Big City Rhythms represents something of a departure for singer / composer / arranger Michael Feinstein. Instead of centering his performance on the works of a single popular composer, as he usually does, Feinstein takes a large bite out of the Great American Songbook; and instead of performing with a small group or generic big band, he enlists the services of trumpeter Maynard Ferguson whose ensemble is hardly an unknown quantity. The upshot is a marvelous album that offers the best of all possible worlds — great singer, great band, great arrangements, great pleasure from start to finish and everywhere in between. I’ve heard a numbr of albums by Feinstein and enjoyed them all; but this is the apogee, the pinnacle. He and Maynard’s band are a perfect team, with Feinstein’s even–tempered presence forming a flawless counterweight to the flash and fire of Ferguson’s contingent of irrepressible swingers. As always, Feinstein manages to unearth a number of overlooked gems including David Ross / Marshall Barer’s “You Can’t Lose ’em All,” Charles DeForest’s “One Day at a Time,” Murray Grandt’s “Everything You Want Is Here,” Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer’s “How Little We Know,” Andre Previn / Betty Comden / Adolph Green’s “Love Is Nothin’ But a Racket” and two songs he co–wrote with Lindy Robbins (“Rhythm of the Blues”) and Ray Jessel / Cynthia Thompson (“Swing Is Back in Style”). They complement well the better known songs, all of which are wonderfully performed by Feinstein and the ensemble. Another of Feinstein’s many admirable traits is that he’s a completist; if the song has a verse, he’ll sing it. And so we are able to hear and enjoy the lovely introductory passages to “Close Your Eyes,” “The Very Thought of You,” “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else,” “When Your Lover Has Gone” and others. Few singers are as well–informed or as diligent as he — and no lyric is ever brushed aside or short–changed. To paraphrase a well–known airline ad, Feinstein loves a good song, and it shows. Feinstein’s back–up crew is superb, as Maynard’s band consistently nails the colorful charts by Alan Broadbent, Tom Garling, Eddie Koram, Mort Lindsey and Patrick Williams (with special praise for Patrick’s clever arrangement of “Lullaby in Rhythm”). I never thought I’d be giving a big thumb’s up to an all–vocal big–band album, but there’s no way to sidestep an earnest endorsement of this one. It’s simply too likable.
Track listing: Close Your Eyes; The Very Thought of You; Let Me Off Uptown; Girl Talk; You Can’t Lose ’em All; One Day at a Time; The Rhythm of the Blues; The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else; Everything You Want Is Here; Johnny One Note; Swing Is Back in Style; Love Is Nothing’ But a Racket; Lullaby in Rhythm; Medley: When Your Lover Has Gone / The Gal That Got Away; New York, New York; How Little We Know (64:52).
Michael Feinstein, vocals, piano (7, 11, 14, 16), with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band
I love jazz because it swings.
I was first exposed to jazz in Houston.
I met Joe LoCascio and Bob Henschen.
The best show I ever attended was Pat Martino.
The first jazz record I bought was Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
My advice to new listeners is to relax on 2 and 4 beats.