There's no doubt that labels have a purpose in terms of organizing things, but they also tend to get in the way when looking at such less objective items as art and music. For example, if you were to ask the average jazz buff to name singers that fit the category of "cool vocalists" names to be included might be June Christy, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, and Chris Connor. As much as this activity serves as a reference, it also tends to neglect the more specific talents of each singer. Over the years, Chris Connor has suffered the comparison and label woes and, to make matters worse, none of her groundbreaking recordings for the Atlantic label were readily available to refer to as evidence.
This dilemma has been solved thanks to Joel Dorn and the bright staff at 32 Jazz who have decided to assemble the first-ever compilation of the singer's most memorable recorded period. Between 1956 and 1962, Connor recorded 12 albums for Atlantic and the premise here is that both co-producer Will Friedwald and Connor herself each picked 20 of their favorite performances from the catalog. What you end up getting then is 40 cuts on two discs with remastered sound and expert commentary by Friedwald. For those interested in the specifics, you'll find cuts from the albums Chris Connor, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, A Jazz Date with Chris Connor, Chris Craft, Ballads of the Sad Cafe, Witchcraft, A Portrait of Chris, Free Spirits, The George Gershwin Almanac of Song, I Miss You So, Double Exposure, and Misty (this last one being issued only previously in Japan.)
Space will not allow details on each specific track, but let me tell you that in addition to a great choice of tunes (from the blues of "Kansas City" to the obscure beauty of "Lilac Wine") and Connor's flawless delivery, what really makes this an enjoyable listen is the variety of formats that Connor finds herself working in. There are cuts that catch her with large ensembles including strings. Smaller groups are also the norm, with such distinctive soloists on board as Eddie Costa, Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Al Cohn, and Milt Hinton. Arrangements are provided by the likes of Oliver Nelson, Ralph Sharon, Don Sebesky, Jimmy Jones, and Ralph Burns, among many others.
Several notable sessions need to be mentioned here in order to send those looking for further sustenance in the right direction. If you don't already own the 2-CD set of the George Gershwin material then that's the next place to start after devouring this collection. Connor's clear diction and earthy tone nicely complements a sublime set of classics. Also worth looking for, although it hasn't made its way to CD yet, is the Double Exposure album that puts Connor in front of Maynard Ferguson's big band. The contrast between the vocalist's "cool" and trumpeter's "hot" is a match made in heaven. But then I could go on and on. Simply put, these sides are Connor's best and while they just whet the appetite in some instances they serve as a valuable introduction or sampler for those attuned to Connor's "warm-cool" approach.