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Archive for September 15th, 2011

Review: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, “The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings”

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When Frank Sinatra met Count Basie, it was far from a clash of the titans.  No, the “historic musical first” that occurred between the grooves of Reprise 1008 in 1962 was more like a perfect union.  Both were Jersey boys, with Basie’s formative years spent south of Hoboken, in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The men were unusually simpatico, similar in their enormous respect for musicians.  Though Basie titled a 1959 album Chairman of the Board, the title was later bestowed upon Sinatra.  When Basie put his feelings on music onto paper, he wrote, “I think the band can really swing when it swings easy, when it can just play along like you are cutting butter.”  Sinatra’s second album for Capitol epitomized this belief, titled (what else?) Swing Easy! and living up to the title’s promise.  The two chairmen finally paired on record in 1962 for Sinatra-Basie, following that initial effort up with a 1964 sequel, It Might As Well Be Swing.  These albums ushered in a fertile era of collaboration for Sinatra at Reprise, which found him comfortably singing alongside Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim and even Rod McKuen.  Now, Concord and Frank Sinatra Enterprises have delivered The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (CRE-33152, 2011) of Sinatra and Basie on one packed compact disc, and for an hour or so, all is right in the world.

Might these be Sinatra’s most overtly jazz-oriented albums?  The singer sounds supremely relaxed (even letting the occasional trace of his Jersey roots to appear in his vocals!) in front of this confident band, affording them generous room to breathe.  On Sinatra-Basie, the pianist’s solo introduction makes the first notes you hear on the opening track, “Pennies from Heaven.”  The stereo spread (mixed for this disc by Larry Walsh) allows for thrilling call-and-response between sections of Basie’s band, and the spatial presence of the players is in evidence throughout.  Basie makes his presence on the keys felt with his truly economic style; he delivers minimalistic, reassuring accents that immeasurably enhance the overall sound.  Often he starts the song off, or brings it home with an unmistakable tag.  And the Basie rhythm section smokes – guitarist Freddie Green, bassist George “Buddy” Catlett, drummer Sonny Payne all make an impression.

Earlier in 1962, Sinatra had recorded Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass with arranger and conductor Neal Hefti; though Hefti returned for Sinatra-Basie, his work was less brash the second time around.  Most of the songs were taken at mid-tempo, building to a powerful climax, but the fast-moving exceptions were notable (“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Looking at the World Thru Rose-Colored Glasses,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”).  Hefti provided a defining arrangement for Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin’s “Please Be Kind” with those exultant reed blasts, and took a number of remakes of Capitol classics to completely new levels.

When Sinatra revisited Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “The Tender Trap” only a few years after introducing it in 1955, he sounded impossibly wiser with just the right amount of vulnerability underneath the surface.  Might he fall into that tender trap again?  The trumpet insinuates as it echoes his vocals.  Just listen to Sinatra’s drawn-out “some starry night…” or his momentary hesitation in “for…for being single” for the indisputable proof as to why he’s the all-time master of interpretation. He modulates the song and the big band backing him with complete and utter control, clearly having a ball, and loosely improvising.

“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” dates even further back at Capitol for Sinatra, to 1954’s Swing Easy! as arranged by Nelson Riddle.  Hefti’s take is clever and singular, with plenty of chances for band solos and some pounding drums!  For George and Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Hefti’s new arrangement barrels like a freight train.  It’s unstoppable and mesmerizing, but so very different from Riddle’s 1957 chart.  Sonny Cohn shines on trumpet.  The gentle “Learnin’ the Blues” also differs from Sinatra’s original, and plays like a supreme instruction from the master.  The orchestra taunts the singer, echoing the lyrics, and then it’s just Sinatra, Basie tickling the ivories and the beat: pure bliss.  Frank Wess (also a talented arranger for the likes of Bobby Darin) shines on flute, and his presence on the entire disc sets Sinatra-Basie apart.  Wess stands out, too, in “Rose Colored Glasses” and Sinatra’s tip of the hat to Matt Monro on “My Kind of Girl,” given a vaudevillian spirit by Hefti and featuring some hot soloing by Frank Foster and Eric Dixon on tenor saxophone.

“I Won’t Dance” is another remake from 1957’s A Swingin’ Affair, like “Nice Work.”  It ends the first album on a quiet note.  Despite his protestations, few could have resisted asking Sinatra to dance, especially with this sensual arrangement aided by Wess; Basie’s band almost sighs to the wistful Jerome Kern melody.

Many members of the Basie Band had been playing together for years, but their adaptability to the individualism of Sinatra was nothing short of a miracle: effortless and versatile.  They were likewise able to adapt to another voice as arranger and conductor when Quincy Jones replaced Neal Hefti for 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing.  Jones was no stranger to the Basie band, having previously arranged for the unit at Reprise, winning a Grammy Award in the process.  The man christened “Q” by Sinatra had large shoes to fill, but proved himself more than up to the task!  Read all about it after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 15, 2011 at 14:51

They’ve Got Some Other Things Comin’: Two Judas Priest Compilations Coming Next Month

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Judas Priest are prepping to end their live career with a bang, taking their final Epitaph tour to the U.S. from October to December. But they’re not done as a band (their next studio effort is slated for 2012), nor are they done with handling their catalogue, putting out a massive singles box in October.

Interestingly, they’re celebrating the catalogue further with not one but two compilations around the world, both of which cover much of the same ground in slightly different ways.

The first one was actually released August 22 in the U.K., and is the simpler of the two. Single Cuts, bearing the same name as the aforementioned box set, simply includes all 19 of the band’s U.K. single A-sides for CBS Records from 1977 to 1992.

Meanwhile, the track list for the upcoming compilation Chosen Few has been picked by some of Priest’s famous fans. Rock legends, including members of Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Metallica and Slayer; modern rockers from Slipknot, Korn and Lamb of God and even rocker/professional wrestler Chris Jericho have all turned in 17 favorite tunes, complete with track-by-track notes. Either looks to be a good primer for new fans with their own advantages – one covering their greatest hits while the other serving as a nice collectible for those wondering what virtues, say, Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper have to extol about Priest.

Chosen Few is out October 11, and the full track list for both sets are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

September 15, 2011 at 11:24

Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back: Sinatra’s “Best of the Best” Joins Together Capitol, Reprise Years

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Some have said, “It’s Frank’s world.  We just live in it.”  And today at The Second Disc, we’re in Frank’s world.  We’ll soon bring you a review of Concord’s Frank Sinatra – Count Basie: The Complete Studio Recordings, but first comes news of an upcoming anthology that’s the first of its kind.  Sinatra’s Best of the Best arrives on November 1 from Capitol Records and Frank Sinatra Enterprises, and is a compilation with a difference.  For the first time, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ recordings for both Capitol (1954-1962) and Reprise Records (1961-1981) are brought together on a single-disc release.  Best of the Best will be available in numerous formats: a one-CD compilation, a double-CD set restoring to print a rare 1957 concert from Seattle, Washington, and as digital downloads.

The 23 songs featured on Best of the Best are chronologically arranged, beginning with 1953’s “I’ve Got the World on a String” and concluding with 1980’s “Theme from New York, New York.”  While selecting the finest performances by Sinatra is a thankless task with so many indelible songs to choose from, the compilers have opted for 13 Capitol tracks and 10 from the Reprise period.   The early portion of the disc covers highlights from Sinatra’s acclaimed string of Capitol concept albums.  His very first album for the label, Songs for Young Lovers, is represented by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” while its 1956 “sequel” Songs for Swingin’ Lovers has yielded both Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and the Mack Gordon/Josef Myrow standard “You Make Me Feel So Young.”  The mark of arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle is apparent on the Capitol tracks as he and Sinatra redefined the rules of popular singing.  The freewheeling style of Billy May enlivens 1957’s album title song “Come Fly with Me” by the team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, who also appear via “Love and Marriage” (used as the theme to television’s Married with Children), “All the Way” and “My Kind of Town.”

Reflecting Sinatra’s diverse collaborations at Reprise, Best of the Best features arrangements by Riddle, Don Costa, Gordon Jenkins, Quincy Jones and Ernie Freeman.  When Sinatra formed Reprise, he was intent on using his newfound artistic freedom to pursue numerous new directions, and the adventurous spirit led him to record with talents like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Rod McKuen and even Four Seasons writer/producer Bob Gaudio.  Sinatra’s mid-1960s pop smashes “Strangers in the Night,” “Summer Wind,” “That’s Life” and “My Way” sit comfortably alongside the vintage Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Cy Coleman tunes from Capitol.  Best of the Best wraps up with (what else?) John Kander and Fred Ebb’s valedictory “Theme from New York, New York,” one of the most beloved recordings of all time by any artist of any genre.

The deluxe edition of Best of the Best includes a June 9, 1957 live performance from Seattle previously released on the DCC/Artanis label as Sinatra ’57.  This long out-of-print disc was originally released in 1999 and mastered by Steve Hoffman; Nelson Riddle provided the arrangements and even conducted.  Sinatra’s longtime accompanist Bill Miller was at the piano.  Sinatra triumphantly runs through an amazing number of standards, including some not included on Disc 1 of the new compilation: “At Long Last Love,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Just One of Those Things,” “I Won’t Dance,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “The Tender Trap” and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s quintessential saloon song, “One For My Baby.”

For more on Best of the Best, including the complete track listing with discography and pre-order link, just hit the jump and meet me at Jilly’s place! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 15, 2011 at 09:38