November 30, 2014
Marlene VerPlanck I Give Up, I’m In Love (Audiophile ACD-347)
Admirers of Marlene VerPlanck will need no telling that the standards she set for herself more than 20 albums ago are as high as ever and that on her latest release she reaches, indeed surpasses these standards with insouciant ease. Another expected aspect of Marlene’s albums is her song choice. Unfailingly, she finds examples from the Great American Song Book that have flowing melodies and intelligent lyrics, and she matches these with newer songs with similar pedigree. Here, the repertoire presents love songs, the staple of that Song Book, and Marlene’s interpretations are warm, profound and flawless. Among the songs, some are familiar: How Little We Know (Carolyn Leigh, Philip Springer), The Way You Look Tonight (Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern), and I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers). Perhaps a little less familiar but equally pleasing are You’re Really Someone To Write Home About (Roger Schore, Lew Spencer), I Love The Way You Dance (Frank Grant, Ronny Whyte), I Give Up, I’m In Love (Morgan Ames, Johnny Mandel), and My Little Brown Book (Billy Strayhorn). The melodic grace with which Marlene performs this music is underscored by exceptional accompaniment. On five tracks, she is joined by the trio of Mike Renzi, piano, David Finck, bass, and Ron Vincent, drums, with Warren Vaché playing cornet on two tracks and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen on two. On four tracks, the trio has Tedd Firth, piano, and Jay Leonhart, bass, with Vincent, while Allen appears on two selections. Glenn Franke’s Big Band provides powerful backing for Marlene on the remaining three tracks, on two of which they are joined by Vaché. All these instrumentalists provide exceptional accompaniment, granting the singer richly-deserved settings. Interspersed solos from Vaché and Allen and Rienzi and Firth are exemplary and add immeasurably to the occasion.
And what of the singer’s sound? In past years I have reviewed many of Marlene’s albums, chiefly for Jazz Journal. Two recent albums appear also on this site: One Dream At A Time (mid-July 2012) and Ballads . . mostly (mid-May 2013). When writing of Marlene’s voice on that last album I observed: “Astonishingly, given the number of years she has performed, Marlene still retains the gorgeously fluid crystal-clear sound that has always been a distinctive hallmark of her timeless work.” A year on and there is not a word there that I would want to change. Come 2015 and Marlene will embark on her twenty-fifth tour of the UK. Her schedule is now released: the tour starts on 4 March 2015 and runs through 16 engagements, including Ronnie Scott’s and Wavendon, and concludes on 22 March. On this tour, she will be accompanied by John Pearce, piano, Paul Morgan, bass, and Bobby Worth, drums, while on the final date she will once again meet John Ruddick and the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Full details of locations, dates, times, phone numbers, email addresses, etc, can be found on Marlene’s own site. In the meantime, the impending winter nights will be much warmer and brighter thanks to this exceptional album.
For Marlene VerPlanck’s latest album, or indeed any and all of earlier releases go as usual to Amazon.
May 18, 2013
The world of popular music is increasingly imperfect. Audiences tolerate (if indeed they are aware of) singers who cannot sing in tune but whose performances are subject to technical ‘adjustment’. Songs have lyrics that, if it is possible to hear them, have little or no meaning. Occasionally, a latterday singer will choose to sing songs from bygone days but in doing so prove that they understand neither the lyrics nor the essence of the period in which the songs were created. Well now, I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you any of this; it is, after all, a situation that has existed for several years now. But there is a reason for these opening remarks – okay, so maybe it’s become a rant – that might be summarized thus:
What we get in popular music today is seldom what we might expect from the packaging.
This is one of the reasons why a new album from Marlene VerPlanck is something to celebrate. All of us who love popular song know by now that when such an album appears our eager anticipation is always satisfied. Everything is as close to perfection as can happen. The choice of songs is always thoughtful – some are familiar, yet not overworked by other singers, others are not heard as often as they deserve, and there are occasional new songs that fit perfectly with their better-known companions. Then there are the arrangements, most often by Billy VerPlanck, Marlene’s husband for so many years, whose death in 2009 left a hole in music and in life that is impossible to fill. When it comes to accompaniment, Marlene always chooses to work with front-rank instrumentalists, finding rhythm sections well versed in those special skills that cushion and carry a singer, alongside soloists who can add special luster to a song without overpowering the vocal line. And then there is the voice. Astonishingly, given the number of years she has performed, Marlene still retains the gorgeously fluid crystal-clear sound that has always been a distinctive hallmark of her timeless work.
For this, her 22nd album, Marlene’s choice of songs was sparked by the discovery of several arrangements made by Billy but forgotten about. These were compositions by Cy Coleman and there are eight of them here, including Witchcraft, You Fascinate Me So, The Rules Of The Road, and I Walk A Little Faster. Five of the Coleman songs have lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, one by Dorothy Fields and two by Joseph A McCarthy. There are four songs composed by Harry Warren, I Wish I Knew, My Dream Is Yours, I Only Have Eyes For You, and There Will Never Be Another You. Two of these were written with lyricist Mack Gordon and one each with Ralph Blaine and Al Dubin. There is also a lovely original, composed by Billy VerPlanck with lyrics by Leon Nock; their collaborations came late in Billy’s life and other examples have enhanced previous albums by Marlene.
Two separate rhythm sections are heard here; one has pianist Tedd Firth, double-bassist Boots Maleson, and drummer Ron Vincent; the other is led by pianist Mike Renzi, with double-bassist Jay Leonhart, while Ron Vincent is again the drummer. On some tracks interweaving with singer and rhythm section are two distinguished guest soloists: trumpeter Claudio Roditi and tenor saxophonist Houston Person.
All the tracks on Ballads . . mostly are gems and any can be considered in assessing the album’s superiority. For example, It Amazes Me is one of the Coleman-Leigh songs; written way back in the 1950s, the song has not attracted many recording artists although listening to Marlene’s delightful interpretation this is hard to understand when, accompanied by the trio of Renzi, Leonhart and Vincent, she explores its melodic and lyrical charm. Another song by the same composing duo is Witchcraft; this song, which dates from the same decade has found many admirers, with perhaps three dozen recordings. Despite this, Marlene brings a fresh touch for which the same rhythm section is on hand, this time joined by Claudio Roditi whose trumpet playing (usually muted on this date) provides an elegant backdrop with deft solo touches. On I Wish I Knew, one of the Harry Warren-Mack Gordon songs, Marlene is backed by the Firth, Maleson, Vincent trio, who are joined here by Houston Person. The tenor saxophonist adds his trademark earthy tones to the songs on which he solos. The closing track on the album is the VerPlanck-Nock original, Why Was I Thinking Of Springtime. This song, with its pleasing melody and meaningful lyric, provides a fitting curtain to this exceptional album.
All who are familiar with Marlene VerPlanck’s work will need no urging to rush to buy this album and, as I remarked earlier, all expectations will be fully met. Anyone who is unfamiliar with this singer has a real treat in store.
Flick back to my Jazz CDs reviews in mid-July 2012, which includes Marlene’s One Dream At A Time.
Reviews of many other albums by this exceptional singer have appeared over the years in Jazz Journal.
To buy any of these albums, try good walk-in stores or go online – Amazon