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As Concord re-releases some of its classic Mel Tormé albums, it becomes increasingly clear to even the most casual listener that he improved with age. Like the very best of the big band singers, and in fact like the best of the jazz singers, Tormé was in sync with the instrumentalists who supported him, his voice emerging as the leading instrument of any group he was in. Even though Tormé admired Ella Fitzgerald's scat singing, his approach to scat departed from Ellatonian references into a distinctive style that made him one of the legendary singers of his generation.
The distinctive aspect of In The Studio and In Concert Tokyo is Tormé's doubled-up reunion with Marty Paich, with whose Dek-Tette Tormé made some legendary recordings in the 1950's.
Both albums included in the set start with Paich's invigorating arrangement of "Sweet Georgia Brown," which doubles the meter after Tormé's dramatic and tongue-in-cheek introduction. Tormé and Paich are in flight from the very beginning of both disks, and the imagined applause from the Reunion album becomes real from the Japanese audience of In Concert Tokyo.
The Reunion album of this two-CD set was recorded in the studio, as Tormé sang from Paich's charts, some old and some new. At the time, Tormé was impressed with some Donald Fagan tunes, and he sings to arrangements of Fagan's "Walk Between The Raindrops" and "The Goodbye Look," often in unison with the horns and alternatively expressing the lyrics with swing and feeling. Tormé and Paich go for Kenton-like Spanish references in the medley of "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and Chick Corea's "Spain," the bullfight allusions dooby-dooed and la-la-la-loed in a lushness that lesser singers couldn't get away with.
But Tormé's unique approach to ballads, investing the notes with comforting grace and entertaining with impossibly long tones and upper-register highlights, remains one of his strengths. The other is his ability to convey swing and a sense of fun, even when he adopts Bach phrases.
For those reasons, In Concert Tokyo offers Tormé in an even more inspiring environmentbefore a live audience. The electricity between the audience, no matter what language it speaks, and Tormé is evident throughout the CD, even as he tries to internationalize his legendary "The Christmas Song" by explaining breathlessly (from his drumming workout on "Cottontail") to the Japanese audience that it represents a universal sentiment of goodwill. The snap at the end of a Tormé phrase and his convergence with the unity of the band thrill the audience, and thus take the live recording to a higher level of interactivity. The revival of Paich's arrangement of "The Carioca" presents Tormé in inimitable form as he articulates the lyrics with wit and dynamics, staggering the beat or swelling a phrase to make a point.
As Concord re-releases what have become classic Tormé recordings, the magnitude of his loss becomes more evident. In The Studio and In Concert Tokyo, with its altered reflections of some of the same numbers and with its contrasting venues, reminds us of Tormé at the height of his talent. Indeed, he believed what he sang: It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
Track Listing: Disk 1: Sweet Georgia Brown, Walk Between The Raindrops, When You Wish Upon A Star/I'm Wishing, Bossa Nova Potpourri, The Trolley Song/Get Me To The Church On Time, More Than You Know, The Goodbye Look, The Blues, For Whom The Bell Tolls/Spain
Disk 2: It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), Sweet Georgia Brown, Just In Time, When The Sun Comes Out, The Carioca, More Than You Know, Too Close For Comfort, The City, Bossa Nova Potpourri, On The Street Where You Live, Cotton Tail, The Christmas Song, It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) Reprise