Spotify, iTunes and other companies streaming music did not exist when the following Rifftides piece appeared. If anything, there has been an escalation of the ability of singers, and of musicians in general, to make themselves ubiquitous.
From the Rifftides archive: first posted on April 17, 2007
The traditional record industry is imploding. It is impossible to say what will emerge from the turbulence. Some analysts of the music business are predicting that the compact disc will quickly go the way of the LP, the cassette, the eight-track tape, the 45, the 78 and the cylinder. They say it’s going to be an iPod world, an MP3 world. How long will technology allow those new means of music delivery to survive? Are you ready for a digital implant in your brain?
In the meantime, CDs proliferate because they’re so easy, so cheap, to make. The expense and sheer complexity of gettting music from an instrument or a voice into a microphone and ultimately onto a record used to require the resources of a company. Digital technology, the internet and distribution by downloading make it possible for anyone who can raise a few thousand dollars to be a record label. One of the immediate by-products of the transition is that recording “artists” (ahem) are materializing at an incredible rate. Who knew that there were so many jazz singers? The maturing and development of singers once took place through the demanding process of experience, during which those with the goods survived and the wannabees, for the most part, didn’t. Now the wannabees bypass experience and put out CDs on their own labels. Some of those recordings are awful, most merely boring. That is why it was welcome to receive the recent release—in one fell swoop—of nine CDs by survivors of a more rigorous system. These albums from EMI were issued in the 1950s and 1960s on the Capitol, Pacific Jazz and Roulette labels. Some of the singers were more accomplished than others, but all are at or near their best in this series, and it may be instructive for some of the wannabees to study them. One clue to what they might listen for: in nearly every case, the performances are more about the song than the singer.
Sarah Vaughan, Sarah + 2 (Roulette). Vaughan recorded two indispensable albums with only bass and guitar, this one and the earlier After Hours, also for Roulette. Here, the bassist is Joe Comfort, the guitarist Barney Kessel, who may have been her ideal accompanist. In this minimal setting, Sarah powered down and avoided the excesses that sometimes marred her work when she was surrounded by massed strings, reeds and brass. Everything that made her a phenomenon of twentieth century art is in balance–musicianship, elegance, judgment, intonation, control, vocal quality and that astonishing range. If you need to know why an opera star like Renee Fleming worships Vaughan, consult this CD.
June Christy, The Intimate Miss Christy (Capitol). Christy’s strength was her story-telling. Her famously unstable intonation occasionally wanders here, but it is perfect as she gets to the hearts of “The More I See You” and “Don’t Explain.” Her “Misty” is the best I’ve ever heard (yes, I know about Sarah Vaughan’s). Christy should have recorded with small groups more often. Her compatability with guitarist Al Viola is a large reason for the success of this venture.
Sue Raney, All By Myself (Capitol). There’s a hint of Christy in some of this early work by the sublime Raney, but her flawless intonation, time and phrasing are her own. The zest she brings to “Some of These Days” and the longing to “Maybe You’ll Be There,” define those songs. This was her second album for Capitol, made when she was twenty-three. It disappeared for decades. It’s good to have it back.
Chris Connor, At The Village Gate (Roulette). Because she succeeded Christy in Stan Kenton’s band, was also blonde and had a husky quality to her voice, Connor was at first presumed to be a Christy imitator. She never was. In this club date long after her Kenton years, Connor was a powerhouse, nailing every song, creating excitement that rarely surfaced in her better known albums. This is a revelation.
Joe Williams, A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (Roulette). This was the first of Williams’s great ballad albums, the one that disclosed him as more than a magnificent blues singer. In a class with Billy Eckstine and Frank Sinatra as a balladeer, Williams finds the soul and meaning of a dozen songs. He and the incomparable arranger Jimmy Mundy include the seldom-heard verses of several of the pieces. Still with Count Basie when this was recorded, Williams was at the apex of his ability.
Irene Kral, The Band and I (Capitol). Nearly thirty years after her death, a substantial cadre of afficianados maintains that Kral was the best female jazz singer of them all. This is the record that made her a darling of musicians and sophisticated listeners. Never interested in scatting, Kral used taste, rhythmic assurance and intelligent interpretation to establish jazz authority. The band was Herb Pomeroy’s. This album was the only time they and Kral worked together. They created a classic.
Jon Hendricks, A Good Git-Together (Pacific Jazz). Hendricks does scat. He knows what chords are made of and takes musicianly advantage of that knowledge. Of the albums he recorded apart from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross during that group’s primacy, this is the most joyous. No doubt his elation had something to do with the company he kept in the studio. His sidemen included Wes, Buddy and Monk Montgomery; Nat and Cannonball Adderley and Pony Poindexter.
Dakota Staton, Dynamic! (Capitol). Staton could be dynamic, all right, earning that exclamation point in the title. She could also go into a cloying sex kitten mode, saccharine to the point of embarrassment. When she concentrated on serving the song, she was often splendid, as she is here on “They All Laughed,” “Cherokee” and “I’ll Remember April.” Among the supporting cast, Harry Edison’s trumpet is obvious, but who are the terrific bassist and the lightning-fast trombonist? The reissue producers might have consulted the original session sheets and listed the musicians for all the CDs in this series.
Julie London, Around Midnight (Capitol). London’s treatments of “Misty,” “‘Round Midnight” and “Don’t Smoke in Bed” are among her best performances. Now and then she glides in and out of tune on a held note, but on balance this may be her finest album. London’s strengths were a bewitching intimacy and her believable connection to lyrics. This is a ballad collection relieved by “You and the Night and the Music” and “But Not For Me” well arranged by Dick Reynolds at medium tempos. London does an effective cover of Christy’s “Something Cool,” despite the distraction of a vocal group behind her chanting “something cool, something cool, something cool.”