Shelley Manne and his Friends: Modern Jazz Performances of Songs From Li'l Abner (1957)
Sometimes mediocre albums can be more frustrating than lousy albums, simply because one can see the possibility of a great performance lurking behind the clouds. Shelley Manne certainly could have followed his best-selling jazz adaptation of My Fair Lady with a better choice than Li’l Abner, a lackluster musical with a Broadway run shorter than the playing time of the album.
The indifference with which the public greeted it should come as no surprise; Li’l Abner features instantly forgettable tunes with unwieldy titles like “Progress Is The Root Of All Evil,” and the bottom line is that the material simply isn’t up to the caliber of the players. If anyone could turn suspect material into credible jazz, it would be this trio, all of whom have proven their chops in other settings and approach the tunes with enthusiasm. But the use of the celeste and the randomly inserted free jazz improvisation suggest a group that uses gimmicks to prop up inferior material. The one lovely and memorable tune, “Namely You,” is a beautiful improvisation featuring delicate brushwork and softly plucked bass figures behind Previn’s gentle filigrees, yet still sounds like a hundred ballads you’ve heard before. Li’l Abner is a pleasant enough listen, but one that will leave you with no lasting impression.
Track Listing: 1. Jubilation T. Cornpone 2. The Country's In the Very Besy of Hands 3. If I Had My Druthers 4. Unnecessary Town 5. Matrimonial Stomp 6. Progress Is The Root Of All Evil 7. Oh, Happy Day 8. Namely You 9. Past My Prime.
Personnel: Shelley Manne-drums; Leroy Vinnegar-bass; Andre Previn-piano.