Three more reissues from the Bethlehem Records catalogue released in May along with the excellent Four Horns And A Lush Life, although featuring a roster of musicians not quite household names, deserve some attention as a nostalgic reminder of the mid-century soundscape.
Vocalist Peggy Connelly is a vibrant songstress with a lovely voice, yet she is fairly well forgotten. And while no one will confuse her with an Ella Fitzgerald or even a Chris Conner, her 1956 album with Russ Garcia That Old Black Magic makes it clear that she knows her way around a song. She works here with a nine-piece ensemble led by the formidable Garcia, and the release also includes some major names like clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre playing baritone sax and Pete Condoli, who gets singled out for his muted trumpet on “Gentlemen Friend,” a largely forgotten tune.
The bulk of the set’s dozen songs are standards that were and remain pages in the Great American Songbook, and while Connelly’s vocals are not particularly innovative, she seems to be following in the mold of a popular singer like Doris Day. She begins with a Latin arrangement of the album’s title song, and goes on to a bouncy version of “Trav’lin’ Light” and another Latin treatment of “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin.’” Connelly shows her darker side with a take on the Cole Porter ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” All in all, That Old Black Magic is a fair representation of the fashionable trends of the period.
I Play Trombone, a 1958 recording from Frank Rosolino, who had been best known for his work with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, is still in tune with the standard sound of the day. Leading a rhythm section made up of pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Wilfred Middlebrooks and drummer Stan Levey, Rosolino works his way through a set of six tunes mixing standards and original compositions in what seems to have become the typical model for jazz musicians today.
He takes a laid-back swinging approach to a standard like “I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful)” but pushes the envelope on his own “My Delux,” which Joseph Muranyi’s liner notes call the “high spot of this album.” Muranyi’s note on Rosolino’s cover of Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” is a clear indication of the aesthetic of the period: “This melody was written by the very influential Sonny Rollins. The critics seem to be divided in opinion about him, yet his music seems to be known and liked by musicians from the east to the west coast.” Rollins is seen as a musician’s musician, ahead of the curve. It’s almost as if the inclusion of a Rollins composition in the more mainstream Rosolino album is in itself a sign of his willingness to walk on the wild side.
Jazz City Workshop is an album that warms the temperature of west coast cool just enough to set itself apart. Pianist/arranger Marty Paich leads a cast of musicians, while largely unknown today, are nevertheless quite a talented bunch with great sounds from Herbie Harper on trombone and Larry Bunker on vibes. The album’s eight tracks are drawn from the usual suspects, except for the Paich original, “The Natives Are Restless Tonight,” a swinging exotic piece featuring Jack Costanzo on bongos. They open with a jumping “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” with Bunker heating things up with his vibes solo before passing it on to Harper. Venerable, dependable warhorses like “Autumn Leaves,” here given a Latin beat, “That Old Black Magic” with a vocal by Mickey Lynne, “Laura” and “Them There Eyes” round out the set.
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