Mel Tormé (vcl), with chorus and orchestras conducted by Hal Mooney & Marty Maich. Featured soloist Conrad Gozzo, Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist (tp), Bob Enevoldsen (v-tb), Si Zentner (tb), Ronnie Lang (as), Babe Russin, Ted Nash (ts), Barney Kessel (g)
Reference: FSRCD 496
Bar code: 8427328604963
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For the first time on one CD, the two CALIFORNIA SUITE versions as recorded by Mel Tormé with the orchestras conducted by Hal Mooney (Capitol, 1949) and Marty Paich (Bethlehem, 1957). An historic musical event, reissued in a very special package, including two different and comprehensive booklets full of memorabilia, photos and lyrics.
California Suite was originally a 30-minute lyrical and musical narrative composed and dedicated by Mel Tormé to the Golden State. Mel spent six months writing the piece, which was recorded in 1949 by Capitol Records, and released the following year with notable critical acclaim, albeit with some qualifications about its cohesiveness and clarity. Encouraged by fans and musicians to revisit the concept, eight years later he recorded, this time for Bethlehem, a revitalized, extended version arranged and conducted by Marty Paich, with much more jazz influence than was evident in the original recording. Some stereotypical touches remained, but Paichs real genius exploded like a bombshell in the studios.
This is the first time both versions have been compiled in an individual set. It is proof of Tormés many-faceted ability as a singer and composer, and it also confirmed Paichs pre-eminence as a progressive arranger among his contemporaries.
"The Velvet Fog called rock ’n' roll “three chord manure”. I wonder what Tormé made of The Beach Boys, whose early, often Chuck Berry-driven take on the Golden State shared the prelapsarian vision (if not the musical sophistication) of Tormé's California Suite. Certainly, nothing could be further from the mid-1970s disillusionment of The Eagles' Hotel California than these sun-shot, at times wisely humorous, at times (sometimes deliberately) corny yet - overall - ultra-hip cuts.
Having recorded the suite for Capitol in 1949, Tormé came to feel that more could be done with the material and so recorded it again in 1957, this time for Bethlehem. Both dates find Tormé's ever-savvy and sympatico intonation and light yet penetrating phrasing pitch-perfect as he now eases into, now floats over the beat. The mellifluous elegance of his work facilitates acceptance of the film-like romanticism of the full-on contributions from both orchestra and vocal chorus which feature in both versions.
Beautifully packaged, with the original and later, slightly revised lyrics printed opposite each other, the release is dedicated to the memory of the singer. It includes a good overview of Tormé's career from Fresh Sounds boss Jordi Pujol, including some illuminating paragraphs from Tormé and also Marty Paich, the arranger of the 1957 cuts. As the personnel would suggest, in terms of jazz voicings, rhythmic drive and solo touches these latter sides are in a different league from the earlier recording: hear the sustained pensive depths of Poor Little Extra Girl and Sunday Night In San Fernando or the Lewis-and-Stoller kicked drive of the Latinate They Go To San Diego, where Barney Kessel, among others, cuts loose. A double bundle of life-affirming pleasure, California Suite offers unmissable complement to Tormé's 1962 Atlantic tribute to the Apple, Mel Tormé Sings Sunday In New York. Go get!"
Michael Tucker (September, 2017)
Jazz Journal Magazine