Rosemary Clooney’s voice sparkles today as it has for the past 50 years. Starting her career with Tony Pastor’s big band and garnering wide popularity with her no-nonsense style, the singer has devoted her career to delivering a lyric’s message with just the right amount of expression. Similarly, the Count Basie Orchestra has a long record of swinging the melody along with powerful punctuation marks from the brass sections. Now under the leadership of Grover Mitchell, the band maintains the same sound set forth by Basie; the big band arrangements for this session were provided by Allyn Ferguson, Peter Matz, and pianist John Oddo.
Paring the big band down to piano, walking bass, rhythm guitar, and brushes and then punctuating with the band’s big sound, the ensemble offers standards such as "Willow Weep for Me," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "Everything Happens to Me" behind Clooney’s articulate phrasing. For George Gershwin’s "I Got Rhythm," the singer provides a minute and a half from a scratchy 50-year old vocal demo with piano accompaniment to introduce the big band’s arrangement. Again in Basie band fashion, the transition evolves with sudden powerful bursts from the orchestra; fifty years zoom by in one fell swoop.
Like all of Dave Frishberg’s music, "I Want to be a Sideman" contains poignant lyrics guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Brief solo spots by Scotty Barnhart and guest Gary Foster are colored by lyrics such as:
"Now, I can cut whatever comes up, Fake and transpose, won’t make a fuss. I want to set the vibes and drums up, Sightread the shows, sleep on the bus."
"I want to sleep in afternoons. And let the leader call all the tunes. I want to be young. I want to have fun. I want to be a sideman."
The instrumental solo spots are brief, intended to provide punctuation and form. Even the addition of Barry Manilow on "How About You" serves merely to embellish an otherwise stellar session with singer and big band sharing their love of classic songs. Recommended.