Shearing and Torme: An incredible twosome
Mel Torme and
The Complete Concord Recordings
Jazz has long been noted for its memorable pairings. The combination of Billie
Holiday and Lester Young and J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding come to mind.
And so does the hand-in-glove twosome of Mel Torme and George Shearing.
Put simply, the singer Torme and the pianist Shearing were a musical extension of each other. And the fact each of the six albums they recorded between 1982-1992 were nominated for Grammys and two were winners provide proof of their compatibility.
Torme’s death several years ago ended the relationship, but Concord has now reissued their recorded output in a seven-disc box set.
The seventh disc contains previously unreleased material. A handy booklet that deals with the history of the sessions as well as original album liner notes complete the collection.
And it all adds up to better than six hours of genuine listening pleasure. Torme possessed an incredible range and breath control, as well as brilliant sense of time, an irresistible urge to swing, plus an intimate way of snuggling up to a ballad.
Shearing,, master of the blocked chords, a bopper down deep inside, and owning an impish sense of humor, was a perfect foil for the balladeer-cum-jazz singer.
The twosome’s Grammys came for the second and sixth albums they recorded, “Top Drawer” and “Mel & George ‘Do’ World War II,” respectively. The former is a beaut! It covers a lot of ground, ranging from Mel’s warm reading of “Stardust” to the hip “Hi Fly” and “What’s This.”
However, despite the Grammy, the WWII album doesn’t measure up to other Shearing- Torme collaborations, though the program includes several Ellington songs and the catchy “Ac- cen-tchu -ate the Positive.”
Of the remaining reissue discs, “A Vintage Year” is Zone-A with Mel’s nail-on-the-head takes of “Birth of the Blues” and “Out of This World” and inspired efforts throughout by Shearing, drummer Donny Os-
born and bassist John Laitham. Ditto for “An Evening With George Shearing & Mel Torme,” highlighted by Torme’s breathtaking “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square,” as well as Shearing’s vocal on “Lullaby of Birdland.”
“An Evening at Charlie’s” is another outing that was recorded at a night spot (three of the six discs fall into that category), and it produced the tongue-in-cheekish “I’m Hip” and the lovely “Dream Dancing,” while “An Elegant Evening Offers Shearing and Torme” in a duo setting performing mostly often-heard ballads, as well as the rarely heard “Brigg Fair.”
Bonus or seventh disc tracks are previously unreleased takes of songs heard elsewhere in the collection. An exception is “Serenade in Blue,” which makes its first appearance in the set.
Cam Miller is a freelance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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