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Tribute albums are all the rage these days, so Monarch Records has release Modern Mancini – Tribute to a Music Master under the mysterious moniker “The Crown Project.” Henry Mancini was undoubtedly one of the foremost film and TV scorers, with nearly 80 film scores, four Oscars, and twenty Grammies to his credit, yet one doesn’t have to look too far into his compositions to see his jazz sensibilities at work. Had Mancini not focused so much of his time and talent on scoring and devoted more energies to composing and recording jazz, we can only wonder what he might have contributed to this genre.
But given that his musical legacy is what it is, this effort to present some of his most familiar works (and some lesser-known gems as well) in a contemporary jazz context yields only mixed results. For example, “Charade” is re-worked from a waltz into a 4/4 smooth jazz arrangement complete with rhythm loops. Gerald Albright’s sax ably conveys some of the song’s angst with his soulful musings, but it can’t save this musical mismatch. Keyboardist Mark Gasbarro, who plays on many of the selections, tries to update “Baby Elephant Walk” with some new synth samples, but it comes across as hokey. The “Pink Panther” theme fares better, with some great harmonized vocals. Oleta Adams lends some soulful expressiveness to “Moon River,” but I think this song might still be dead from overexposure.
The arrangements that stay away from the contemporary trappings work best. The French horns and strings on “The Days of Wine and Roses” provide a lush, beautiful setting in which Albright’s alto truly shines. Janis Siegel’s duet with guitarist Russell Malone says more with a voice and guitar than many full-production blowouts could ever hope to accomplish. Same goes for Siegel’s duet with frequent collaborator, pianist Fred Hersch. Gasbarro’s acoustic piano pairing with Dan Higgins’ flute and soprano on “The Molly Maguires” is elegant, simple beauty.
For this recording, a never-before-recorded Mancini gem “Song for Cat” was uncovered, and given lyrics and Transferesque vocal arrangement by Janis Siegel. Andy Martin’s trombone and Doug Norwine’s flute make nice contributions as well. This same trombone and flute combination also works well on the next tune, “Holly.”
Bottom line: the lesser-known tunes with the more traditional arrangements or elegant duet pairings work well; the overly-familiar tunes with the contemporary reworks don’t. Still, there are lots of exquisite musical moments here, and Mancini lovers should be pleased. (Monarch 1025)
Track Listing: Moon River; Charade; The Peter Gunn Theme; The Pink Panther; The Days of Wine and Roses; Dreamsville; Baby Elephant Walk; The Molly Maguires; Song for Cat; Holly; Two for the Road; Soldier in the Rain. (53:05)
Personnel: Janis Siegel, Oleta Adams, Fred White, Lamont van Hook
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.