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Happening upon the Bach Guild’s Big Broadway Box (eOne Music) at a time in which Kendrick Lamar wins a Pulitzer, one can’t help feeling like the Lerner-Loewe characters Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas when they accidentally find themselves in Brigadoon: thrilled to discover that access to wonders from a more felicitous era still exists.
The collection isn’t a box at all but 89 MP3s available for downloading (for just 99 cents on one website) or streaming (via Amazon Music Unlimited). It’s a textbook case in creative cross-licensing, restoring to circulation four long-forgotten or never-much-noted albums in their entirety: the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s An Evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein (1982), William Bolcom and Joan Morris’ Night and Day: The Cole Porter Album (1988, the year, incidentally, that Bolcom won a Pulitzer for his 12 New Etudes for Piano), and the pianist George Feyer’s The Essential Cole Porter (1976) and The Essential Jerome Kern (1993) (both of which gather recordings made in the 1950s).
The collection also includes more than half of the Royal Philharmonic’s Bernstein (2000), and cherry-picks five Gershwin selections from four other albums. If such block compiling seems unimaginative, even lazy, the music itself is anything but.
The 14 numbers that open the program find the late Erich Kunzel conducting the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through the best-loved songs of State Fair, The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Carousel, and The Sound of Music. The tenor Mark Dubois and the soprano Deborah Milsom take turns singing lead, and although more famous vocalists have braved the emotionally rich ins and outs of “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” none have done so more convincingly.
The Bolcom-Morris piano-and-vocal recordings, however, supply the highest highlights. Bolcom’s refined but hardly stuffy accompanist’s instincts adorn and support the interpretive gifts of his mezzo-soprano wife, whose readings of “Nobody’s Chasing Me,” “The Physician,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “You’re the Top,” and “Miss Otis Regrets” match Porter’s incomparable gift for conflating, compressing, and interweaving the comic, the tragic, the audacious, and the witty until it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Granted, 32 consecutive instrumental numbers by George Feyer and his small combo are one or two dozen too many (especially since some of the Porter tunes occur earlier in Morris-sung renditions) and threaten to turn the “box” into a Leave It to Beaver–era dentist’s waiting room. But the 12 Leonard Bernstein numbers that follow, especially the eight symphonic dances from West Side Story, reinvigorate the proceedings and make sure that a bang is just one of the good things with which the Big Broadway Box goes out.
A rather different take on “Miss Otis Regrets” from the one recorded by Bolcom and Morris opens You’re Driving Me Crazy (Exile/Legacy), the new album by Van Morrison and the jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco. The lyrics and therefore the plot remain the same (spoiler headline: HIGH-SOCIETY MADEMOISELLE COMMITS CRIME OF PASSION, LOSES LIFE AT HANDS OF LYNCH MOB), but the focus is on the subdued, somber jazz to which Morrison and DeFrancesco set it rather than on the narrative.
Other subdued tracks follow (“Trav’lin Light,” “Goldfish Bowl,” “Magic Time”). But, on the whole, You’re Driving Me Crazy is the swingingest of the three close-enough-for-jazz albums intermingling rerecorded Morrison originals and jump-blues and Big Band standards that Morrison has released since September.
It also sounds the most spontaneous—probably because, recorded in just two days, it is. —A.O.