Ben E. King: Shades of Blue (1999)
Ben E. King cut his teeth on music singing in gospel groups as a youngster before becoming a member of the consummate R & B, soul packed group, the Drifters. After going out on his own he had a slew of big hits including "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand by Me". Over the years, he has become an icon of Pop, R & B and soul. His 1999 album Shades of Blue is another example of the blurry lines between these genre and jazz. While the cover of the CD's liner notes advertises the presence of Milt Jackson and David "Fathead" Newman", they appear on only one track each. But the Count Basie influenced Tim Ouimette high voltage big band provides the necessary jazz base for the session. In addition to excellent soloists, it shows off excellent ensemble work on such cuts as "You're Drivin' Me Crazy" where King has some fun with the lyrics.
The play list is divided between R & B material and standards. On the latter, it's quite an experience to listen to King deliver Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To' with an R & B inflection. Porter likely would have loved it. There's some great tenor sax on this track by Jim Clouse. Whereas Johnnie Ray's version of "Cry" was an impassioned shout, and I mean shout, to the heavens, King's approach is softer and poignant. This is the cut where Newman enriches the track with his tenor sax recalling those days when he backed Ray Charles. Ouimette opens "Stairway to the Stars" with a mellow flugelhorn setting the stage for a hushed, heartfelt vocal by King.
R & B fan, soul fan, jazz fan or blues fan, this CD will appeal to all of them and should expose the talented Mr. King to a whole new set of potential fans.. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: Little Mama; You're Drivin' Me Crazy; Just for a Thrill; They Can't Take That Away from Me**; Hallelujah, I Love Her So; Song for Jennie; There'll Be Some Changes Made; Stairway to the Stars; You'd Be so Nice to Come Home to#; I Want a Little Girl; Baby, Won't You Please Come Home; Cry*; Learnin' the Blues
Personnel: Ben E. King - Vocal; Tim Ouimette - Leader/Trumpet/Flugelhorn; John Walsh, Guido Gonzalez - Trumpet; Ned Holder - Trombone; Dan Levine - Trombone/Bass Trombone; Aaron Heick - Alto Sax/Flute; Todd Anderson - Alto & Tenor Sax; Michael Blake - Tenor Sax/Flute; Crispin Cioe, Alex Harding - Baritone Sax; Dale Kleps - Baritone Sax/Flute; Kate Mahoney - French Horn; Rusty Cloud - Piano; Dan Hovey - Guitar; Steve Alcott - Bass; David Longworth, Graham Hawthorne, Steve Little - Drums; David "Fathead" Newman* , Jim Clouse# - Tenor Sax; Milt Jackson - Vibes**; Regis Andiorio, Richard Hendrickson - Violin; Richard Maximoff - Viola; Sean Grissom - Cello