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September 07, 2009

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Franklin T. Moorehead

This is an interesting circumstance because in most cases the mono versions of early Capitol mono/stereo releases are far superior to the stereo versions. They have far more depth and richness of tine and the instruments are recorded with a fidelity that is not hearable, if it is even present, on the stereo equivalents. This is long acknowledged by collectors of Kenton, Cole, Sinatra and others.

Ivan Santiago

My thanks to Marc for the mention of the Peggy Lee discography, which is still a work in progress. Opinion about the mastering of this DRG CD seems to be very divided. Some listeners are loving it, whereas others are expressing disappointment. If you go to Amazon, for instance, you'll find a trio of customer reviews that run the gamut from positive to negative. My own opinion is mixed. I am very happy that DRG released this disc, and do find a lot to like in it, but I can't say that I am fully satisfied with its remix. (On the other hand, I do love Alan Silverman's remastering of the other Peggy Lee-Nelson Riddle CD that DRG released in tandem with this one, "The Man I Love.")

I basically share the viewpoint expressed by British record producer Ken Barnes in his Amazon review. Here's part of it: "While I agree with almost everything ... said about the sound balance and the placement of Nelson Riddle's fine orchestra, there are some tracks where the audio is decidedly lacking. Why, for example, is the front line so far in the background in Four Or Five Times? And why make a secret of Harry Edison's muted trumpet on certain other tracks ? I don't mean to sound churlish because this, in all other respects, is a truly gorgeous CD and DRG are to be congratulated for finally bringing it onto the market ... Riddle's arrangements for Sinatra were more successful than his work here with Peggy Lee. With Sinatra he offered a springier and sprightlier quality that drove the singer to more dynamic results. This is not to say that his charts for Peggy are less appealing, but from time to time - though not too often - there is a 'heaviness' that derives more from his attention to orchestral textures rather than to out-and-out swing.No one admires Riddle more than I and this effect is entirely intentional on his part, but it gives certain tracks more of a Las Vegas feel than the exciting jazz quality that I was hoping for.Of course, this is purely personal and jazz musicians-even those who played for Riddle -generally agree with this point.But Nelson Riddle was a unique artist, a perfectionist and a law unto himself. He took great pride in his work and it certainly shows. Who else but Riddle would think of taking Just In Time at such a leisurely tempo with such a large orchestra and elicit one of Peggy Lee's sexiest vocals ? As for Peggy, she too was a law unto herself, and a natural swinger under any circumstances. She could hold an audience spellbound with her rhythmic poise even if the musicians failed to turn up. Her work on this album is perfection from start to finish."

Other listeners have made additional complaints about the disc's audio ambiance, (e.g. "Peggy sounds like she is trapped singing in a box in front of the orchestra and like Houdini, I am waiting for her to escape."). I think that a dividing line here is whether you have or have not listened to the stereo LP. Those of us who have listened to the stereo long play seem to be the same ones who are less enthusiastic about the new remastering for the CD.

As for the vocals and the music, my reaction to them seems diametrically opposite to Marc's. The DRG remastering causes me to concentrate more on the singing that on the music. I do feel that Marc makes various smart points (as usual) and I could very well agree with his speculation that "the new stereo technology may have compelled producer Lee Gillette to urge Lee to lay back after delivering her lyrics to allow the Riddle orchestra to come up fast in stereo behind her. So Lee rarely lingers on notes, and the result in most cases sounds a bit too relaxed." And I definitely agree that her next album, "Things Are Swingin'," is a better, far more representative of her personal approach. I have to fully disagree, though, with the description of her vocals in "Jump for Joy" as "tentative," or with the implication that they do not succeed because they are "too relaxed." On the contrary, the general feel of relaxation strikes me as a successful and intentional strategy, aiming at communicating the "joie de vivre" which is the album's main message. Far from tentativeness, I hear a thoroughly self-assured vocalist from beginning to end, with an excellent control of what she is trying to communicate. If anything, I am taken aback by the large number of vocal detail (turns of phrase, changes of tone, and other subtleties) that she uses to communicate elation. (It's also worth nothing that those vocals have their fans. A couple of well-known critics have cited her "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" as either the best or one of the very best versions of that ditty. I love the title track, in particular -- or at least, I love it in the stereo LP version). Vive la différence, n'est pas?

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). In 2012, JazzWax was named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."

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