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Album Review

ASV's Ambrose was the first compact disc issue devoted to the work of the most popular British bandleader of the 1930s. A major challenge in compiling the work of this chap is the sheer enormity of his recorded output, running from 1923 to 1956 and encompassing hundreds of titles. For this collection, ASV decided to limit the focus to the years of Ambrose's highest visibility and greatest success in the U.K.: 1937 and 1938. Ironically, stretching twixt the Octobers of these two years is a 12-month-long gap where there are no Ambrose recordings, as the leader was then locked in a dispute with UK Decca over the band's recording contract. Not long after the Ambrose Orchestra settled this issue and resumed its recording, other external events pulled it apart yet again. At the beginning of 1937, the only major American "imported" instrumentalist left in Ambrose's band was clarinetist Danny Polo. While Sid Phillips and Bert Barnes are the primary arrangers of the material on this disc, this is not the place to look for hot instrumental numbers or Ambrose's more sophisticated musical statements, as every one of the 22 selections centers around a vocal chorus. The singers represented are Denny Dennis, Evelyn Dall, Vera Lynn, Sam Browne, and Leslie Carew. Evelyn Dall is obviously the standout singer and generally has the best material to work with, although the disc likewise features a great version of "Lambeth Walk" sung by Carew, and a version of "Two Sleepy People" sung by Lynn and Dennis which has more "oomph" than the familiar American version sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross. On the downside, American listeners are probably not likely to grasp the nostalgic value of hearing Vera Lynn sing "Sympathy," and Sam Browne's "The Organ, the Monkey and Me" is just plain bad. But the ensemble playing throughout is simply flawless. Rather than listen for great instrumental solos here (there are none), you can just luxuriate in the beautiful, light swing sound of the Ambrose Orchestra. Most of the singing here has character and is highly entertaining in and of itself. 78 rpm surface noise rears its ugly head once in awhile, and there is a slight but unobtrusive echo added to the sound mix for ambience. So, perhaps not an ideal Ambrose compilation for postmodern listeners, but certainly a decent one, and probably the Ambrose CD most likely to please those who remember this band from its heyday.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s

Destined to become the leader of what was perhaps the most highly acclaimed of all English dance bands during the 1930s, Bert Ambrose was born in London but crossed the Atlantic as a lad with his auntie to settle for a few years on U.S. soil. His very first professional engagement was as violinist for Emil Coleman at Reisenweber's restaurant in New York. He then worked in a big band at the Palais Royal. By 1917 he was directing musical entertainments at New York's Club de Vingt, and remained there...
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