August 18, 2007
TOUR: HAWAII – IMPRESSIONS IN SOUND OF AN AMERICAN ON TOUR. Verve V/V6-50003 (issued May 1962)
Rarity Level: ****
Cover Kitsch Level: ****
Music Kitsch Level: ****
Overall Score: *****
Acquired: Last Chance Thrift, Decatur GA
What do you get when you take an established high-end record label like Verve, add a composer/arranger who is known for his Jazz-influenced movie soundtracks, and then add some top-of-the-line Jazz musicians to the mix? Wait. How about throwing in a flautist who would later go on to form the Supergroup The Brass Ring? You want more? How about “real” sound effects like pounding ocean surf, chirping birds, ebullient tourist chatter, and cruise ship steam whistles? What? You want more? How about a die-cut, fold out album jacket with a TRAVEL GUIDE affixed to the inside? More? How about having this whole “concept” in Hi-Fi be a partnership with Verve and our Nation’s first and most respected “men’s” magazine, none other than Esquire? Finally, how about the album being the only one of the whole series that is set in, you guessed it, HAWAII!!
A post-modern, thrift-store-record-buying bachelor gets a rare and quintessential piece of mid-60s audio nirvana; that’s what he gets!
This reviewer had already encountered Kenyon Hopkins when he found himself getting sucked in to a TCM showing of Mr. Buddwing, a strange, 1966 B&W flick featuring a very young James Garner and a VERY beautiful Suzanne Pleshette. It was filmed on location in NYC, and Hopkins did a masterful job with the soundtrack, making his Jazzy take on the story really “fill out” what, without the music, could have been much less of a film. The IP gave the flick 4 stars, with two of them going to Hopkins. Thankfully, Verve corralled KH for four albums in a “concept” series entitled “Sound Tour.” The three other tours, also featuring the KH touch, were in France, Italy, and Spain. The IP found the Hawaii LP in a local thrift store, and he knew right away that it would be good. It’s more than good, actually.
The recording quality, the arrangements, the performances, and the added “sounds” of Hawaii make this LP a sort of Exotica-Light, a blend of kitsch with a strong Jazz sensibility. The latter is made obviously apparent by the alto sax of Phil Woods and the trumpet of Joe Wilder. And playing exceptionally on flute is Phil Bodner, a hard-working musician and producer of one of the greatest Sleazy Listening groups of all time: The Brass Ring!
Then there is the album itself, with beautiful cover photos and a die-cut, gate-fold design complete with a little “Guide” to the highlights of America’s 50th State; at least as they were in the mid-60s.
Not reissued on CD, so you have to be lucky at the thrifts or pay $20+ on the intrawebs.
SOUND TOUR: HAWAII New York City: February 16, 1962Joe Wilder (tp solo); unknown (tb); Phil Woods (as solo); Jerome Richardson, Phil Bodner (f solo); unknown (acc); unknown (g); unknown (steel g); unknown (ukelele); unknown (b); unknown (d); unknown (perc); unknown (harp); Keene Crockett (sound effects); Kenyon Hopkins (arr, cond). a. (62VK358) Pagan Love Song (A. Freed/N. H. Brown) – 1:58b. (62VK359)
Hawaiian War Chant (Freed/Noble/Leleiohaku) – 1:49c. (62VK360) Sweet Leilani (Owens) – 1:51d. (62VK361)
Nani Pua (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:18e. (62VK362)
Outer Island (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:27f. (62VK363)
On The Beach At Waikiki (Stover/Kailimai) – 1:37g. (62VK364)
Siva Siva (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:18h. (62VK365)
Catamaran (Kenyon Hopkins) – 1:45i. (62VK366) Hula
Shuffle (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:24j. (62VK367)
Kooki Muus (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:45k. (62VK368)
Song Of The Islands (C. E. King) – 2:20l. (62VK369)
Luau (Kenyon Hopkins) – 2:05m. (62VK370)
Aloha (traditional) – 1:40
Note: Complete title is VERVE RECORDS AND ESQUIRE MAGAZINE – SOUND TOUR: HAWAII – IMPRESSIONS IN SOUND OF AN AMERICAN ON TOUR.
Issues: a-m on Verve V/V6-50003 (issued May 1962), MGM Premium PM 23/9. Samplers: b, c & d also on Verve V6-DJ3 titled VERVE/ESQUIRE “TRAVEL SAMPLER”.Producer: Creed TaylorEngineer: Bob SimpsonNotes: Richard Joseph
August 12, 2007
A/AS-23 – Now Playing! (Great Music from Great Motion Pictures) – Various Artists  Artists: Carol Lawrence/Victor Feldman/Harry Betts/Elmer Bernstein/Pete Jolly/Dick Hazard
Rarity Level: ***
Cover Kitsch Level: **
Music Kitsch Level: **
Overall Score: ***
Acquired: Goodwill, Lilburn GA
Acquisition Notes: Typical Saturday morning find from a Goodwill that always produces.
This album on MGM’s budget AVA label actually provided more interest and value than The IP expected. The predominant performer/arrangers are Elmer Bernstein and Harry Betts, both well-respected and successful movie-score men. In fact, Harry Betts arranged one of The IP’s favorite surf movie scores for The Fantastic Plastic Machine. But that’s another story. On to the review of Now Playing!
The overarching theme of this LP is that each song on it is from a movie nominated for the Academy Awards of 1963; this means that the movies were released in 1962, coincidental with the year of The IP’s birth. Curiously, rather than the typical movie score album that is all covers by one band, Now Playing! features an interesting mix of original performers and curious covers that make it a keeper. The movies that produced the songs on this LP are a mix of the well-known and not-so-well-known:
Click on the titles for info on the movies
The evidently ubiquitous Carol Lawrence innocuously starts off the LP with her version Henry Mancini’s hit Days of Wine and Roses. Complete pabulum with cheesy backup singers; makes The IP want to hear Mancini’s version. Not horrible, but horribly banal.
What’s this? The theme from one of -if not THE- epic films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, being played by a Jazz trio? This short-lived 2:15 track by the Victor Feldman Trio makes this album worth the price of admission ($1.01).
Harry Betts takes a Bossa Nova approach (all the rage at the time) in his arrangement of A Second Chance from the movie Two For The Seesaw. It’s a more pleasant listening experience than the earlier track by Carol Lawrence, but not by much. The “Bill Brown Singers,” whoever the heck they are, ruin what might be a cool, Bossa Nove instrumental track.
Elmer Bernstein proves his composing and arranging prowess with his theme from Walk on The Wildside. Always a winner, even when covered by other artists.
The acting, rather than the music, carried the day for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, so much so that one might never have known that Elmer Bernstein wrote the music. This track proves that point, with its rather generic piano tinkling and subdued orchestration. Whatever.
The first track of Side Two of Now Playing! presents a complete and appreciated departure from the last track of Side One. Pete Jolly Trio & Friends apply the Bossa Nova trope to the To Kill a Mockingbird theme. Like the Victor Feldman Jazz track on Side One, this one leaves the listener wanting more. And Pete Jolly is an unexpected bonus to be included on such an album.
Whoever those Bill Brown Singers are, they again ruin an otherwise…well, this time the music sucks too. They are “singing” on a arrangement by one “Dick Hazard.” The name says enough. This song, at least as performed here, is more than forgettable.
Ready for some more Bossa Nova? The IP told you that it was all the rage in 1963. Here we have Harry Betts trying to make the most of a bad situation. What might that be? He has to work with those damn Bill Brown Singers! But Betts must have known how to browbeat these horrible vocalists into a slight submission; most of their “singing” on this track is actually of the “doo-doo-doo, da-da-da” variety that actually goes well with a Bossa Nova beat. In short: passable.
This Elmer Bernstein track (Follow Me) for the 1962 version of Mutiny on The Bounty is another throw-away, with a pseudo-Bolero sound that is, to this writer, more than a bit embarrassing. Hey, whatever works.
This LP ends with another Harry Betts Bossa Nova interpretation of a song from the movie Gypsy. Again, Betts manages to keep those intrusive Bill Brown Singers at bay, at least for most of the song…Hey…maybe I’m being too hard on these Bill Brown Singers…They didn’t sound so bad the third time around. Then again, I’m on my third beer.
As mentioned earlier, the few authentic Jazz tracks by Victor Feldman and Pete Jolly make this thrift store LP a keeper, as long as it’s under $1.01. That’s what The IP pays at the Goodwill where he got it. The Harry Betts tracks are just “OK.” The Bill Brown Singers are like a virus that infects any song they are on. The Elmer Berstein theme from Walk on The Wild Side can be found on the actual soundtrack album of the same name.
All in all, The IP was pleased by this LP, if not overwhelmed.
August 10, 2007
ARCO records LP-500, Stereo, USA (Miami, Florida) 196?
Rarity Level: *****
Cover Kitsch Level: *****
Music Kitsch Level: *
Overall Score: ****
Acquired: Goodwill, Lilburn GA
Acquisition Notes: Got lucky with a Saturday morning infusion of new used records brought out in a cart by one of the Goodwill empoyees while I was perusing the LPs.
One of the many classifications of old LPs is the “club album.” Such an LP usually features a performer who somehow garnered enough attention as a “regular” at a particular lounge/restaurant for them or some small local label (usually the former) to transmit their unique musical stylings through a rented Scully Lathe and onto a master disc. The resulting lot of LPs were usually sold at the venue as a souvenir for the departing (usually tipsy) couples who wanted a permanent reminder of their club dinner evening. What a symbolic treasure! An audio reminder of a full three hours where they didn’t once bitch and argue with each other!
One could not think of a better place and time for such LPs as Miami Beach in the late 50s and early 60s. And what better a venue than the beachfront Thunderbird Hotel, said to be a Miami hangout of the legendary “Rat Pack.” That’s not surprising since at the time there was a Thunderbird hotel and casino in Las Vegas also. And who better to represent the culture and Class of Miami Beach than Berj Vaughn, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire.
It says in the liner notes of his club album “Instrumentally Yours” that Mr. Vaughn had been “…comfortably ensconced in the world famous Thunderbird’s Pow Wow Room in Miami Beach for ten years” Holy shite! One hopes they let him out for some fresh air now and again.
Those ten years were enough for Berj to make a name for himself in greater Miami, even if “Berj” was already a unique name to begin with. “Berj” is a common Armenian name, but regardless of his ethnicity, Berj has some serious chops. He competently and, at times, even inspiringly, wails away on oboe, clarinet, trumpet, flute, and both tenor and soprano saxes. And on “Instrumentally Yours,” each song was composed by Berj himself, a hard thing to pull off when the dinner crowd probably expects to here their tired “favorites.” And Damn, does Berj pull it off, along with backing from a solid pianist, bassist, and two percussionist who flavor the set with solid beats and Cubanesque conga and timbale rhythms (it is Miami, after all).
This 12-song set is mostly straight-ahead jazz, with nice tinges of exotica found in the tight Latin/Caribe percussion and Vaughn’s flute. There are a few songs that don’t reach the level of “serious” jazz, but they are at worst only innocuous. All in all, this LP is a thrift store winner.
Berj Vaughn’s Instrumentally Yours is a one-of-a-kind club album that actually is really good; this author has suffered the indignity of listening to many club music train wrecks, so when he found and heard Berj Vaughn’s LP it renewed his faith in the idea that one CAN find minor-label club albums that please the ear and inspire the mind. Good luck finding it though, because it’s being sold by specialty record shops on the internets as a “Rare” LP in the $25 to $35 range.