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Many people are familiar with Clifford Brown's collaboration with Sarah Vaughan, which many consider to be a classic. Far less well-known is his record with singer Helen Merrill for Emarcy from 1954, which features a similar set up and feel. Merrill has always been on the second tier of jazz singers as far as popularity is concerned, but is a reliable performer who can turn out enchanting performances. She's the type of singer whom many would simply put in front of an orchestra and leave it at that, and it's a treat to hear her spread her wings a bit in front of a jazz combo.
Clifford Brown's recordings are in short supply, so for that matter alone this record is worth a listen. The trumpeter has always had a knack for complementing any singer, and on this occasion his melodic bite is the perfect foil for Merrill's bouncy delivery. The rest of the band provides supple, delicate backgroundthe only other instrument in the front line is Danny Banks's fluteto create a quiet classic. Quincy Jones provides the arrangements, which add novel little twists to the heads and background, making "Don't Explain a mournful lullaby and "'S Wonderful a jubilant triumph, one of the best versions of the Gershwin tune I've heard in years.
With only seven tracks, this session is fairly brief. Fortunately Lone Hill has bulked out the CD with the next session in Helen Merrill's catalog for Emarcy, a much more traditional orchestra-oriented affair that adds a whopping eleven bonus tracks. Despite the presence of pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Barry Galbraith, and bassist Milt Hinton, this session is pretty much like every other vocal and strings efforts out there: effective, but nothing special. The program draws heavily from Broadway with everything taken at a sultry gait. Even "Anything Goes strolls along at almost a ballad's pace.
On its own this second session would be one you could take or leave. But paired with the session with Brown and you've got a vocal jazz feast well worth deserving of more renown.
Track Listing: Don't Explain; Born To Be Blue; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; 'S Wonderful; Yesterdays; Falling In Love With Love; What's New?; You Won't Forget Me; Lilac Wine; Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year; Beautiful Love; Just You, Just Me; When I Fall In Love; The End Of A Love Affair; Mountain High, Valley Low; Anything Goes; Comes Love; The Masquerade Is Over; Wait Till You See Him.
Personnel: Helen Merrill: vocals; Clifford Brown: trumpet (1-7); Danny Banks: flute (1-7); Jimmy Jones: piano (1-7); Barry Galbraith: guitar (1-7); Milt Hinton: bass (1-7); Osie Johnson: drums (1-7); Quincy Jones: arranger, conductor (1-7); Hank Jones: piano (8-19); Barry Galbraith: guitar (8-19); Milt Hinton: bass (8-19); Sol Gubin: drums (8-19); unidentified strings (8-19)..
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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