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Diane Schuur/Maynard Ferguson: Swingin’ for Schuur

In 1961, lightening struck twice. After crisscrossing the country as “Jazz for Moderns” headliners, Maynard Ferguson and Chris Connor joined forces for the back-to-back albums Two’s Company and Double Exposure. Their fire-and-ice fusion was sublime.

Now, four decades later, Ferguson unites with another vocal diva, Diane Schuur, with solid, but uneven, results. The fault’s not with either artist. Ferguson, now 73, has lost none of the verve and vibrancy that have long been landmarks of his distinguished career. Schuur, like labelmate Rosemary Clooney, is simply too polished and professional to deliver anything less than, well, a polished and professional performance.

Together, though, they’re not always compatible. Back in ’61, Ferguson’s blazing horn work proved the perfect counterpoint to Connor’s mentholated vocals. Here, however, they’re fighting fire with fire. For starters, Schuur and Ferguson take “Just One of Those Things” at a gallop, behaving like two thoroughbreds determined to outpace one another. “Besame Mucho” follows at a similarly heated clip, with Schuur seemingly intent on replicating the brassy theatricality of the young Eydie Gorme.

As things progress, however, the pair settles into a more convivial relationship. Apart from a rather listless “Love Letters” and a disappointingly frigid reading of “Midnight Sun,” the album’s back half is effectively balanced. On “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “Just Friends” and “Let’s Fall in Love,” Schuur offers a subtle emotional tentativeness that plays beautifully against Ferguson’s thumping bravado. “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” unfolds as a playful romp, and their joint maneuvering through the treacherous curves of “Lush Life” is splendid.

Four decades ago, Ferguson helped Connor serve up two platters filled with gems. This time around, he and Schuur have slipped some paste among the jewels. Still, there’s plenty to treasure.

Originally Published