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Various Artists: Harold Arlen Centennial Celebration

Jim Santella By

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To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harold Arlen's birth, Concord Records has compiled some of the best interpretations of his songs from the Pablo, Prestige, Riverside, Moodsville, New Jazz, Galaxy, and Concord Jazz labels. Disc one features the vocalists, while disc two features instrumental memories. The double album comes with comprehensive liner notes by Will Friedwald that includes a brief historical comment about each selection.

The vocal selections are all delivered with love. The artists and events chosen to represent Arlen's music come from different eras. Jimmy Witherspoon interprets "Blues in the Night" with Pepper Adams, Roger Kellaway, Richard Davis, and Mel Lewis. Together, they express the meaning of the blues in no uncertain terms.

Monica Mancini sings "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" a cappella in a multitracked arrangement that includes bass singer Alvin Chea. The character of their vocal ensemble performance honors the composer admirably. With Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln sings "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" slowly and deliberately. Her drawn-out phrases give her audience plenty of room for reflection.

Mel Tormé and George Shearing interpret "Last Night, When We Were Young" with heartfelt emotion. Tormé wore his heart on his shirtsleeve for that one. So did Susannah McCorkle in much of her work. She sings "Hit the Road to Dreamland," however, with a light expression that lifts our spirits and recalls the song's original film debut. From the film Star Spangled Rhythm, this one originally introduced Dick Powell, Mary Martin and the Golden Gate Quartet in singing roles. McCorkle bubbles with enthusiasm in a shower of positive emotions.

Jack Sheldon and Ross Tompkins perform Arlen's most famous song, "Over the Rainbow," regularly in their Southern California nightclub appearances. We never tire of their interpretations. Sheldon sings it and plays the melody on trumpet with slightly different twists every time out. The performance heard here honors the memory of its composer and presents these two veteran artists on one of their best nights.

Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motian interpret "Come Rain or Come Shine" with dream-laden emotions and with plenty to say. The song gives Evans a lot of room to explore. Miles Davis interprets "It's Only a Paper Moon" with Sonny Rollins, Walter Bishop, Jr., Tommy Potter, and Art Blakey. Together, they take a walk in the park that features trumpet and tenor in a cohesive affair.

Art Tatum's solo interpretation of "I've Got the World on a String" may be the best selection of the album. His sparkling piano phrases and uplifting characterizations built upon his highly creative talents. Elaborate and improvised with fluid ease, Tatum's delivery must surely have impressed the song's composer. After all, Arlen was a pianist, too.


Track Listing: As Long As I Live; I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues; That Old Black Magic; Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home; Down With Love; My Shining Hour; Blues in the Night; Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive; Happiness is a Thing Called Joe; Let's Fall in Love; Last Night, When We Were Young; Hit the Road to Dreamland; Over the Rainbow; Out of This World; Ill Wind (You're Blowin' Me No Good); Come Rain or Come Shine; It's Only a Paper Moon; Stormy Weather; I've Got the World on a String; When the Sun Comes Out; A Sleepin' Bee; One for My Baby (and One More for the Road); Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; For Every Man There's a Woman; Get Happy.

Personnel: Sarah Vaughan, Carol Sloane, Ernestine Anderson, Rosemary Clooney, Curtis Stigers, Nnenna Freelon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Monica Mancini, Alvin Chea, Abbey Lincoln, Diane Schuur, Susannah McCorkle, Mel Torm

Title: Harold Arlen Centennial Celebration | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Concord Music Group


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