Andre Previn: Four Classic Albums
Four Classic Albums
Andre Previn may not be as well known as fellow West Coast pianists Vince Guaraldi and Dave Brubeck, but he nevertheless created a respectable body of work, mostly as a trio with drummer Shelly Manne, with whom he created a series of recordings where they swapped the leader role back and forth. This compilation collects four of Previn's sessions from the West Coast heyday of the 1950s.
The first disc features two cool jazz classics: West Side Story (Contemporary) from 1959 and Collaboration (RCA Victor) from 1954. The first is a trio recording with Manne and bassist Red Mitchell and capitalizes on the huge success of their version of songs from My Fair Lady (Contemporary) from 1956 with Manne at the helm. West Side Story is every bit as good as that popular album. There's no denying the appeal of Leonard Bernstein's now classic score, but Previn finds ingenious ways to rework the melodies and play with the tempo to invigorate the songs, giving them a different personality while still staying true to the original. "Something's Coming" is taken at a brisk gait with a couple of compelling modulations in the middle. "I'm So Pretty" is given a rhythmic jolt, and "Cool" gets an unexpected Teddy Wilson-ish shine. Every song here has something new going for it, and the soloing and interplay between the three is top-notch. West Side Story is the best jazz version of the classic score, and one of Previn's best recordings.
Collaboration combines the arranging talents of Previn and trumpeter Shorty Rogers to create some light and energetic charts, the aural equivalent of a Technicolor film. The format is pretty clever, too: Rogers arranges three standards for the group, then Previn creates original charts based on those standards which immediately follow. On what would be Side Two the process is reversed. And what a group they have to work with: Rogers is in the front line with Bud Shank (who plays a little flute and along with the alto sax), Milt Bernhardt on trombone, Bob Cooper on tenor sax and oboe, and Jimmy Giuffre on baritone sax. The wide tonal range gives the arrangements a breezy feel with plenty of space. Previn holds down the rhythm section with Manne, Joe Mondragon on bass and Al Hendrickson on guitar. Although there's a certain repetitiveness that inevitably results from the idea, the end result is a series of swinging tracks, with Rogers perhaps having the edge in terms of inventive and interesting charts.
The second disc features two decent trio sessions, King Size (Contemporary) from 1958 and Pal Joey (Contemporary) from 1957, not quite up to the standards of the previous two. King Size is one of the few Previn albums not based around a musical or composer and thus lacks a little bit in focus. In addition, Mitchell is present, but Frankie Capp lacks the creativity and resourcefulness of Manne and the group loses a little bit if its punch as a result. However, it takes confident and hardy souls to stretch tracks out to the nine minute mark in a trio setting as they do, and fortunately Mitchell is a nimble soloist and Previn seems to have an endless supply of ways to manipulate even the most familiar of changes. There are two blues here, a welcome surprise for a West Coast session, and an oddly brooding "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To." Pleasant enough, but not as arresting as Previn's other work.
Surprisingly Pal Joey seems like it would come later on in Previn's career when he might be scraping the bottom of the barrel for musicals to swing, and not before West Side Story. It's clearly not a top shelf musical; only two songs from it became standards and it's rarely revived today. Still, there must have been something to grab Previn over other more worthy material, and the trio make a silk purse out a sow's ear by taking the mediocre and producing some wonderful improvisations. It's almost as if Previn saw these tunes as an opportunity to do whatever he wanted to with them, and along with "If I Could Write A Book" and "Bewtiched" which are predictably lovely, we get the aptly named "Zip" and the barroom stylings of "It's A Great Big Town." Pal Joey would not be on anyone's short list of essential albums (or Previn albums, for that matter) but it's still a pleasant listen.
Previn would later go on to even greater acclaim in the classical world, but when he was fully immersed in the jazz world he was tough to beat. For those looking for one disc to get a good representation of his work, Four Classic Albums will do nicely.
Tracks: CD1: Something's Coming; Jet Song; Tonight; I Feel Pretty; Gee, Officer Krupke!; Cool; Maria; America; It's Delovely; Porterhouse; Heat Wave; 40 Below; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Claudia; You Do Something To Me; Call For Cole; Everything I've Got; Some Antics; It Only Happens When I Dance With You; General Cluster; I'll Remember April. CD2: Much Too Late; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; It Could Happen To You; Low and Inside; I'm Beginning To See the Light; I Could Write A Book; That Terrific Rainbow; Bewitched; Take Him; Zip; It's A Great Big Town; What Is A Man; I'm Talkin' With My Pal; Do It the Hard Way.
Personnel: Andre Previn: piano; Red Mitchell: bass (CD1#1-8, CD1#21, CD2); Shelly Manne: drums (CD#1-20, CD2 #6-14); Frankie Capp: drums (CD1#21, CD2#1-5); Shorty Rogers: trumpet (CD1#9-20); Milt Bernhardt: trombone (CD1#9-20); Bud Shank: alto sax, flute (CD1#9-20); Bob Cooper: tenor sax, oboe (Disc 1 #9-20); Al Hendrickson: guitar (CD1#11, CD1#13, CD1#17, CD1#19); Joe Mondragon: bass (CD1#11-14, CD1#17-19); Curtis Counce: bass (CD1#12, CD1#14, CD1#18, CD1#20).