Every so often I receive an email from a reader asking whether I really dig easy listening music. My answer is this: Yes, selectively. So do all writers, secretly. Easy listening is the equivalent of a mental rubdown. While I spend most of my days writing and listening to jazz, rock and r&b recordings, there are times when I need to write and decompress at the same time. Or the weather is so miserable that a tranquil recording is what's needed. A good easy-listening album for about a half hour often does the trick. [Pictured: Paul Weston]
Which gets to the next question that often surfaces in the emails: Which easy-listening album or albums do you find interesting enough to play without gagging? Hands down, my favorite is Paul Weston's Mood for 12, which is joined by Solo Mood on the CD release. Both were issued by Columbia and both are perfect.
First, the pace. The entire CD travels at the speed of your pulse, so it's wonderfully relaxing. Second, the sound. Recorded in 1955, the album not only captures the band era's grandeur but also fits snugly into the newly emerging period of wide-bodied voicing. And third, the material. All of the song choices are smart and framed perfectly, with fine work by trumpeter Ziggy Elman [pictured], tenor saxophonist Ted Nash, clarinetist Matty Matlock, trombonist Bill Schaefer, guitarist George Van Eps and pianist Paul Smith among others.
Each tune from Mood for 12 offers a different instrumental surprise. I'm Coming Virginia ends with a terrific muted trumpet cluster. Or trumpeter Clyde Hurley's crisp solo on Memories of You. And Nash's sleepy solo on the now forgotten tune Emaline. All are pure bliss.
Solo Mood is the cousin of Mood for 12, with many of the same musicians. Here, Weston offers fabulous charts on A Hundred Years From Today, Dancing on the Ceiling and Autumn in New York, with guitarist Barney Kessel soloing with clarinet and flute backing his lines. And oh those Weston intros!
Eventually, Weston shredded his jazz credibility by arranging increasingly insipid easy listening albums. One suspects there was enormous pressure to earn a living there, and the sticky-sweet stuff paid the bills. But before Weston slipped away, he hit a sweet spot in the zone between mood music and jazz. No one could ace those like Weston.
JazzWax clip: Here's trumpeter Clyde Hurley on Memories of You from Paul Weston's Mood for 12...