Few mastered every aspect of jazz singing like Mel Tormé did, from scat singing to vocal groups to arranging and composing to just plain crooning the hell out of a tune. However, more people know of Tormé than actually have him in their collection, which is a shame for jazz fans since he is more jazz-oriented than those who group him with the easy listening crowd suspect. Velvet Moods
is a good representation of what Tormé was up to, while also including some more obscure material that aficionados won't mind having. These recordings span 1946 to 1955.
The centerpiece of this collection is the eleven-part "California Suite for orchestra and chorus, which Tormé composed and arranged. No one is really making music like this anymore, and parts will recall the close knit harmonies of radio commercials. But overall it's a highly enjoyable collection of vocal music, tastefully arranged and catchy. While this may be Tormé's crowning achievement personally, the rest of the CD may hold more interest.
Along with a few tunes featuring the Mel-Tones and some evergreens like "Born to Be Blue and "Night and Day, surely the most interesting part of Velvet Moods are the tracks where Tormé is backed by the Red Norvo trio featuring Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus (surely the only time Mingus and Tormé performed together). This trio has long been a favorite of many a jazz fan, and the foursome seem inclined to pursue a more maverick approach and more daring material. And of course, what would be a Tormé set without "The Christmas Song?
It could be argued that Tormé has fallen out of fashion these days, but his records are quite a treat. As a sampler of all the aspects of Tormé's artistry, Velvet Moods is tough to beat.
Personnel: Mel Torme: vocals, with various others including Sonny Burke and his Orchestra; Hal Mooney and his Orchestra; the Mel-Tones; Red Norvo: vibes; Tal Farlow: guitar; Charles Mingus: bass.