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Gary Smulyan: High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine

From his first hit, “That’s My Desire” in 1947, Frankie Laine was on the pop charts consistently for two decades, often with country fare like the movie theme that gives this CD its title. So at first he seems an unlikely inspiration for a jazz project led by baritone saxophonist Smulyan with charts by the modern arranger Mark Masters. But the two have mined Laine’s catalogue for a program of 10 songs-five co-written plus two wholly written by him-adding up to a top-flight nonet album.

After an opening “I’d Give My Life” turned from ballad to hip swinger, “High Noon” hits like a Gil Evans opus, a Cubist refraction of the tune in shifting tempos and meters framing a series of solos over an E-flat blues scaffold, notably begun by Scott Robinson’s bass clarinet and ending with the leader’s baritone. It’s inspired recomposition, an approach Masters also applies in his bop-like contrafacts on the changes of “When You’re in Love” and “That Lucky Old Sun.” Though the ballads are more recognizable, melodically, they’re no less imaginatively arranged. “Torchin'” has solo French horn and baritone briefly bursting out of the ensemble and simultaneous baritone and alto sax solos. “Put Yourself in My Place, Baby” mixes double-timed Masters’ creations with Hoagy Carmichael’s original melody, and a chiming choir of tandem horns adds piquancy to the baritone ballad feature “A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry.”

Masters makes creative use of the one-of-each brass and reeds sections in creative foregrounds and backgrounds, often emphasizing the variety with short, traded solos. A baritone-piano duet of Laine’s “We’ll Be Together Again” is a final perfect grace note.

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