Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite albums ever. Yes, it has sentimental value (my dad played it often at dinner time when I was 9 or 10 years old), but I’m recommending it because it contains really good music. Really.
The songs of the American Musical Theater, 1924 to 1960, featured here, were the standard bearers of America’s popular music until the time “rock” “grew up” with the Beatles. These songs were composed by America’s premier songwriters, among them George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser and Frederick Loewe. The present recording is an outstanding representation of the culmination of that era’s songs, sans words. Here Hugo Montenegro has created medleys in Broadway overture style, intended for living room listening. This is the last and best of a four-volume series. Many of the songs on this volume are from the elegant Frank Music catalog.
In careless hands, poor arrangements, shoddy performances and overexposure have often reduced these “standards” to soul-less elevator “muzak”. Perhaps this is what is meant by “show tunes”. But that patronizing term, coined in recent years, also exists to boost the status of newer popular songs rich in rhythm but lacking the full-range harmonic underpinning achieved since Debussy and the melodic possibilities that grow out of it. Far from just “show tunes,” the music of the American musical theater of this era does not deserve to be dismissed -– certainly not this collection. Modern arrangers, who too often rely on “block chords” and ignore counterpoint, would do well to study the writing here.
This recording was originally released on the Time label, which label sought to fulfill the possibilities of then state-of-the-art, full-range, stereo sound. New York’s best session musicians circa 1960 -- Doc Severinsen, Urbie Green, Bob Rosengarten and Bernie Glow among them -- lent their impeccable phrasing to these recordings. In the pre-synthesizer age Hugo Montenego and his associate arrangers Jim Tyler and Maury Laws took advantage of the microphone, balancing solo flute playing in its low range and whispering string harmonics and pizzicatos with Big Band brass. The textures are generally transparent. There are idiomatic bel canto style solos for the French horn, trombone and trumpet and sweeping string glissandos. Instruments sometimes play at the extremes of their range for hauntingly beautiful, novel effect. Alternate, chromatic, jazz-influenced harmonies faithful to the melodies abound -- interesting, sensitive, intelligent and fresh. Other features of the Montenegro style: Obbligato and counterpoint and an assortment of styles from Dixieland to beguine to percussive Latin to jive to marching band to straightforward concert-symphonic, especially at the finish.
You will hear a sexy alto sax solo on “Till There Was You,” an achingly beautiful trumpet section soli as countermelody to “And This Is My Beloved,” an incredible trombone solo on “Warm All Over” and Doc’s unmistakable trumpet on “Joey, Joey” and “On the Street Where You Live.” The joyous, expert cha-cha of “Heart,” “Hey, There” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” will have you dancing in your underwear. Let yourself be seduced by this music. Allow yourself to feel, though it may be unfashionable. As Alan Jay Lerner urged, “It’s Time for a Love Song.” This would be the place to find it.
Just three complaints: iTunes Music Store sells all four volumes, but they are not in one place on the site, and Edward Jablonski’s liner notes, which give historical perspective and the contexts of the songs in their shows, are not available. Also, the genre is Easy Listening, not Soundtrack, because these are not cast albums nor sound for picture.