Charlie Byrd/Herb Ellis/Tal Farlow: Embraceable You

Even though this version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" is credited to the guitar trio of Byrd/Ellis/Farlow, Tal Farlow pays most of the respects to the two legends of American song here. Minimal contributions from the other guitarists on the bill are made, but they exist, and, even though they are spare, they are important to the overall presentation. At 3:24, some artificial harmonics are played on the guitar and prove that the point of the entire evening-that is, classic jazz tunes such as this one can be infused with advanced instrumental techniques that add great variety to the original composition.

Farlow references North Carolina in his introduction, restating the title as "Embraceable Y'all," but the tune does not deviate much from the spirit of the inaugaral version. The changes are lovingly preserved, the solo sections are boxed into them, and the spirit of innovation is present even though the tune is ancient. The audience's reaction is proof of the power of the track, and, surely, the distinctly wistful melody is left intact, and, because many dimensions are added to the mix, anyone interested in great jazz improvisation on guitar should check this track out.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lillian Boutté: Embraceable You

Although one of the finest gospel, jazz, blues, and R & B singers to ever come out of New Orleans, the versatile Boutté is probably best known--outside of the Crescent City itself--in Great Britain and Europe. Early in her career Boutté was a back-up singer on various Allen Toussaint projects, then starred for four years with a touring company of the jazz-based musical One Mo' Time, after which she and her husband, German saxophonist Thomas l'Etienne, spent most of their time performing together overseas. However, in 1986 she was named "New Orleans Musical Ambassador," a title only previously bestowed on none other than Louis Armstrong. Boutté's appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have always been highly anticipated and rewarding.

Boutté's The Jazz Book CD focuses on her jazz-oriented singing style, and the ballad performance "Embraceable You" fully displays the polished, understated beauty of her voice and approach. Beginning with the piano intro so well known from Charlie Parker's classic 1947 version, Boutté then follows with her rich, controlled vibrato, singing the words with a reserved, appealing quaver that nearly turns this interpretation into a gospel paean, rather than a secular acknowledgment of love. Leroy Jones' commanding trumpet solo is patterned after Clifford Brown, exhibiting a similar well-rounded, glowing tone, lyricism, and precise phrasing. His obbligatos enhance Boutté's spiritual reprise, as does pianist Edward Frank's deliberate, unassuming chord placements. Lloyd Lambert and Søren Frost add greatly to the success of this track with their sensitive--and clearly recorded--rhythmic support.

June 12, 2009 · 1 comment

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Charlie Parker: Embraceable You

We tend to remember 1940s bebop as fast and furious music, full of intricate melodies and hard-edged solos. But here Parker contributes one of the finest ballad performances in the history of jazz, a solo that redefined how slow, moody songs could be performed by a small combo. Bird barely glances at Gershwin's melody, and instead constructs a thematic improvisation, which develops a short motif—similar to the "You must remember this" phrase from "As Time Goes By"—that he states in the opening measure. A musicologist could spend a hundred pages trying to describe what Parker tossed out in almost as many seconds. But it's better just to sit back and enjoy this example of the great altoist playing at the top of his game.

December 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Embraceable You

I'm still waiting for them to release Ornette Plays the George Gershwin Songbook. But in the meantime, I can continue to enjoy this unusual entry in the discography of the Master of Free Jazz Saxophony. The young Ornette (or the old Ornette, for that matter) never had much time for the American popular song tradition. True, on his first record back on the Coast, the band played the changes of standards behind his alto solos, but this was more a stopgap than a conscious aesthetic preference. Yet here, in the midst of his musical revolution, Coleman records "Embraceable You," and shows -- surprise! -- that he is an effective balladeer. I have always dug the plaintive wail of Coleman's best alto work, that deep moan that sounds (to my ears) like an authentic cry from the heart. When you get to brass tacks, this raw soulfulness is not much different than what Ben Webster or Stan Getz or the other great jazz ballad players brought to their performances. I can't help wishing Coleman had done more in this vein, and had given us (like Coltrane did) a whole LP of ballads. At least we can content ourselves with this moving track.

December 09, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Embraceable You

Her autobiography is entitled Lady Sings the Blues, and her most endearing performance is her blues "Fine and Mellow" on CBS-TV's The Sound of Jazz (1957). Yet Billie Holiday wasn't a blues singer. Her repertoire came not from the Mississippi Delta, but predominately from lower-Manhattan tunesmiths. To wit, this 1930s Gershwin standard. With the band kept strictly in the background, Billie languidly entices us, "Don't be a naughty baby—come to Mama, do." Much as we adore Lady Day, we can't promise to not be naughty. As she herself observed, "Love will make you do things that you know is wrong."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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