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ALBUM REVIEWS : SINATRA'S BRIGHT YEARS SHINE ON CDs

April 05, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

"SONGS FOR SWINGIN' LOVERS." Frank Sinatra. Capitol CDP 7 46570 2. "IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS" 46571 2. "CLOSE TO YOU AND MORE" 46572 2. "SINATRA'S SWINGIN SESSION AND MORE." 46573 2.

The longer the perspective, the stronger the impression grows that the 1955-60 period, just before Sinatra left Capitol to form his Reprise label, marked the bright June and July of his years.

Though he was between 40 and 45 years old when these albums were taped, there is in his sound--and particularly in his beat on the up-tempos mainly represented by the first and last of these four CDs--a certain innocent flamboyance that is matched by Nelson Riddle's consistently brilliant charts. The digital process stresses this aspect even more powerfully than the original LPs.

"Swingin' Lovers" was one of the most admirable products of that era, with Harry (Sweets) Edison's muted trumpet often in evidence, and with one or two surprises, such as the trombone solo on "I've Got You Under My Skin" by Milt Bernhardt (not Juan Tizol, as listed in the book "The Revised Complete Sinatra").

"Wee Small Hours" is a landmark among "theme" albums. The title song, "Ill Wind," "Glad to Be Unhappy" and the best-ever vocal version of Ellington's "Mood Indigo" stand out among the 15 cuts on what is oddly listed as a "special abridged compact disc version." Actually, the contents are the same as on the original LP. Sinatra sings the seldom-heard verse to "When Your Lover Has Gone," backed by Bill Miller on celeste, with the strings coming in for the chorus. "What Is This Thing Called Love" is taken at an uncommonly slow and easy tempo, with Sinatra hitting a couple of mellow low E's.

"Close to You and More" is so titled because three extra tunes were added for the CDs. "If It's the Last Thing I Do" and "Wait Till You See Her" are transfers from other albums, but the third bonus tune only had a token release, and you'll understand when you hear it. Though the song had to be written tongue-in-cheek, it's sung totally dead-pan with a straight arrangement, but the title, "There's a Flaw in My Flue," is the tip-off. Imagine such lines as "I used to sit by my fireplace and dream about you, but now that won't do, 'cause there's a flaw in my flue," and later such variations as "my flue has a flaw" and "smoke gets in my nose." Would you believe that Jimmy Van Heusen wrote this?

The main point of interest in "Close to You" is Riddle's resourceful use of the Hollywood String Quartet, a chamber unit that is featured fairly extensively.

"Swingin' Session" also has three additional tracks--all taken from other albums--along with the original dozen. The arrangements are strongly jazz-oriented, with three tenor sax solos. There are a few awkward moments on an instrumental passage in "It All Depends on You" that seems a hair too casual. More typical of this fast-moving set are "Blue Moon," "S'posin'," "Always," "Should I" and "Paper Moon." The set concludes with Sinatra's hip/square treatment of "Ol' MacDonald." This is the latest set of the four, made in 1960, but the chops and the charts are still very much together.

Sinatra and Nelson Riddle almost defy any rating system, but these ventures came close enough to perfection to average out at 4.99 stars.

"ANOTHER WOMAN IN LOVE." Maureen McGovern. Columbia 42314. Where do you place an artist who, though her performances here are unacceptable in today's pop market (even though she sings "popular" tunes by Kern, Arlen, Rodgers, Sondheim and Bernstein), is clearly not a jazz singer? You place her in this column, for fear of losing her. McGovern is, as Mel Torme aptly puts it in his notes, a soubrette. The purity and delicacy of her sound could not have been better exhibited than in the setting of Mike Renzi's piano, which is all the accompaniment she needs. Along with the standards come Blossom Dearie's "I Like You, You're Nice" and three songs with lyrics by Judy Barron, her co-producer's wife. Kudos to CBS for issuing a limited-appeal LP that deserves the mass exposure such projects rarely find. 4 stars.

JAZZ CDs AND LPs

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