1994 Records To Die For Page 14

Sam Tellig

FRANK SINATRA: The Columbia Years, 1943-1952: The Complete Recordings
Frank Sinatra, The Voice; orchestras under the direction of Axel Stordhal, Percy Faith, Harry James, Mitch Miller, Xavier Cugat, Sy Oliver, Hugo Winterhalter, Morris Stoloff, George Siravo, Jeff Alexander, Mitchell Ayres; With: Phil Moore Four, Tony Mottola Trio, Page Cavanaugh Trio, Metronome All-Stars, Alvy West & the Little Band; Additional vocals by Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Dinah Shore, Mitch Miller Singers, Modernaires, Charioteers
Columbia CXK 48673 (12 CDs only). Joe Higgins, Morty Palitz, Mitchell Ayres, George Avakian, George Simon, prods.; Jerry Shulman, exec. prod.; Didier C. Deutsch, prod.; Mark Wilder, eng., digital mastering. AAD. TT: 14:35:06

Just one choice for me. This ultimate, definitive Columbia Sinatra set---or "Sinatra Crate," as some folks are calling it---consists of 12 CDs in a wooden chest, along with a 150-page hardcover book, and retails for $250. We're talking serious Sinatraphiles---or Frankophiles, with a "k." Of the 285 selections, 150 have appeared only on 78s, and 25 are previously unreleased.

At the start, in 1943, Frank is still Frankie. His voice has a timbre, a lightness that it would never recover. Later, of course, it was not "The Voice" but the style that made Sinatra such a phenomenon. Listen to those 1943 sessions with Frankie singing, acappella with chorus (there was a musicians' strike going on), "Close to You" and "People Will Say We're in Love." Listen to Frank's secure pitch, perfect enunciation, superb phrasing, and astonishing breath control (learned, of course, from a trombone player: Tommy Dorsey). There's so much here, including many songs Sinatra would do very differently later in his career. For instance, "The Coffee Song" (recorded for Columbia in 1946, for Reprise in 1960): You know it as "There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil."

The orchestras are under the direction of Axel Stordahl, Percy Faith, Harry James, and others. As the Columbia years go on, a certain sameness, a lack of freshness gradually creeps in and becomes oppressive. Almost all the selections are slow; you want Sinatra to swing. (Some of the best sessions are with Harry James, including "Castle Rock," with its inane lyrics.) In 1950, Mitch Miller took over as Columbia's director of A&R, and perhaps the combination of Mitch and Frank wasn't the best. (For the most bizarre track of the set, listen to "Feet of Clay," with Mitch Miller, on disc 12. There's only one thing worse---Sinatra singing "Woody Woodpecker" on Your Hit Parade 1948, a British bootleg: JR Records, JRR 148-2. Poor Frank has had to eat---or sing---crow more than once in his career.) Miller did want Sinatra to sing more up-tempo material, but nothing clicked the way it did for Sinatra at Capitol, where he worked with Nelson Riddle and Billy May. Not only that, Sinatra lost his voice for a time through sheer overwork, recording sessions, several radio programs a week, and at times several concerts a day.

The sound on this set is remarkable---processed through CEDAR and Sonic Solutions sound-restoration systems, and relying primarily on the original acetates. The technicians have succeeded admirably in removing noise without destroying the music. Kudos, too, for the hardbound book. I could do without the "appreciation" by the always precious Jonathan Schwartz, but the "Notes on the Sessions" by Will Friedwald is superb, providing a full history of Sinatra's Columbia career. There's a wealth of information. For instance, look in the booklets accompanying each of the CDs and you can see not only when each song was recorded, but if, when, and how high it rose on the Billboard charts.

One complaint: art direction for the booklet is not so hot---particularly the pages of hard-to-read reverse type over many of the photographs. All in all, though, a first-class job.


Michael Ullman

MODERN JAZZ QUARTET: Pyramid
Milt Jackson, vibraharp; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Connie Kay, drums
Atlantic 1325-2 (CD only). Nesuhi Ertegun, prod.; Tom Dowd, Earle Brown, Johnny Cue, engs. ADD. TT: 36:48

The highlight of this disc, recorded in late 1959 and early 1960, is "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)." The arrangement has Jackson playing the theme against Lewis's crisp countermelodies and Heath's and Kay's brisk rhythms. There's a tension here that's released as Jackson bursts out of the arrangement in a zestful solo. Behind him, Lewis plays repeated phrases that make a florid chorus seem both a virtuoso monologue and part of an intimate conversation. Lewis's own, sometimes unaccompanied solo sounds by turns dreamy, stomping, and nonchalant. The bandmembers' intimate communication here, their quickstep version of "Django," and the lengthy "Pyramid," are thrilling. "It Don't Mean a Thing" is incandescent, and the whole is clearly, precisely recorded.

OLIVER NELSON: Blues & the Abstract Truth
Oliver Nelson, saxes; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, alto sax, flute; George Barrow, baritone sax; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Roy Haynes, drums
MCA/Impulse MCAD-5659 (CD). Creed Taylor, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. ADD. TT: 36:45

In 1961, Oliver Nelson snuck in this all-star Impulse session amid a series of recordings made for Prestige. Beautifully recorded in stereo by Rudy Van Gelder, Blues & the Abstract Truth is a joy throughout. It introduced Nelson's jazz hit, "Stolen Moments," and offered some of the most poignant trumpet solos of Freddie Hubbard's career. There's also humor here, as in the barn-dancing "Hoedown," and the sound of Eric Dolphy bursting in on the groove of "Teenie's Blues" with typically wacky-sounding garrulity. It's worth hearing this album just to observe how the usually introspective Bill Evans responds to solos by Dolphy.

Kristen Weitz

LIZ PHAIR: Exile in Guyville
Matador OLE-051-2 (LP/CD). Brad Wood, Liz Phair, prods.; Brad Wood, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 55:48

From the first time I heard Exile..., I was hooked; nary a day has passed since that I haven't listened to it at least once. Phair's songs are at once groovy, funky, refreshingly simple, and hauntingly mesmerizing. To some, Phair's lyrics may be rude, obscene, and ridiculous. But many of those same lyrics describe some facts of life familiar to plenty of women---including me. This album is essential for everyone, but will be particularly enjoyed by those in the throes of a life crisis. (XVI-11)

JANE'S ADDICTION: Nothing's Shocking
Warner Bros. 25727-1 (LP), -2 (CD). Dave Jerden, Perry Farrell, prods.; Ronnie S. Champagne, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 51:28

Feeling like life is far too complicated, overwhelming, and intense? Need an escape? Let Perry Farrell and the boyz take you away on a loud, rapt, entrancing, cacophonous journey through insanity, abuse, rape, oppression, and co-dependent relationships---and see how much better you feel. Nothing's Shocking---don't leave home without it.

THE BEATLES: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Parlophone/Capitol C11H-46442 (LP), C21Z-46442 (CD). George Martin, prod.; Geoff Emerick, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 39:50

I got this album on my tenth Christmas. As a kid, I used to have wild visualizations as I listened to songs such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "A Day in the Life," and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite." Nothing's changed. No other album takes me to another planet the way Sgt. Pepper's does---it makes me feel good, good, good! (XI-2,XV-2)

IGGY POP & THE STOOGES: The Stooges
Elektra EKS-74051 (LP). AAA.

How ever could I venture into the Great Unknown without Iggy and the Stooges tucked under my arm? The lyrics and melodies may be simple, but the sound sure isn't---Scotty "Rock Action" Asheton has a way with that backbeat and hi-hat that rocks me like no other. His rhythms, coupled with Iggy's powerful energy and Ron Asheton's driving wah-wah guitar riffs, make this one of the greatest rock'n'roll albums ever born. It's rrraaawww!

Barry Willis

VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES: Sur Les Ailes du Chant
Victoria de Los Angeles, soprano; Sinfonia of London, Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoirs
EMI CDM 7 69502 2 (CD only). Ronald Kinloch Anderson, Victor Olaf, prods.; Christopher Parker, Paul Vavasseur, engs. ADD. TT: 60:51

This early/mid-'60s compilation showcases one of this century's great voices at her peak, performing songs of Mendelssohn, Grieg, Brahms, Graves, Montsalvage, Rodrigo, and others in evocative, emotionally charged, and perfectly articulated German, French, English, and Spanish. The flutter you hear near the end of Delibes' Les Filles de Cadiz is the microphone being overloaded by sheer vocal power. Great sopranos, like precocious children, can convert the most hardened; On Wings of Song might make a believer out of you.

LES PAUL: The Legend and the Legacy
Les Paul, guitar, vocals; Mary Ford, vocals
Capitol Masters C2-91654 (4 CDs only). Rus Paul, eng.; Ron Furmanek, prod. AAD/ADD. TT: 5:07:29

Les Paul had everything a man could hope for: fame, fortune, technical and artistic fulfillment, a talented and complaisant wife, and an enduring place in history---all achieved while having a rollicking good time. This lovingly remastered 4-CD set covers everything from Les & Mary's greatest hits, to their quirky reworkings of pop standards, to throwaway commercial jingles; many of them are astoundingly good. One cannot overstate the importance of Les Paul's contributions to the pop idiom: as a guitarist, composer, arranger, and technical innovator, he stands alone. This collection belongs in every music-lover's library. (XV-6)
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