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Mel Torme/George Shearing: The Complete Concord Recordings

You wouldn’t hang a resplendent Matisse on densely patterned wallpaper or a Picasso against a busy toile de jouie backdrop. A masterpiece requires just the right setting, which is precisely why Mel Torme and George Shearing made such beautiful music together. The burnished glow of Shearing’s deceptively smooth piano stylings provided an ideal showcase for Torme’s majestic vocal impressionism. Not since arranger-conductor-producer Robert Mersey wrapped Torme in silky strings on 1965’s landmark That’s All was the Velvet Fog so lovingly caressed.

Between 1982 and 1991, Torme and Shearing recorded six albums: four live outings-An Evening With George Shearing and Mel Torme, An Evening at Charlie’s, A Vintage Year and Mel & George “Do” World War II-and the studio-shaped Top Drawer and An Elegant Evening. Each as good as the last, the records garnered six Grammy nominations and two trophies. Now all six albums, along with a bonus disc of unreleased tracks and alternate takes, have been assembled in this richly appointed box set. Styled in austere black and gold, the collection includes all of the original liner notes and extensive production details about each disc. But the spiffy packaging remains distantly secondary to the resplendent contents.

Suggesting highlights from such a consistently solid assortment is surely a fool’s gambit. Consider instead the remarkable breadth of their complementary talents as the pair move from the misty fragility of “My Foolish Heart” to the swinging alacrity of “This Is the Army Mister Jones.” All told there are 80 tracks, plus plenty of the playfully intelligent patter that so skillfully pitted Torme’s wisdom against Shearing’s saucy British wit. Devout Torme (and/or Shearing) fans will, of course, grumble that to get the bonus material they’ve got to shell out big bucks for duplicate copies of six discs they already own. For such whiners I have three words: “Air Mail Special.” In four-and-a-half brilliant minutes cut from An Elegant Evening, the boys take flight with the Benny Goodman anthem, blending it with Bird’s “Anthropology” and Dave Lambert’s “What’s This” with singularly (or, more accurately, dually), spectacular panache.

Originally Published