Recording of February 1990: In Concert Tokyo

Concord Jazz CJ-382 (LP), CCD-4382 (CD). Hatsuro Takanami, eng.; Carl Jefferson, prod. TTs: 44:15 (LP), 47:17 (CD)

Although such fruitful collaborations as Sinatra/Riddle and Cleo Laine/Dankworth have received wider and more consistent exposure, neither has produced more meaningful results than the synergistic working relationship intermittently enjoyed by Mel Tormé and Marty Paich over the past 34 years. Their first recording together—Lulu's Back in Town—dates from 1956, and it remained for Concord Records President Carl Jefferson to finally bring the two together again last year for a release appropriately entitled Reunion. This latest offering, recorded in Tokyo at the Fujitsu-Concord Jazz Festival in December of 1988, marks their first joint effort in front of a live audience. And what an effort it is.

It's not that the two studio-made forerunners of In Concert Tokyo are routine; indeed, the first is a classic, and both would be treasured by anyone who enjoys inspired singing and sensitive, swinging arrangements. But Tormé was clearly turned on by the enthusiastic Japanese audience, generating some of his most spontaneous yet masterfully controlled performances ever. Add to that a voice that has become more richly burnished and expressive over the years—along with an artistic personality that has continued to flower—and you have a set of standards that should alternately have you smiling, tapping, holding your breath, and feeling just plain good. When Tormé caresses such lovely and literate standards as "More Than You Know" (haunting verse and all), and Harold Arlen's neglected gem "When the Sun Comes Out," you'll probably feel more than a little wistful as well.

Anyone familiar with past Tormé/Paich collaborations knows that Paich and his 12- to 14-piece Dek-tette provide more than merely sensational accompaniment. For starters, Paich's arrangements imaginatively blend rich, interesting harmonies and contrapuntal sophistication with an unerring sense of Torm&#233's free-wheeling vocal style. With an emphasis on low instruments (including two trombones, tenor and baritone saxes, and tuba), the Dek-tette's mellow but full-throated sound is modeled after the Gerry Mulligan/Miles Davis ensembles of the '50s associated with what was then known as the "West Coast" or "Cool School." But this music transcends geography, time, and labels. And as performed here by such stylistically sympatico sidemen as drummer John Von Ohlen, pianist Allen Farnham, veteran trumpeter Jack Sheldon, and valve trombonist Bob Envoldsen (the only member of the original Dek-tette), does it ever swing. Everyone gets a chance to blow, alto saxist Gary Foster providing some particularly strong solos.

Given such riches, it's impossible to single out high points, though five-alarm renditions of "Sweet Georgia Brown," "The Carioca," and "On the Street Where You Live" certainly qualify, as does the tortured "When the Sun Comes Out." The singer leaves center stage to play drums on "Cottontail," joining clarinetist Ken Peplowski for several choruses patterned after the classic Goodman/Krupa duet on "Sing, Sing, Sing" from the Goodman Band's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. The CD contains one extra cut in the form of Torm&#233's own "The Christmas Song."

Happily, the sound retrieval from Tokyo's Kan-i-Hoken Hall is superb on both LP and CD—crisp and clean as the music, with just the right amount of ambience. An all-instrumental version of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" opens and closes the proceedings. If you happen to agree with that assertion, run, don't walk, because it and everything else on this album has got it and then some.—Gordon Emerson