Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music
How fitting that Johnny Mandel, 84 when he squired this set recorded at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, showcases drummer Sherrie Maricle and her 15-piece, all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra. This is an informal, delightfully live retrospective spanning Mandel’s work with Count Basie, Woody Herman and in film. That he chose so feminine a vehicle to convey his swinging artistry makes sense, given the alluring nature of his melodies, like the classic “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Black Nightgown,” backdrop to a classic, sexy scene spotlighting Susan Hayward in I Want to Live, a daring 1958 film sporting a great Mandel score. (And it’s weird how close “Black Nightgown” is in tone, edge and tempo to Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther.”)
Not only does The Man and His Music highlight Mandel’s invigorating voicing, deploying brass to propel the stomping “Not Really the Blues” and unfurling flutes for an invigorating “Shadow,” it makes use of DIVA’s full range. In addition, guest vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway, who can sound forced, plays pretty piano on “Where Do You Start,” segueing into an unexpectedly exciting Mandel arrangement of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Callaway is positively exuberant on “Business,” one of the most vibrant tracks. Another: the frenetic mambo “Cinnamon & Clove.”
The musicianship is topnotch, the between-song Mandel patter amusing, and veteran producer Todd Barkan did nice work as emcee. The Man and His Music is an entertaining reminder of a jazz giant who remains commanding.