Various Artists: The Leopard Lounge Box Set
The Leopard Lounge Box Set
If you enjoy the TV series Mad Men, you are going to love The Leopard Lounge Box Set. Probably.
You need to go know what you are getting into. Should you be offended by the thought of guitarist Barney Kessel hanging on to a tremolo arm and twanging out George Gershwin's "Summertime," or cornetist Nat Adderley fronting a cheesy, Vegas-style big band arrangement of Tony Hatch's "Call Me," then The Leopard Lounge is not for you. Step away from the cocktail cabinet. For compared with much of the music in this 5CD collection, most of it recorded in the early and mid 1960s, Kessel's and Adderley's tracks, from 1961 and 1966, are exemplars of good taste. Just like the Betty Page cover shot.
At the other end of the quality scalea relatively short distance away, it must be saidis some truly frightful music. And yet, even at its worst, there is in 2012 a curious appeal in The Leopard Lounge's mélange of finger-clicking supper club vocals, smoothly swinging "jazz," deracinated R&B and bossa nova, and exotica from the Atlantic and Warner vaults. Even Max Esquivel's mutiliation of Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" (1962), with a brass arrangement so outlandish it might have been written by Sun Ra on really bad acid, or Ananda Shankar's sitar-for-beginners reading of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' "Jumpin Jack Flash" (late period lounge, recorded in 1970), have a certain charm.
Why is this? Partly, it is because you cannot keep a good tune down, and these discs are packed with good tunes. Partly, it is because it is increasingly piquant to hear music made on "real" instruments in "real" time, with minimal post-production and mostly orchestrated for medium-sized or large ensembles. And partly, the recordings are social history from a long-gone era. It is all delightfully anachronistic, right down to the titles of the exotica albums on which some tracks were originally released, such as Don Ralke's The Savage And The Sensuous Bongos (Warner Bros., 1960) and Les Baxter's The Primitive And The Passionate (Reprise, 1961). They don't title them like that anymore, thankfully.
In addition to Barney Kessel and Nat Adderley, The Leopard Lounge includes many other jazz musicians acting more or less reprehensiblyamong them Duke Ellington's orchestra, small groups led by drummer Shelly Manne and flautist Herbie Mann, and singers Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Jon Hendricks, Chris Connors and Betty Carter. Most of the tracks are unashamedly commercial and few, if any, would make it to a legacy list; Manne's "Daktari," from 1967's eponymous Atlantic album, and Ellington's "Blue Moon," from Ellington '66 (Reprise) just might, if the lists were long. And British singer George Melly's "Roll 'Em Pete," from Son Of Nuts (Warner Bros., 1973), is unbuttoned, rocking joy. Lounge music is frequently called louche, and Melly was the real deal: he changed the lyric here to read "I got a girl way up on the hill...and if she won't, I know her brother will." Forty years ago, that was quite daring.
The big omissions from the cast list are singer Frank Sinatra and the singer/songwriter partnership of Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, three icons of lounge. Given that many of the tracks here are taken from albums released on Reprise, which Sinatra set up in 1960, his absence is doubly strange. In his place, there is plenty of Bobby Darin and Mel Torme. Warwick and Bacharach do actually get one track, "Alfie," from Heartbreaker (Warner Bros., 1967), but once is not enough. Copyright issues presumably prevented more tracks being included.
Taken one disc and several cocktails at a time, The Leopard Lounge Box Set is a lot of fun.
CD1: Mel Torme, Comin' Home Baby; Carmen McRae, The Sound Of Silence; Ananda Shankar, Jumpin' Jack Flash; Herbie Mann, Harlem Nocturne; April Stevens, Teach Me Tiger '65; Les Baxter, A Taste Of Honey; Ray Charles, Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin; Esther Phillips, And I Love Him; Dave Pike, Sunny; Barney Kessel, Summertime; Ella Fitzgerald, I Wonder Why; Nat Adderley, Call Me; Jon Hendricks, Jive Samba; Ada Lee, Night In Tunisia; Sammy Davis Jr., Too Close For Comfort; Esquivel, I Get A Kick Out Of You; Bobby Darin, Mack The Knife; Harold Betters, Papa-Ooh-Mau-Mau. CD2: Bobby Darin, Beyond The Sea; Barney Kessel, It Ain't Necessarily So; Mel Torme, 42nd Street; Eddie Cano/Nino Tempo, On Broadway; Sammy Davis Jr., Bye Bye Blackbird; Chris Connor, You Make Me Feel So Young; Jackie Paris, On A Slow Boat To China; Betty Carter, Round Midnight; Esquivel, One For My Baby; Ella Fitzgerald, Black Coffee; Esther Phillips, Makin' Whoopee; Sergio Mendes, Monday Monday; Herbie Mann/Tamiko Jones, A Man And A Woman; Shelly Manne, Daktari; Antonio Carlos Jobim, Surfboard; Dionne Warwick, Alfie. CD3: Mel Torme, Right Now; Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones, The Sidewinder; Mose Allison, Your Red Wagon; Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hurry Up And Love Me; Ananda Shankar, Light My Fire; Ella Fitzgerald, Sunny; Shelly Manne, Out On A Limb; Esther Phillips, The Girl From Ipanema; Sammy Davis, Jr., Let There Be Love; Duke Ellington, Moonbow; Ann Richards, Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby; Barney Kessel, You Came A Long Way From St. Louis; Bobby Darin, It Ain't Necessarily So; Chris Connor, I Get A Kick Out Of You; Warren Barker, Caper At The Coffee House; Lavern Baker & Jimmy Ricks, You're The Boss; Les Baxter, Peking Tiger; Al Hibbler, Trav'lin' Light; Marty Paich, Summertime. CD4: Warren Barker, 77 Sunset Strip; Ann Richards, Yes Sir That's My Baby; Don Ralke, Face Behind The Fire; Herbie Mann, Our Mann Flint; Ella Fitzgerald, Mas Que Nada; Miriam Makeba, Pata Pata; Les Baxter, Coffee Beans & Calabash Annie; Mel Torme, Dat Dere; Marty Paich, The Cat; Lavern Baker, Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out; Esther Phillips, Everytime We Say Goodbye; Duke Ellington, Moon River; Ray Charles, Doodlin'; Ada Lee, I Wish You Love; Carol Stevens, Romance In The Dark; Antonio Carlos Jobim, Aqua De Beber; Barney Kessel, Something For Cat; Chris Connor, They All Laughed; Bobby Darin, That's All; Shelly Manne, Peter Gunn. CD5: Bobby Darin, All Nite Long; Chris Connor, Blow Gabriel Blow; Mel Torme, Lullaby Of Birdland; Carmen McRae, I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; Austin Cromer, As Long As She Needs Me; Esther Phillips, I Wish You Love; Mavis Rivers, You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; Bobby Scott, Baby Won't You Please Come Home; Ella Fitzgerald, Things Ain't What They Used To Be; George Melly, Roll 'Em Pete; Chiles & Pettiford, Around The World In 80 Days/Bill Bailey; Ann Richards, The Masquerade Is Over; Ada Lee, Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound; Lurlean Hunter, We'll Be Together Again; Betty Carter, The Good Life.