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DRG RECORDS: A LABEL REPORT
Review by Steve Koenig

DRG label's purvue is that hangout where cabaret, jazz, and soundtracks meet. Chantoosies meet gangsters and gun molls and we're not really slumming because the front is all above-board, where the swells meet. At least, that's what the police think. Illegal substances are not what we focus on; we're all in this together.

Characters spotted at the DRG Lounge recently include Gerry Mulligan, Kay Starr, Elmer Bernstein, Shorty Rogers and his gang, Yves Montand, Art Pepper, Sammy Davis the younger, Chet Baker, Marian McPartland, Jacques Brel, Baden Powell and other assorted hangers-on.

As I'm typing the headnotes I'm swinging to Elmer Bernstein's jazz noir soundtrack, Staccato. More info at www.kochent.com


SAMMY DAVIS, JR. The Capitol Years.
DRG 19111-2, 37:43.

My first Sammy exposure, really, was buying the 45 of "I've Gotta Be Me," a crooned theme which appealed to most of us in the late '60s. He later embarrassed me with the treacly, fake-druggy "Candy Man" and I thrilled yet cringed to his hippie reverend in the film of Sweet Charity. This album is super; fourteen tracks of jazz/pop/jump blues and crooning with a small ensemble fleshed out with a horn section. (Much of this reminded me of Julia Lee's records.) His scat on "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" is solid, as it is on several other tracks, and there's nothing rat-packy or smarmy about any cut here. "Be-bop The Beguine" delights with its Cuban claves and stylish sense of fun. "Smile, Darna Ya, Smile" features Sammy's tap-dancing and though it isn't a Baby Laurence turn, it's a solid treat.

The booklet cover is taken from the original 1954 Capitol jacket. Shame they couldn't have used the original label as well. If, like me, you were disappointed with the recent Verve reissue of Sammy's Decca duets with Carmen McRae, this is a great place to start an appreciation of a man known as an entertainer, but who in addition is a wonderful singer. Will Friedwald's invaluable notes are a perfect example of biography specific to the music at hand, in addition to a pertinent concurrent history of Capitol Records and the record biz in general. The only thing unclear to me is what other cuts did Sammy do for Capitol. It mentions several tracks of impressions that I'd love to hear.


MARIAN McPARTLAND. ...with you in mind.
DRG 8502 36:02.

We'll forever be in her debt for her longterm series of jazz interviews on NPR; she's our Barbara Walters. I'm sorry to report this is a mood music piano-drum-bass trio, complete with a wispy Marian-behind-the-autumn-tree cover photo from the original 1957 Capitol elpee mirroring the musical sweetening of four strings plus harp. For collectors only. I can easily recommend McPartland's CD of solo piano Portraits of her jazz friends, in the same vein that, in another style of music, Virgil Thompson composed portraits of his friends.


GERRY MULLIGAN AND HIS TEN-TETTE/ SHORTY ROGERS AND HIS GIANTS. Modern Sounds.
DRG 8505, 40:49.

These are two Capitol ten-inchers here paired for a west coast/cool jazz evening's listening. Let's start out by saying that Mulligan is better-known, and it's his name on the cover and the spine, but the second set here is by Shorty Rogers' band and it's this half that is not merely wonderful, but an essential purchase even if it had appeared alone. Its six tracks are filled with the kind of bop-and-beyond thrill that makes the person shouting encouragement to the band on several of the tracks seem totally right to do so. Art Pepper, Jimmy Giuffre and Shelley Manne are part of the reason for fireworks,


YVES MONTAND. Unreleased, Rare and Essential.
DRG 8494, 70:14.

A mish-mosh. From moving chansons in a great voice in studio and live, some tracks with pop backing, and studio and live tracks which place him musically in the Rat Pack (he even poses like Dean Martin on the cover photo- or did Montand come first?) The voice is always great; the tracks less so. The title is probably literally true, but I'm going to search for a collection of the earlier studio work, the part which is essential. Nice packaging, slipcase, and brief summaries of lyrics. The sound is rich, and the cover declares "remastered in high definition by Philips." [It's a few weeks later and now I've found more Montand discs, have fallen head over heels, and this release rises even higher in my esteem and gets repeated play.]


JACQUES BREL. The Olympia, The Complete Concerts 1961 & 1964.
DRG 8487, 47:58 + 48:09.

Brel is a bit over the top for my taste, even given that these chansons were meant to be acted. This set is greatly enriched by the translations of each song. Highly recommended to his fans, and an excellent point of entry for beginners. Kudos to the art department for the great cover colors and label designs.


GERRY MULLIGAN. Watching and Waiting (Soundtrack of La Menace).

DRG 18475-2, 37:03.

This one is for Mulligan completists and soundtrack lovers rather than for jazzbos. In its favor, Watching and Waiting does not sound stringy, artificially keyboardy or smack of jazz lite. From the era of Shaft or Trouble Man, this eschews r'n'b for moody themes with baritone sax solo. The best known of the musicians include Dave Grusin, Bobby Rosengarden and Jay Leonhart, wih Pete Levin on the Moog. Informative notes of the backstory by Franca Mulligan are appreciated, but oh man is the cover art slapped together.


KAY STARR. Swinging With The Starr.
DRG 91507-2, 47:21.

Listening to Starr's voice, you immediately notice a rasp which is not gruff, as well an an underpinning of country phrasing (the notes call her childhood an "Oklahoma to Dallas to Memphis odyssey"). The arrangements are all a bit retro, even for 1956; lots of violin obbligato, prominent Dixieland clarinet and guitar strum. On closer reading, that's because the majority of these sessions are from 1945-46; the 1956 date refers to their compilation onto LP. The musicians include jazz legends Barney Bigard, Joe Venuti and Les Paul in their only studio session together. Add to these Vic Dickenson and Zutty Singleton. I'm still unimpressed with the backing. This, however, doesn't in any way obscure Starr's phrasing, both jazz and blues.

The songs include "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Love Me Or Leave Me," "Three Letters" and "Stormy Weather." Six bonus tracks, done for Capitol a decade later, are added to the 1956 album's original dozen, the sonics immediately improve, and her timbre becomes even more luscious. Some of these later tunes are delightfully over-the-top country melodramas.

The CD's picture label uses delightful star imagery from the original album cover. The booklet has excellent photos and record ad reproductions, as well as informative liner notes by Will Friedwald, from which this review has heavily borrowed. This is a good introduction to Starr, although I recommend supplementing it with an inexpensive 75-track, 3-CD anthology Kay Starr: The Ultimate Collection from EMI UK.



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