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Gary McFarland: The In Sound & Soft Samba

Rob Caldwell By

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Arranger, vibraphonist and singer Gary McFarland is regarded as one of the major purveyors of orchestral jazz—a type of jazz which had its heyday in the 1960s, but which is not heard as much anymore. A fine line separates orchestral jazz from the dreaded "easy listening" tag. A line so fine, they're often one and the same. McFarland, thankfully, managed to walk more on the jazz side, recording a series of albums for Verve and Impulse before his untimely death from poisoning in 1971. Two of McFarland's most well-regarded releases, Soft Samba from 1964 and The In Sound from 1965, are reissued by Ace Records in a one-CD pairing, coming a few years after his reappearance in the spotlight due to a documentary on his life, This is Gary McFarland.

McFarland surrounded himself with some of the best in the jazz world, and these two Bossa Nova and Latin influenced records (both recorded sans orchestra) were produced by Creed Taylor and engineered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, resulting in top-notch sound quality. The sessions were populated by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Kenny Burrell, Gabor Szabo, Sadao Watanabe, Grady Tate, Willie Bobo and other skilled accompanists.

The music is breezy and deceptively light with an undercurrent of wistfulness, the records sharing a propensity for covers of the pop hits of the day. These were some of the first records to merge youth-oriented pop with jazz, and the marriage was generally not well received by the critics. Regardless, many other artists followed suit soon after. Along with the requisite Burt Bacharach cover ("Here I Am" on The In Sound), there are a generous helping of The Beatles interpretations on Soft Samba. These primarily instrumental covers, when they do include McFarland's laid-back vocals, normally use lyric extracts or hummed wordless vocalizations of the melody line. By removing the words, the listener is redirected to focus on the melody itself, which has been buffed to remove any rough edges, presumably so as to better chill out to with your cocktail on the beach. This is not everybody's cup of tea (or cup of pina colada, as the case may be.) The Boy Scout magazine Boys Life (of all publications) reportedly wrote at the time, "You'd think that the artists in this album couldn't talk because all you hear is 'Ba-ba, baya-baya, byu-byu' and so on with little relief." They go on to say, however, that the effect is pleasing in the long run.

The most effective cut in this vein is McFarland's version of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which manages to find a mellow samba at the heart of the song. McFarland is so relaxed that all he can manage to say is "I can't get no..." and leave it at that. No ice for his drink? No new baubles for his girl from Ipanema?

Some competent versions of movie themes and a catchy novelty song called "Bloop Bleep" by Broadway composer Frank Loesser round things out on Soft Samba, while McFarland's originals on the overall more ambitious The In Sound make that record the more interesting of the two. His "Fried Bananas," with Latin trumpet and tasteful guitar on a bed of vibes and soft percussion, topped off with that trademark McFarland humming/singing, easily stands up with the more high-profile titles.

Here's hoping more reissues of Gary McFarland's discography will follow.

Track Listing: The Moment of Truth; Bloop Bleep; The Hills of Verdugo; Over Easy; Here I Am; Fried Bananas; The Sting of the Bee; Wine and Bread; I Concentrate On You; (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; Ringo, Won't You Marry Me; From Russia With Love; She Loves You; A Hard Day's Night; The Good Life; More (Theme from the Film Mondo Cane); And I Love Her; (Theme from the Film) The Love Goddess; I Want to Hold Your Hand; Emily (Theme from the Film The Americanization of); California, Here I Come; La Vie En Rose.

Personnel: Gary McFarland: arranger, vibraphone, vocals; Jimmy Cleveland: trombone; Seldon Powell: flute; Spencer Sinatra: flute; Patty Bowen: piano; Antônio Carlos Jobim: guitar; Kenny Burrell: guitar; Richard Davis: double bass; Bob Brookmeyer: trombone; Sadao Watanabe: tenor saxophone, flute; Gábor Szabó: guitar; Joe Venuto: percussion; Willie Rodriguez: percussion; Bob Bushnell: double bass; Candido: bongos, congas; Grady Tate: drums; Sol Gubin: drums, percussion; Arnie Wise: percussion; Willie Bobo: percussion.

Title: The In Sound & Soft Samba | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Ace Records

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