Joint Recording of June 1991: You Won't Forget Me

SHIRLEY HORN: You Won't Forget Me
Shirley Horn, voice, piano; Charles Ables, bass; Steve Williams, drums. With: Miles Davis, trumpet; Buck Hill, trumpet; Branford Marsalis, tenor saxophone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Toots Thielemans, harmonica, guitar; Buster Williams, bass; Billy Hart, drums
Verve Digital 847 482-2 (CD only). Richard Seidel, Joel Siegel, prods.; David Baker, eng. DDD. TT: 71:13

As I've stolen from John Atkinson and said before, the coolest part of being an audio reviewer is turning people on to great music, so it makes sense that the second coolest part is getting turned on yourself! Richard Lehnert laid Shirley Horn's new one on me, but strangely, I'd never heard of her before. "Just go buy it. Do it now," he said. I'd been led astray a few times too many lately by well-meaning friends; Neil Young's latest, in particular, was the fastest back to the store for exchange. But Richard and I happen to share a deep, burning love for Herradura tequila, the Audio Research SP-14 phono stage, and Delbert McClinton, so I went right out and picked it up.

And man, is this disc great! Not only is the music fantastic, but the sound is some of the best I've heard yet from digital. The imaging's not as precise as the Cheskys; it definitely wasn't a crossed-cardioid affair. The bass isn't as stygian as the Telarcs; Shirley don't shoot off no cannons. But the overall acoustic is very intimate, with fairly realistic depth and soundstaging. The reverb sounds real; if it's fake, it's the best fake I've ever heard. The cymbals, usually the worst-sounding instruments on digital after horns, are clean and present. The piano is the least realistically portrayed instrument here, stretching as it does across the entire soundstage, but it sounds so lovely it's only slightly distracting. Horns, especially Miles's, are extremely well-recorded, with great size and sense of acoustic.

But the best-sounding horn of all is Shirley Horn; her voice on this CD will be a revelation to you. On song after wonderful song, she sits there very definitely in front of the speaker plane and seduces you with that sensuality that drives men to buy expensive rigs to listen to female voices like this in the first place (footnote 1). In the same stylistic bag as Betty Carter and, to a lesser extent, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley's one of the few singers I've heard who never make a mistake yet never bore; her phrasing, tone, and dynamics are just so brilliant that I've been kicking myself for not knowing about her sooner. Add in her beautiful piano chops, and I want to know why Shirley Horn isn't as well-known as some of the jazzers who trade jokes with Carson; she's a great one.

This is late-night, lights-out music, make-out music even. I defy you to play Shirley's slow, languid take of "It Had To Be You" (footnote 2) and not think about the one that got away, and if you think I'm talking about a large-mouth bass, then brother, you need help bad. Branford's tenor on this track is burnished-gold, less-is-more brilliance that should by all rights be impossible to play until you've been through junk and 40 years of blowing in exile in Paris. Brother Wynton gets his in as well, returning the favor after Shirley guested on his Tune In Tomorrow soundtrack; his deft, muted phrasing on "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'" is cool blues as only the Automaton His Clean Sef can toot, and probably as loose as he's likely to get without a good hard rolfing.

Perhaps playfully, his use of the mute recalls his arch-enemy, the man who, frightened out of his hair-weave by the pre-pube prodigy, once nervously told Wynton's father Ellis that the youngster should switch from trumpet to something, anything else; the man who gave birth to the cool, Miles! And it wouldn't surprise me a bit if they found his track on a decades-old reel and dubbed in all the rest; I haven't heard Miles play this well in a long, long time. Freed of the hard funk vamps and slick grooves of his last few bands, Miles stretches beyond the occasional blat and squawk every 15 minutes of intolerably bad random funk that wows 'em at all the tobacco jazzfests, and dips into his bag of stark melody, the bag I thought he'd traded ten years ago for that stupid red horn.

You Won't Forget Me gets my highest recommendation, as it's the kind of disc that doesn't come around very often: it sounds as good as the music plays. Look, I like Mötorhead, and I'm nuts over Shirley Horn; I can't imagine a safer bet. Go buy it!

Thanks, Richard.—Corey Greenberg

Footnote 1: And women, too; I know plenty who like nothing better than to dim the lights, slip into something black, and put on Aaron Neville. And sometimes they listen to music, too. Buh dum bump.

Footnote 2: If Harry Connick Jr.'s hit version is a numbing Nonoxynol-9 safe-sex condom, Shirley's is a slow, wet kiss along the back of your neck that makes the hair on your legs stand up and do the hula hula dance.