative.
There's nothing quite like discovering a great album from an artist you never even knew existed, and although Alexandria recorded intermittently up until her death most won't know who she is. Although the album drags a little on the final three numbers, the rest of the album is a fine offering from a time when great vocal jazz like this was becoming hard to find.
Soubrette Sings Broadway Songs
Blossom Dearie's albums are pretty, lightweight affairs in which her slight, girlish vocals and tinkling piano are effectively paired with sparse backing. While she lacks the emotional heft of Sarah or Ella, her effervescent recordings have a certain innocent charm that many find appealing. At first, then, it seems like an intriguing proposition to strip all that away and put her in front of Russ Garcia's orchestra on a program of Broadway tunes.
Well, this 1960 album isn't exactly what we might expect. Instead of focusing on the showstopping numbers, Dearie delves into the light, comic pieces that break the dramatic tension in the musical. And Garcia, instead of fashioning grandiose arrangements, creates understated charts filled with piccolos and xylophones that sound inspired by the orchestra pit rather than the bandstand.
To be fair, this is an approach that works well for Dearie's style, one that could easily be overwhelmed by too boisterous a backing, and it's a kick hearing Dearie tackle sordid topics from killing your enemies to birth control with her youthful sounding voice. The main trouble is that these cornball songs aren't the greatest of tunes. One can certainly admire the unique concept, but the end result is simply a decent album and nothing more. It's only when the arrangement take a more jazzy direction, like on "The Gentleman Is A Dope" that the album hints at what could have been.
This is one of the last of the Verve Dearie albums to be released on CD, and it's no wonder this one languished in the vaults as long as it did, for it's a subpar effort from all involved. Most vocal albums from this time period end up being Broadway albums anyway, and Dearie's Comden and Green album is probably her best in this direction.
First off, Ella can sing anything. So the success of her albums, especially around 1957 when Hello Love was made, lies largely with the arrangements and the song selection and rarely has anything to do with her performance. For the former, we have Frank DeVol, who has contributed interesting and intelligent orchestrations for other Ella albums, proving himself to be an underrated arranger. For the latter, a record of slow ballads given the Ella treatment is a fine idea.
There's a typical sampling of great songs like "Tenderly," and "Moonlight In Vermont" which Ella adorns with her soft vibrato and sweet tone. There's a few lesser-known songs thrown in for good measure. The first two songs, "You Go To My Head" and "Willow Weep For Me" are simply beautiful, sweeping strings and rich, sensous vocals intertwining to create a heady listening experience. DeVol crafts pillowy strings atop a rustling rhythm section that suits the subdued mood and brings Ella's vocals to the forefront. Also, on occasion an uncredited tenor sax or trombone appears playing a gentlemanly solo.
This is typically fine work from an artist who rarely faltered, and thus the real issue isn't one of quality, but rather whether or not you want to listen to an album this mellow. In the not too distant future Ella would dive in to her songbook series, and sturdy records like this help set the standard.
Freddie Cole - Waiter, Ask the Man To Play the Blues
Tracks: 1. Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues 2. Black Night 3. Rain Is Such a Lonesome Sound 4. Bye Bye Baby 5. Just a Dream 6. Muddy Water Blues 7. Black Coffee 8. Joke Is On Me 9. I Wonder 10. This Life I'm Living 11. Blues Before Sunrise 12. I'm All Alone.
Personnel: Freddie Cole - piano, vocal; Sam "The Man" Taylor - tenor saxophone; Barry Galbraith or Wally Richardson - guitar; Milt Hinton - bass; Osie Johnson - drums.
Lorez Alexandria - Alexandria the Great
Tracks: 1. Show Me 2. I've Never Been In Love Before 3. Satin Doll 4. My One And Only Love 5. Over The Rainbow 6. Get Me To The Church On Time 7. The Best Is Yet To Come 8. I've Grown Accustomed To His Face 9. Give Me The Simple Life 10. I'm Through With Love.
Personnel: Lorez Alexandria - vocal; with orchestra and Bud Shank -flute; Victor Feldman - piano; Al McKibbon - bass; Jimmy Cobb - drums; Wynton Kelly - piano; Paul Horn - flute; Ray Crawford - guitar; Paul Chambers - bass.
Blossom Dearie - Soubrette Sings Broadway Song Hits
Tracks: 1. Guys and Dolls 2. Confession 3. Rhode Island Is Famous for You 4. To Keep My Love Alive 5. Too Good for the Average Man 6. Gentleman Is a Dope 7. Always True to You in My Fashion 8. Napoleon 9. Life Upon the Wicked Stage 10. Physician 11. Love Is the Reason 12. Buckle Down, Winsocki.
Personnel: Blossom Dearie - vocals, piano; with orchestra arranged and conducted by Russ Garcia.
Ella Fitzgerald - Hello Love
Tracks: 1. You Go To My Head 2. Willow Weep For Me 3. I'm Thru With Love 4. Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year 5. Everything Happens To Me 6. Lost In A Fog 7. I've Grown Accustomed To His Face 8. I'll Never Be The Same 9. So Rare 10. Tenderly 11. Stairway To The Stars 12. Moonlight In Vermont.
Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald - vocals; with orchestra arranged and conducted by Frank DeVol.