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Carol Sloane and Clark Terry: The Songs Ella and Louis Sang

Robert Spencer By

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Carol Sloane and Clark Terry! Can they still cut it? Oh yes. In the liner notes for The Songs Ella & Louis Sang, George Simon says, "After listening to these, Carol's latest recorded sounds, I realize once more how musically and sensitively and clearly she sings — even better than before-if that's possible! Clark Terry is one of the most talented, admired and respected of all musicians. He spent three years with Count Basie, eight with Duke Ellington, and many more on records, radio and television...His admirers are legion." Amen. Bill Charlap (piano), Marcus McLaurine (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums) provide able and unobtrusive backing for this dynamic duo. The 77-year-old Clark sings and plays his trumpet and flugelhorn, which are as sharp as ever, and this one is fun from start to finish.

But isn't it just sort of an Elvis impersonator record? Why not just go pick up the old Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald stuff? After all, there is only one track here that Louis and Ella didn't record: Louis' "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," which becomes a showcase for Terry's glorious Dixie-ish chops. But even though Louis and Ella do all this, and Clark and Carol aren't really interested in breaking new ground with this material, this disc is no cynical knockoff. With talents as rich as Carol Sloane and Clark Terry, what they do with these sturdy songs is worth hearing alongside the originals. Carol and Clark restrict their Ella and Louis impressions mostly to the opening cut, "I Won't Dance," (not that they don't recur later) a thoroughly charming rouser featuring Clark's running jive and some tasty trumpet licks. Ah, but for trumpet there's "Tenderly," where Terry's muted solo is stunning in its crispness and sensitivity. Certainly one can hear what Miles Davis thought was worth emulating.

Actually, the only problem with this record is that we don't get to hear Terry enough. When we do, he's dead on. On "Can't We Be Friends" he plays subtle homage to Armstrong while turning in another of his own trademark sweet and loping solo turns. And then he sings, darting in front of and behind his Louis mask while Sloane's voice drips honey in authentic Ella fashion. On "Stompin' at the Savoy" he is genial and precise — but when isn't he?

A highlight is "Autumn in New York," a vehicle for Sloane at her most intimate — and effective. The opposite end of the spectrum is "Don't Be That Way" and "Stompin' at the Savoy," but Carol never gets too worked up, even through some amiable scatting. That's all to the good. Instead of the faux passion of too many modern singers, Carol knows that one can often pack more wallop with a whisper than with a shout.

This album has the same kind of confident atmosphere as the Heath Brothers' new As We Were Saying and the new duets from Chick Corea and Gary Burton: relaxed and thoroughly in control, veteran masters show their stuff and enjoy themselves thoroughly in the process. With an old jokester like Terry on hand here, the enjoyment quality is high—for himself, Carol Sloane, and the listener.


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