Irene Kral (vcl), with Herb Pomeroy, Lenny Johnson, Joe Newman (tp), Urbie Green (tb), Charlie Mariano, Zoot Sims, Danny Bank (saxes), Joe Venuto (vib), Ray Santisi, Hank Jones (p), Jimmy Raney (g), John Neves (b), Jimmy Zitano, Charlie Persip (d)
Reference: FSRCD 626
Bar code: 8427328606264
The Band and I was the debut album of the great Irene Kral. On it the outstanding young vocalist, who first came to prominence with Maynard Fergusons band, had the benefit of Herb Pomeroys celebrated big band which, though it had never featured a vocalist before, gave her a backing that no orchestra composed of studio musicians could match. She responded with innate jazz feeling, sensitive phrasing and a warm, unaffected sound. Singer and big band are well served by the excellent Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins charts.
On Steveireneo!, her second album, she handles a dozen of Steve Allens songs with complete command. Under the direction of Al Cohn, the band ideally complements her singing; Cohns well-conceived arrangements are, like everything he did, extremely musical. And the front-rank East Coast personnel consistently deliver fine solos in a savoury showcase for a superior singer.
"Irene Kral is not a famous singer - at least when compared with Ella, Billie or Sarah. Yet she had a clear, pleasant voice and sang in tune, with feeling for the lyrics of each song. Born in Chicago in 1932, she died of cancer at the early age of 46. The sister of singing pianist Roy Kral, she worked with the bands of such notables as Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. Perhaps she is not as familiar as she deserves because her voice lacks a distinctive quality which might allow the listener to pick her out from other vocalists.
This CD compilation reissues her first two LPs: The Band and I (tracks 1-12) from 1958 and Steveireneo! (tracks 13-24) from 1959. On the first disc she was backed by a big band, something which always bothers me, as big bands tend to drown singers however well they are recorded. In addition, a large array of musicians playing written ensembles may prevent the spontaneity which a jazz singer needs if she is to improvise freely. But the arrangements, performed by Herb Pomeroy's orchestra (and written by Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins) don't get too much in the singer's way. The purity of Irene's voice comes through clearly in the introduction to Comes Love, accompanied only by the double bass.
In fact Irene seemed to prefer lesser-known songs. The composers on the first LP include Jimmy McHugh, Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael, but many people would be surprised to find that they were involved respectively in I'd Know You Anywhere, Everybody Knew But Me and Memphis In June. More recognizable tunes include Comes Love and I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart. Two songs by Fran Landesman & Tommy Wolf (This Little Love and It Isn't So Good) illustrate Irene's taste for intelligent lyrics.
The second ludicrously-titled disc has the advantage of simpler, more spacious arrangements from a smaller group, with Joe Venuto's vibes making for an intriguing sound on such tracks as Houseboat. The album consisted of Al Cohn's arrangements of a dozen tunes by Steve Allen. Steve is a better-known performer in America than Britain, as he made a name for himself there not only as a songwriter but also pianist, singer, TV presenter and comedian. His compositions are not well-known, so most or all of the songs here will be new to most listeners. Perhaps that is understandable with clichés like "Baby baby, don't mean maybe" (in Cool Blue) and such un-PC titles as What is a Woman (Without a Man).
Nevertheless, Irene Kral presents these songs as convincingly as she can, and some - like Impossible - come across as near-masterpieces. The sleeve-note describes Kral's singing as "unaffected" and that is the mot juste for her entirely natural delivery - without affectation of straining for effect."
Tony Augarde -MusicWeb International
"Irene Kral gained fame late in her life when she recorded three classic ballad albums with pianist Alan Broadbent; no one has ever topped her version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.
'The Band And I + Steveireneo' consists of two albums from early in her career (1958-59). Kral is joined by the Herb Pomeroy big band (with arrangements by Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins) for the first set while the second has her interpreting Steve Allen songs with the help of the Al Cohn orchestra. Throughout these projects, Irene Kral sounds both youthful and joyful, very much in her early prime."
Scott Yanow -Los Angeles Jazz Scene
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