The Metropole Orchestra: The Chesterfield Arrangements / Kodachrome (2002)
Raymond Scott's is a name I'd never associated with Jazz. After hearing these recent recordings by the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra of Scott's music from the mid-'30s through the late '50s, it still isn't. Lovely music, though, light years ahead of much of what is being unloaded on the public these days. Disc 1, The Chesterfield Arrangements, consists of music written by Scott for his Quintette and played while he was appearing regularly in 1937-38 on bandleader Paul Whiteman's weekly radio series, sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. Whiteman commissioned eighteen new arrangements of Scott's most popular works, all of which were performed on his program between December '37 and December '38. Among the most familiar are "The Toy Trumpet" and "Powerhouse" (one of several of Scott's melodies that will be remembered by those who grew up with those great Warner Brothers cartoons of the '40s and '50s, the ones that featured Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the cat and others). In a departure from its usual Jazz-based format, the Metropole Orchestra combined forces with the Beau Hunks Saxtette, which had already recorded two albums of Scott's music, to introduce these delightful melodies to a new generation of listeners. Among other composers one might know, Scott's tunes come closest in spirit perhaps to the thematic sketches of Leroy Anderson (there's even a "Sleighride," Siberian variety). The versions of "Powerhouse"? that open and close the disc, arranged by Fred van Eps and Joe Glover, respectively, show how much room for variety there was in each of Scott's compositions. By 1940 both he and Whiteman had changed directions, embracing the music of the Swing Era, and these songs were for the most part lost and forgotten until rediscovered around the time of Scott's death in 1994. This likable recording by the Metropole Orchestra should help give them a further push forward. Disc 2, Kodachrome, surveys orchestral works written by Scott from 1935-57. The composer, we're told in the liner notes, was a Jazz devotee whose goal, when he returned to CBS Radio in 1943 after two years on the road, was to assemble the greatest Jazz orchestra that the network's resources would allow. He may have done so, but the evidence offered here doesn't support the premise. Kodachrome sounds rather like "the Boston Pops meets Jazz." Once again, wonderful music no complaints there but with minimal Jazz content in terms of improvisation or rhythmic / harmonic substructure. Again, one is reminded more of Leroy Anderson (via such titles as "Fiddle No Further," "The Bullfighter and His Piccolo" and "Two Young Lads in a Saxophone School") than of Ellington, Basie or even Fletcher Henderson (the one number that comes closest to any of them is the syncopated "Carrier Pigeon" from 1942). Will Friedwald, in his comprehensive notes, tries his best to fasten Scott's music to a Jazz sensibility, but one's ears impugn his argument, no matter how forthright and sincere its purpose. Whatever else Raymond Scott's music may be, however, it is seldom dull and never repetitive. For those who appreciate popular music well-seasoned with class, these state-of-the-art albums by the Metropole Orchestra should be an entertaining addition to the library.
Contact: Basta Audio Visuals, www.bastamusic.com
Track Listing: Disc 1 -- Powerhouse; Mexican Jumping Bean; The Penguin; Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals; Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner; Egyptian Barn Dance; The Toy Trumpet; Tia Juana; Christmas Night in Harlem; Celebration on the Planet Mars; The Happy Farmer; Bumpy Weather Over Newark; War Dance for Wooden Indians; Suicide Cliff; Minuet in Jazz; Siberian Sleighride; Twilight in Turkey; Powerhouse (59:31). Disc 2 -- Hertz Theme; Secret Agent; Birdseed Special (a.k.a. Canary Concerto); Fiddle No Further; Fifinella; Egyptian Summer (a.k.a. Love Dance); Kodachrome; Naked City; Minor Prelude (a.k.a. 2nd Prelude); The Bullfighter and His Piccolo; Dreary Weather on 6th Avenue; Carrier Pigeon; Symphony Under the Stars; Rococo; Two Young Ladies in a Saxophone School; City of New York; Confusion Among a Fleet of Taxicabs Upon Meeting with a Fare (44:45).
Personnel: Both Discs -- The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra conducted by Jan Stulen and featuring (on The Chesterfield Arrangements) the Beau Hunks Saxtette.
Record Label: Basta
Style: Big Band