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Improvisations to Music

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Album Review

Mike Nichols and Elaine May became multimedia sensations appearing on stage, television, film, and record. Their wry, often searing, and satirical insight highlights the three comedy LPs the pair issued during the late '50s and early '60s. These insights are well-defined throughout the eight entirely extemporaneous scenarios included on their debut comedy LP Improvisations to Music (1958). A noir reality tethers the off-centered sense of humor that drives Nichols and May throughout these scenes. The banter that effortlessly flows between them in and of itself is not filled with jokes. In fact, there are probably more awkward silences than straightforward jokes. What is undeniably funny is the lethal accuracy of the realistic portrayals of the characters they conjure up as Marty Rubenstein's piano accompaniment aurally colors the scenarios. The sleazy "Cocktail Piano" seethes with overtly sexual overtones. The dialogue plays out to reveal a married office superior (read: boss) as he gracelessly makes incremental advances toward his unwitting secretary. The cocktail bar setting adds an almost discomforting level of reality as the combination of consenting — albeit immoral — adults and alcohol yields an obviously, yet unspoken social statement. Another highly satirical piece is "Everybody's Doing It." Behind a high-steppin' piano ragtime, they enumerate a sort of Dadaist lament for the bards of old, comparing advertising writers with other great literary figures. They hail the grey-flannel-suit-wearing breed who "drown the poets/The flannel in the mouth/Choking the voice of the silver bird/That cries no more/Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should/ You get a lot to like in a Marlboro...." The comedic message in "Bach to Bach" pokes holes at overblown verbal rhetoric inherent in the lemming-like behavior of pseudo academics and intellectuals. On "Misterioso," subversion and intrigue propel the pair as they communicate in oblique and thinly veiled code phrases such as "I changed my seat, because it was too warm" or the reply "I always travel with the window open" are surreptitiously bandied about as Nichols and May become paranoid undercover operatives. With such clever and almost furtive wit, it is no wonder that enormous success followed Nichols and May both on-stage as well as in the cinema. Improvisations to Music was a relative success charting in the Top 40, as well as setting the framework for their highly successful Broadway show, which yielded their next recording, An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1960).

Improvisations to Music, Mike Nichols
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