Without resorting to the manic metronome marking of quarter note = 5280
that for "Lover" had become de rigueur, this track swings quite nicely, thank you. What makes convocations of mature jazzmen consistently joyful is how complementary, not competitive they are. Whether soloing—in order: Herb, Charlie (acoustic) and Barney—or engaging in a delightful 3-guitar ensemble, the immodestly but accurately billed Great Guitars sum up earlier "Lovers," especially Les Paul's 1948 forerunner
, while making their own distinctive contribution. It may have taken 35 years of recorded jazz "Lovers" to find just the right groove, but, hey, better Great than never!
Finally! After three decades of jazz "Lovers" streaking to shatter the 3-minute mile, Tony Bennett shows what an enchanting love song this was all along, just waiting for a master balladeer to rein in the tempo, lower the volume and try a little tenderness. It's the difference between leading an all-out, bugles-blaring cavalry charge and whispering sweet nothings in the ear. We can't document it, but we'll wager that down through history, strategically placed whispers have conquered more sovereign territory than any cavalry. And if you know a more seductive whisperer than Tony Bennett, please let us know.
For the first 45 seconds of this 2-minute track, Anita O'Day treats her "Lover" as tenderly as, well, "Tenderly." Then arranger Billy May loses patience, and it's off to the races for a familiar sprint to the finish. Too bad. Anita was onto something. "Lover," a pretty Cinderella grown haggard from too many frantic pumpkin rides tempting midnight's last stroke, might indeed fare better as a ballad. But Billy May won't give her a chance. While Anita is certainly up to an up-tempo gallop, it's dismaying how a tried- and-true treatment can become a straightjacket for even the most creative interpreters.
Soundman Rudy Van Gelder's reverb made hard-edged trumpeters such as Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd sound commodious, but here it has the opposite effect. Electronically diffusing Art Farmer's glowing tone was akin to peering at Monet's Water Lilies through a gauze scrim, missing the point entirely. Fortunately, this track is redeemed by Jackie McLean, oft uneven but in fine fettle, and by Philly Joe in fettle even finer. Although producer Alfred Lion initially spurned "Lover" due to a raggedy-ass ending in which Jones gets carried away by his own enthusiasm, it's well worth hearing.
Against the backdrop of polished repartee and perfectly tuned glasses clinking at Manhattan’s swanky bistro Basin Street East, the Brubeck Quartet eschews the by-now obligatory racetrack 4/4 and restores "Lover" to her original waltz form. The Quartet's elegant delicacy—or delicate elegancy (we can't decide which)—befits both the song and their surroundings. Desmond's self-described dry-martini alto is naturally right at home, Brubeck himself displays an unusually light touch, and Dodge motors comfortably in a meter then exotic to jazz. We especially like Dave's unaccompanied coda appended calmly after the audience assumes the song is ended. A lovely "Lover."
Like Dave Brubeck's 1955 "Lover,"
this track sticks exclusively to waltz meter. These cats, however, are card-carrying hard boppers, so quaintness ain't an option. Roach formed this band after the previous year's premature death of his co-leader, Clifford Brown. Bop veteran Kenny Dorham wisely doesn't try to emulate Clifford, but rather asserts his own, somewhat prissy style opposite the perpetually priapic Sonny Rollins. Little-known pianist Billy Wallace impresses by soloing in octaves, while Max exerts his customary mastery. Whatever fool wrote (on this very website!) that drum solos should be seen and not heard
has obviously never listened to Max Roach.
After alternating the melody between 3/4 and 4/4, this pickup group settles into a frisky gambol better befitting both song and musicians than the breakneck tempo jazzmen by consensus had decided made an ideal "Lover." During the 1950s it was the critics’ cliché that Milt Jackson, temporarily loosed from the John Lewis-imposed rococo restraints of the MJQ, swung as hard as anyone in jazz. Here, bouncing his felt- tipped mallets off gold-plated aluminum bars with the effortless grace of a Chinese ping-pong champion dispatching opponents in the Grand Slam, Jackson shows that (in the words of our all-time favorite fortune cookie) Truth Sometimes Resides Even In Cliché.
Charlie Parker with Strings at Birdland (1951), photo by Marcel Fleiss
Though billed as Charlie Parker with Strings, the latter flounder ineffectually on this up-tempo track featuring Bird's blazing alto and a brace of bellowing brass. Indeed, with such ear-splitting trumpeting, Harris's trombone turn and Lamond's drumming, this might sooner be Woody Herman's 1945 Herd than a showcase for bebop's leading improviser. The concluding harp glissando—verily Verley Mills, the soul of patience, sat through the entire track just to strum that single lick—sums up what makes Bird's "Lover" tough to take. Somebody should've decided between bop, big-band swing or sappy strings, and stuck with that choice. Even so, it is
November 21, 2007 · 1 comment
Fans of post-1960 jazz piano trios might be shocked to find that previously such groups weren't wildly egalitarian gymnasiums where bassist and drummer vied with one another to out-muscle the pianist. Not so long ago, rhythm instruments accompanied
the piano—no overbearing bassist plucking like Earl Scruggs on steroids, no drummer trading fours with himself from start to finish. As proof of how captivating this could be, consider Erroll Garner's cozily affectionate "Lover." Especially coming on the heels of Stan Kenton's overpoweringly brassy "Lover"
(1947) and Les Paul's equally impersonal techno-pop cover
(1948 ), Garner's warm-blooded, one-on-one effervescence is endearing.
In 1941, applying modern technology to the venerable One-Man-Band idea, Sidney Bechet overdubbed himself playing "Sheik of Araby" on six different instruments. The musicians' union was irate. Those five displaced members couldn't pay dues if they didn't work! In 1948, Les Paul struck another blow at featherbedding, and incidentally pioneered multitracking, by laying down eight guitar parts, some at half speed, then added reverb. Played back at normal speed, Les's "Lover" sounded like harpsichords on helium chattering in a cave. After a minute-waltz lead-in, Paul startlingly shifts to an up-tempo 4/4 electronic virtuosity prefiguring Switched-On Bach
(1968). Gimmicky but historic.
After lulling us with an intro fit for a biopic of some doomed Romantic Composer, including stating the melody as a Chopin waltz, Stan Kenton's "Lover" outraces even Gene Krupa's "Lover"
of two years previous. Moreover, while Krupa's cup-muted trumpets maintained a modicum of restraint, that word was missing from Kenton's vocabulary. Well before Detroit decided "bigger is better," Kenton laid on extra brass, widened his voicings and (foretelling Spinal Tap's amp that goes to 11) boosted fortissimo from ff to FFFFFFFFFFF
. Vido Musso and Kai Winding solo, but this track is all about mass mania—the madness of crowds.
With the Swing Era fading fast, its star drummer demonstrates how far both this song and big bands had come. In 1933, bandleaders Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman waltzed dancers around in dignity with "Lover," but Gene Krupa's postwar fox-trot is so frenetic even the most jittery jitterbugs couldn't keep up. Drum devotees, though, were no doubt delirious at Krupa's double-timed businessman's bounce, which includes a 30-second drum solo that'd be overlong at any length. (Like children in polite society, drum solos should be seen and not heard.) The parking meter on jazz's stint as America's dance music had clearly expired.
November 21, 2007 · 1 comment
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