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Mel Torme: Prelude to a Kiss

These three digitally remastered landmarks from the Minnesota-based Simitar are a reminder of the insouciant tunefulness that permeated so much of post-war jazz targeted to the general public. The wonderful 1958 studio date featuring Mel Torme exemplifies the approach. With superbly crafted charts by Marty Paich, Torme wafts classics such as the Ellington title track with tender loving care. A novelty is the inclusion of romantic bits of boy-girl dialogue that set up the tunes. Thus the confessional “I Surrender Dear” and jauntily declarative “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” work like the musical cameos Torme essayed for such movies as Higher and Higher (1943) and Pardon My Rhythm (1944). With Paich’s West Coast charges in fine fettle and Torme at the top of the game, it’s perfection plus.

Culled from various late-1940s’ recordings, here we get a snapshot of Lena Horne in her sophisticated prime. Tunes like Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love” are penthouse plush. In contrast, Horne wraps the blues of Rodgers and Hart’s “Glad to Be Unhappy” in silk. The set piece is a still dramatic, six-minute show version of “Frankie and Johnnie.” Backed by variously sized groups, Horne demonstrates a singularly transcendent appeal, an appeal that reached beyond and almost smashed the racial divide. There’s one complaint: The notes, unfortunately, fail to identify musicians and arrangers and recording dates, omissions which one hopes will be corrected in future releases.

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