America the Beautiful is a union of two unassuming vinyl big-band albums by composer/ arranger/ pianist Clare Fischer: Extension (from the early ’60s) and Songs for Rainy Day Lovers (released in 1978). Although Fischer is widely known for his proficiency in blending Latin temperaments and rhythms into the framework of contemporary jazz, only “Canto Africano” from the earlier album and “I Remember Spring” from the later embody either of those elements. The rest is straight-ahead jazz, essentially of the mellower variety (especially, as one would expect, on Songs for Rainy Day Lovers, which comprises the album’s last eleven tracks). The title selection, taken at a leisurely pace, is performed by a string orchestra with guitar and harp most prominent along with Fischer’s piano.
On the earlier album (tracks 1-8), devoted exclusively to Fischer’s original compositions, the leader’s well-equipped ensemble is enhanced by the presence of the underrated tenor saxophonist Jerry Coker who forges bracing solos on “Ornithardy” and “Extension.” Another selection, “Bittersweet,” is a sensuous showcase for Don Shelton’s alto saxophone. Rainy Day Lovers consists of seven standards and four of Fischer’s compositions, “When Autumn Comes,” “Sleep Sweet Child,” “Opener” and the aforementioned “I Rememberr Spring.” There are times when the understated design isn’t far removed from the romantic stylings of Jackie Gleason, Percy Faith and others.
Curiously, the sound on Extension, recorded well over a decade before Rainy Day Lovers, is the better of the two, with less intrusive clicks, pops and surface noise to lessen one’s appreciation of the music. But audio quality is less than satisfactory throughout, which alone would be enough to rule out a positive endorsement. The charts are fine; Fischer sees to that. But there’s not enough electricity on Rainy Day Lovers to power a decent-size light bulb, and in spite of some nice low-key swinging and admirable solos by Fischer and Coker, Extension hasn’t nearly enough muscle to shoulder the enterprise.
Contact: Clare Fischer, P.O. Box 1563, Studio City, CA 91614; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site, www.clarefischer.com
Track Listing: Ornithardy; Quiet Dawn; Bittersweet; Igor; Extension; Soloette; Passacaglia; Canto
Africano; On a Clear Day; A Time for Love; I Remember Spring; America the
Personnel: Clare Fischer, piano, organ, with orchestras (personnel unlisted). Sidemen on
tracks 9-19 include Gil Falco, trombone; John Lowe, piccolo; Vince Terri, guitar;
Gerald Vince, violin; Bob West, bass; Larry Bunker, Nick Martinis, drums. Special