You know folks, I am not a complete hater of CDs and despite what apparently many think, I don’t only listen to vinyl (tho’ I do have an extensive collection). I like all physical media actually which I know goes counter to some trends depending on what sources you read. I have too much music in my collection to rely solely on one format, be it CD, Blu-ray, Vinyl LPs, Shellac 78s or 45 RPM singles. I find physical media more reliable and easier to organize than most non physical options. In these times of high-speed Internet, mobile communications, digital downloads, and other fast-paced communications there is still a place for physical media in some of our universes. While I plan to talk about that more in the future, this is all a lead in an ongoing series of reviews on handy (primarily) CD sets which present an overview of the careers of certain artists or styles of music.
First up is a recent compilation out from Universal Music Group called Jazz Loves Bernstein, celebrating the 100th birthday of legendary composer / conductor Leonard Bernstein, an artist who helped change the face of popular music on many levels, especially with his support of jazz.
From the official press release for this set we hear from the Maestro himself: “‘Jazz and I are on excellent terms,’ said Bernstein, one of whose earliest jobs was transcribing the instrumental improvisations of such jazz greats as Coleman Hawkins and Earl “Fatha” Hines. Jazz remained a cornerstone of Bernstein’s musical consciousness for the remainder of his career, and jazz performers would continue to record Bernstein compositions in the decades to come.”
This new collection is a remarkable journey focusing on instrumental and vocal jazz interpretations of Bernstein’s music. One of the great things about the corporate consolidation of the major record companies is that we can now enjoy compilations spanning diverse labels from the past all under one roof now. Jazz Loves Bernstein pulls together recordings by Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, Bill Charlap, Carmen McRae and many more, artists who record (or recorded) for different labels over the years — Verve, Blue Note, Mercury, Kapp, Decca, EmArcy, etc.
In addition, you get to hear some perhaps lesser known names from the 1950s who may have fallen through the cracks of household-name pop music history but indeed have done some interesting work over the years. Here on Jazz Loves Bernstein they get to rub elbows with jazz legends and in the context of this collection that sense of discovery is quite interesting and fun.
For example, from Jazz Loves Bernstein I was more seriously introduced to an artist I never really considered before other than seeing his name on some gimmicky thrift shop LPs (like this one which I own for its kitsch cover art!: Manny Albam. What a mistake that was! Turns out he was the arranger of Bernstein’s score for West Side Story, a work that earned him a Grammy nomination in 1959! Here he turns in a swinging and fun montage of three classics from that smash show which feels remarkably fresh and at times haunting (“America/I Feel Pretty/One Hand, One Heart”). I especially like the somber horns-only section. That track (and the whole of Jazz Loves Bernstein) is streaming up on Tidal in 24-bit, 44.1 kHz MQA “master” quality so click here if you’d like to hear what he was up to there.
So, already, Jazz Loves Bernstein has done what a great compilation is supposed to do: introduce us to artists we may have overlooked. That said, I definitely plan to look into the music of Bill Charlap who turns in several terrific interpretations of Bernstein’s music (“Jump,” “It’s Love” and “Ohio”). I’ve heard about him, I know he is respected, but up until this I didn’t have any of his recordings. These songs all come from his own Bernstein tribute album called Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein. I’m going to have to pick that one up soon! He’s also up on Tidal if you want to explore his music there (click here).
Bobby Scott is another name I was not familiar with before this set and plan to find some of his recordings. The opening bits of his “New York, New York” here are fascinating, with a string quartet type intro and then some haunting rich piano touches. Click here if you want to hear those tracks up on Tidal.
Sarah Vaughan’s rendition “Maria” is a stunner. I had to stop and go through my collection as I’m a big Sarah fan (I have most everything she’s done) to see if I had this. I did… well… sort of. I have the original album Sassy Swings The Tivoli on a single LP but what I didn’t have (nor even know about!) is the double CD expanded edition of the full concert which contains this breathtaking interpretation (recorded in 1963!). Click here to hear it up on Tidal and be sure to listen for her long held notes at around the 4:10 mark. Wow! I’m going to have to track down a copy of that CD set (its up on Amazon for those of you who like to shop there).
For now, I’m happy to be able to enjoy this song playing this CD set in my car with this set or streaming it via Tidal at home via my computer and Mytek Brooklyn DAC.
I’m going to wrap up this review with some personal thoughts on physical media to consider. The prospect of hassling with downloads just to play something in the car for the morning drive to work is probably more of a burden than most of you want to deal with – I know it is for me! So, assuming you still have a CD player in your car, to be able to get this album with one click on Amazon and then just pop it in the car for a ride to work is sort of no brainer easy and it’s all sequenced and you don’t have to worry about streaming connections, data charges or the hassle of loading it up onto your mobile device if you go for the download version. Of course if you genuinely prefer streaming on your phone and have good connections then of course, stream away! Unfortunately for me, when driving around Northern California where I live, phone signals seem to come and go with the wind so I stream there infrequently.
Anyhow, Jazz Loves Bernstein is a good one and it sounds really quite nice and remarkably consistent sounding despite it being from a multitude of sources and different producers recorded between the1950s stretching into the 21st Century. Great music and a bit of time travel included for no extra charge. Now, that’s a good deal!