Moonlighting is an apt title for this album. Gary LeMel has taken a night job. During the day he holds the impressive position of President of Music for Warner Bros. Films, but with this album he is returning to his first love, music. LeMel took classical piano lessons and at 17 toured with Anita O'Day as her bassist. After the invasion of The Beatles, changing the musical landscape forever, LeMel escaped to the other side of the music industry. Because of a Bobby Darin project he is working on, LeMel has put together an album dedicated to that very talented and somewhat tragic singer. Several of the tunes on this album are songs that Darin sang.
I have a mixed reaction to this album. On the first cut, "Skylark," there's a big lead in with strings and high-powered jazz trumpet creating expectations that what's to follow is the strong, deep voice. Not so. What comes is the relatively light, gentle voice of Mr. LeMel. Moreover, as often is the case when there is a big g orchestra, there is a tendency to over arrange and that happens on this disc. But let down or no, there's some good stuff here. First, while no Darin, LeMel's voice is pleasant. He's got rhythm, good phrasing and pacing and fine diction. Second, he has brought together a creme de la creme cast of supporting musicians, like Elvin Jones, Michael Brecker, Lloyd Stripling, Lew Soloff, Steve Khan and especially Roger Kellaway who plays the dual role of pianist and conductor. His presence is critical to keeping this vast and complex proceeding under control.
Then there are excellent orchestrations. "Mack the Knife" with slightly off pitched reeds and strings gives it that bizarre setting which is probably closer to what Weill and Brecht had in mind, rather than the popular versions of either Darin or Louis Armstrong. Lloyd Stripling does the trumpet solo and Steve Khan gets in some licks with the banjo. "Easy Living" also offers another interesting arrangement. LeMel is backed by the unusual instrumental combination of Michael Brecker's tenor sax, Roger Kellaway on piano and Richard Locker on cello. Kellaway's piano helps to offset the dark tones of the cello, while Michael Brecker's Coltrane-influenced tenor provides just the right bittersweet ingredient to make this arrangement work. Brecker's sax is featured on "I‘ll only Miss Her When I Think of Her." Elvin Jones' drums are turned loose on "Hello, Young Lovers." But then there's "Call Me Irresponsible" where pop star Paula Cole joins LeMel to sing another tune favored by Bobby Darin. Her performance reveals why she sticks to (and should continue to) contemporary pop and rock. Doing fine in the middle range, once she has to reach for the higher notes, the voice becomes strained very quickly.
Gary LeMel shouldn't quit his day job just yet. But, as indicated at the outset, once you move beyond unrealized expectations and some really turgid orchestrations, this album has enough to offer to justify going out and buying it.
Tracks:Skylark; Mack the Knife; Call Me Irresponsible*; I'll only Miss Her When I Think of Her; By Myself; Beyond the Sea; Hello, Young Lovers; Easy Living; After Today; Somewhere.
Gary Le Mel - Vocals; Randy Brecker, Lew Soloff - Flugelhorn: Steve Kahn - Guitar/Banjo; Elvin Jones, Grady Tate - Drums; James Saporito - Percussion/Vibes; Lincoln Goines - Bass; Roger Kellaway - Piano/Conductor; Gregg Mangiafico, Jonathan Werking - Synthesizer; Lawrence Feldman, David Tofani - Alto Flute, Alto Sax, Clarinet; Charles McCracken - Bassoon; John Beal - Bass; Mark Shulman, Richard Locker, Peter Wyrick - Cello; Abraham Appleman, Robert Chausaw, Natalie Cenovia Cummins, Barry Finclair, Regis Iandiorio, Ann Leathers, Joel Pitchon, Matthew Raimondi, Richard Sortomme, John Pintavalle - Violin; Lamar Alsop, Sue Pray - Viola; Warren Chiazon - Percussion; Melbourne Cranshaw - Bass; Ken Ascher- Piano, Assistant Conductor, Fender Rhodes, Harmonium; Dennis Anderson - Tenor sax, English Horn; Gary Topper - Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet; Lawrence Feldman - Soprano Sax, Alto Flute; Roger Rosenberg - Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet; Larry Farrell, Jim Pugh - Trombone; Lloyd Stripling, Hollis Burridge - Trumpet; Marcus Rojas - Tuba; Paula Cole* - Vocals; Donald Perullo - Brushes; Michael Brecker - Tenor Saxophone; Robert Carlisle - French Horn.