Come this December, the world will celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra. In a recording career that spanned well over fifty years, Sinatra's iconic voice managed to speak to generations of fans across the globe. To mark this special centennial, Universal Music has opted to put together several configurations of a compilation simply entitled Ultimate Sinatra
. For those wanting the royal treatment, you have available the 4-CD set that spans some 101 tracks and also includes an eighty-page booklet. On the other end of the scale is this 2-LP collection that is modest in presentation, but makes up for this with its wonderful analog presentation.
Like all versions, this set opens with Sinatra's first session with Harry James
and his Orchestra in August of 1939. Even at this early point, his vocals on "All or Nothing At All" are velvety rich right up to the ending high note, a reminded that Sinatra possessed an extended range. Due to the technical limitations of the period, the drums are barely audible on these early recordings, but Sinatra's sublime and perfectly intonated vocals are at the fore. These early transfers also contain some noise, although it is negligible and does not distract from the overall presentation.
The last three tracks on the first side and the entire second side include a swathe of iconic tracks arranged by Nelson Riddle. "I've Got the World on a String" is a bold chart that comes through the speakers loud and clear, thanks to the audio advances of the ensuing years. "Learning the Blues," from 1955, is brilliant in its execution and Sinatra proves that his chops are well up to the task at hand. With a full bottom end clearly delineating the supporting tympani parts, "Love and Marriage" has never sounded better. There is also an added sense of emotional depth to be heard here on Sinatra's ballad performances, such as the sublime "All the Way."
Moving to the third side, stereo kicks in on "One For My Baby." The year is 1958 and this means that engineers were still trying to figure out the best uses for this advancement. As a result, strings are panned hard left and the piano at hard right. Regardless, the track remains one of Frank's best. By the time of 1964's "Fly Me To the Moon," we take yet another quantum leap in sonics, the drum introduction full of visceral punch and the flutes appropriately wispy in presentation. Of course, this IS the Basie Band under the direction of Quincy Jones
The final side is a sufficient lesson in separating the wheat from the chaff. The commercial sensibilities of the '60s even had their implications for Sinatra. Witness the cheesy female vocals on "That's Life," a number that is otherwise quite agreeable. Nonetheless, Universal gleaned the best tracks from this era, including the dynamic "My Way" and the lazy "Summer Wind." Not surprising, they also opted to include "Theme from New York, New York," although the collection ends modestly with the lovely Nelson Riddle chart of "Put Your Dreams Away."
As for the quality of this presentation, it was great to find that both 180 gram discs were perfectly flat. The second disc was a bit noisier than the first, although the occasional pop and tick were mostly heard between tracks and not during the music. Dynamically, the transfers are top notch and extremely pleasing, making this a viable alternative to the CD versions. Aside from the listing of arrangers and recording dates, you will find no additional information listed inside the gatefold jacket. But this is beside the point. The purpose here is to present an analog version of this well-known music and it definitely succeeds on that count. UPDATED associated equipment used for evaluation:
VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso V.2 Ebony cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner