Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

216

Carmen McRae: Something Wonderful

Mathew Bahl By

Sign in to view read count
The great Carmen McRae’s tenure at Columbia lasted only two years (1961-1962). Most of her work for the label involved collaborations with pianist Dave Brubeck (her Take Five and his Tonight Only and The Real Ambassadors ). In fact, she recorded only two LPs and a few singles that featured material not written by Brubeck. Her first album for the label, Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics, was a Lady Day tribute with a sextet featuring Norman Simmons on piano, Nat Adderly on cornet and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on tenor saxophone. Her last project for Columbia, Something Wonderful, was a collection of Broadway show tunes backed by an anonymous large ensemble conducted by Buddy Bregman. In comparing these two albums, it can be said that Ms. McRae’s Columbia recordings covered the spectrum from the utterly sublime to the ridiculous.

In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Broadway was still a relevant part of the pop culture mainstream. Whereas in the ‘20s and ‘30s individual songs had an identity and reach far greater than the shows and singers that spawned them, the integrated book musicals of the subsequent decades reversed that focus. The American musical theater developed a distinct, marketable identity, and it was not uncommon for jazz musicians and singers to try to tap into that market by recording Broadway-themed LPs. Occasionally, these projects produced significant artistic dividends as with Shelly Manne’s My Fair Lady and Mel Torme’s Swings Shubert Alley. Unfortunately, Something Wonderful cannot be added to that list.

This CD reissue brings back perhaps the era’s strangest variation on the Jazz Meets Broadway formula. Clearly the product of Columbia’s A&R department, the album consists mostly of medleys saluting the performances of prominent musical comedy stars in particular roles (Ella Logan in Finian’s Rainbow, Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I, etc.). While this concept would have made perfect sense for a theater singer like Julie Andrews, having a jazz singer like Carmen McRae pay “tribute” to Ethel Merman and company had to have felt painfully contrived even back in 1962.

Unfortunately, the record’s problems are more than conceptual. Ms. McRae was always a singer who needed room to work, and the sadly unimaginative charts by Mr. Bregman give her precious little space. The string arrangemets are insipid and the big band pieces sound fussy and dated. Most of the tracks are barely two minutes in length, and even with the bonus tracks, the CD’s playing time is only about 36 minutes.

Still, Ms. McRae was simply too good a singer not to take advantage of the album’s mostly strong material. She places her own inemitable stamp on too brief versions of “Just in Time,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Don’t Cry.” However, you can’t help but think what she could have done with a tune like “Anything Goes” under more amenable circumstances.


Track Listing: Blow, Gabriel, Blow/All Through the Night, Anything Goes, Long Before I Knew You, Just in Time, Come Rain or Come Shine, If This Isn

Personnel: Carmen McRae: vocals; unidentified studio orchestra arranged and conducted by Buddy Bregman.

Title: Something Wonderful | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Collectables

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Satoko Fujii Solo CD/LP/Track Review Satoko Fujii Solo
by Karl Ackermann
Published: January 17, 2018
Read when the shade is stretched CD/LP/Track Review when the shade is stretched
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 17, 2018
Read The Influencing Machine CD/LP/Track Review The Influencing Machine
by Roger Farbey
Published: January 17, 2018
Read Presence CD/LP/Track Review Presence
by Geannine Reid
Published: January 17, 2018
Read Flaneur CD/LP/Track Review Flaneur
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: January 16, 2018
Read D'Agala CD/LP/Track Review D'Agala
by Troy Dostert
Published: January 16, 2018
Read "Originals For the Originals" CD/LP/Track Review Originals For the Originals
by Paul Rauch
Published: November 20, 2017
Read "Live! Rancho Nicasio" CD/LP/Track Review Live! Rancho Nicasio
by James Nadal
Published: June 7, 2017
Read "Cool" CD/LP/Track Review Cool
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "Garden(s)" CD/LP/Track Review Garden(s)
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 14, 2017
Read "Discussions" CD/LP/Track Review Discussions
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 20, 2017
Read "Chasing the Unicorn" CD/LP/Track Review Chasing the Unicorn
by Paul Rauch
Published: September 6, 2017