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JAZZ REVIEWS : Torme and Laws Deliver a Mixed Program at the Bowl

August 29, 1994|DON HECKMAN

The real Mel Torme and the real Hubert Laws showed up at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday. But just barely.

Laws spent most of the first half of the program playing a peculiar collection of classical transcriptions with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Luther Henderson III. To his credit, he demonstrated, in a pleasant little Concertino for Flute by Cecile Chaminade, that he is capable of performing with an impressive, classically based flute sound, and near-flawless technical articulation.

But rearrangements (by Laws and composer Bob James) of Ravel's "Bolero" and segments from Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" were ruinous efforts to inject contemporary stylistic devices and improvisations into the original compositions. "Romeo and Juliet" was awful--not quite as bad as "Hooked on Classics" but close. "Bolero" was worse, with an especially destructive evisceration of the work's most significant asset--its spellbinding, nonstop crescendo.

Freed of pretentiousness by his own ballad "My Time Will Come," Laws played beautifully, soloing with a soaring lyricism that fully displayed the talent and creativity that rarely had the chance to emerge during the classical transcriptions.

Torme's handicap was a program titled "Mel and the Movies." Obliged to sing a mixed bag of tunes ranging from Disney to MGM musicals, Torme did his journeyman best. But songs such as "Tenement Symphony" and his own seven-minute set piece about a county fair (eventually rejected by Disney) were too much even for his considerable skills at musical resuscitation.

Fortunately, Torme also sang "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Lover, Come Back to Me"--songs in which his gorgeous head tones, sparkling improvisational abilities and unerring sense of swing finally had the opportunity to step front and center.

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