With the Sun Warm Upon Me
The Great American Songbook standards of Harold Arlen performed with a jazz sensibility and a trio of wonderful jazz musicians
This volume 2 in the series entitled, "The Songs of Harold Arlen: Vintage & Rare". It is subtitled 'Hit the Road to Dreamland".
The Harold Arlen Project is a series of CD's that will record approximately 100 of Arlen's songs: the classics, the rare, a few instrumentals, and, of course, the signature tunes. Arlen, one of the most gifted composers of the Great American Songbook, is frequently omitted when a group of the major composers of that canon is listed. Arlen's name is often overshadowed by his songs. This project aims to bring his name more into the national and global consciousness.
It starts and ends with a dream and in between is a story as old as time, yet as fresh as tomorrow. Love sought, love found, love doubted, love lost – told in a cycle of song, reminiscent of the classic albums of the past. And yet the sound i
The most important point that Ken Greves brings out in his interpretation of “It Was Written In The Stars” is that here is one of the major song texts to take us through the inevitable stages of a relationship. In fact, hearing it here, in this context, it makes me realize that “It Was Written In The Stars” (from the 1948 film Casbah), philosophically at least, sounds like it could have come from the score to Kismet. In American pop culture, the idea of fate is a very Middle Eastern thing: Casbah was set in Algiers and Kismet took place in Baghdad. And in fact there is something of a connection between the two works: at around the time Harold Arlen was composing Casbah, he helped out the composers Robert Wright and George Forrest. They were then considering the potential of a musical based on the old play Kismet, and it was Arlen who gave them the idea to use the work of the late Russian composer Alexander Borodin as a starting point.
Which goes to show here that the concept of kismet works in putting together a classic musical as well as in a relationship, as Ken Greves deftly illustrates over the course of 16 songs in his first album The Face of My Love. All these points went through my mind, but the main thought I kept flashing back to was, “Yeah, he’s like totally right about that!” – “he” in this case being a speaker-composite of both Ken Greves and lyricist Leo Robin (the two become one and the same). When you’re deeply in love on that profound a level, you really do feel as if your relationship was pre-ordained by the stars, the fates, the Gods, or whatever. You don’t question the idea that, “what was written in the stars must be,” or, as they say in Kismet, “So it is written, so it shall be done.”
Ken takes us through all the stages implicit in the process: of being alone, falling in and then out of love, and, at the end, being alone again – waiting for the cycle to start anew. The Face of My Love begins with Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” (the first of three samples of Strayhorniana here) a song about being hopeful about finding love, and from there proceeds, logically, into “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a song about meeting someone. Greves brings out the meaning of the texts in thoughtful and original ways: in “Day Dream,” near the end of the second chorus, he deliberately skips a line or so of the lyric, which underscores the unfocused, day dreamy feeling of John Latouche’s words; in “Nightingale,” also near the end of the song, he spaces out the notes on “like an echo far away” to accentuate the distant, echo-y feeling.
“Where Have You Been” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” (as well as “Dearly Beloved”) are all songs of romantic discovery: when you find Mr. Right (or even “Mr. Right Now,” as they say in Lifetime TV movies) your first question is invariably “Where Have You Been?” (The former is that great rarity, a Cole Porter song that’s rarely done.) “Everything I Have Is Yours?” and the magical pairing of “Witchcraft” and “That Old Black Magic” are songs of high romantic rapture, and, in both cases, Greves awakens the inner song nerd in all of us by throwing in verses that most of us will only know (if at all) from the original sheet music. I surely can’t think of many examples of anybody actually singing the verses to “Everything” and “Witchcraft”; in the case of the latter, especially, it’s a real mitzvah to hear this imaginative intro - the brilliant Carolyn Leigh was particularly adept at versecraft. The magic medley is framed by a particularly compelling piano figure from accompanist Wells Hanley; by hammering away lightly but insistently on a single note, he creates an enchanted sound suggestive of the elves in Santa’s workshop.
The kismet-driven “It Was Written In The Stars,” “Alone Together” (done mostly just with bassist Tom Hubbard) and “My Flame Burns Blue” (done as a voice-and-piano duet with Mr. Hanley) show the relationship getting more serious. “Flame” is Elvis Costello’s take on Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”; I know of at least two or three previous sets of lyrics to this composition that served as the grand finale to the composer’s short life, but Mr. Costello’s is surely the one that will become definitive.
The lightly swinging “Day In, Day Out” provides the last moment of romantic rapture before things start to turn sour. “Chelsea Bridge” is decidedly melancholy; if there ever was anyone who could describe the bittersweet rites of passage in a relationship, even in those many instances when he was just writing music and not lyrics, it was Strayhorn. By the time we get to “There’s a Lull in my Life” (with another rare verse, this one practically not sung since Alice Faye) things have definitely taken a downturn (as attractive as Ken’s interpretation is). He’s one of the few singers I’ve heard personalize a tune by shortening it – the first time he reaches the coda, he caps it rather than extending it. Then, when he arrives at that point again at the conclusion of the second chorus, he sings the full ending: “this ache in my heart, the call of my arms, the lull in my life.” “Don't Look Back” is a song of finito and completo if ever there was one; the door is closing and the bridge is burning behind you, and it would be foolish to try and stop it. “Someone To Light Up My Life” – a comparatively lesser-heard song by Antonio Carlos Jobim (English text by Gene Lees) - is about once again beginning the search for someone new. I never noticed before that it’s a song about endings as well as beginnings, goodbye as well as hello. Ken then conveys two distinct but inter-related messages in “By Myself”: that he doesn’t mind being alone, but, in a compelling coda at the very end, he reprises a fragment of “Day Dream,” as if to show that hope springs eternal and that he’s optimistic for the future. Even though the affair is over, Ken chooses not to end on a downer note. Just as the album ends with a hopeful look towards the next romance, I’m looking forward to whatever’s coming next from Ken Greves. Will Friedwald July 2009 New York City
A sophisticated and hip concept album in the style of Sinatra's Capitol albums of the 50' and 60's
NIGHT PEOPLE LINER NOTES -Bruce Crowther The Songs
Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks, is sparse, filled with empty spaces. Yet it eloquently speaks its thousand words. The songs Ken Greves has chosen here are similarly sparse, the music soft, the lyrics as much about the words between the lines as those heard. It is vividly apparent that the music on Night People speaks of lost love and missed opportunities. Yet it is not pessimistic music; indeed, it is filled with many bright moments of optimism.
Darkness imbues many of Fran Landesman’s lyrics, yet in “Night People” her wit and intelligence shine through. Written with composer Tommy Wolf, the dark undertones of “Night People” give considerable strength to the song. Ken Greves finds these strengths, avoids the always present possibility of slipping into gloom, and delivers a wholly admirable performance. Landesman was introduced by Wolf to another composer, Bob Dorough who brings a pleasing touch of wry humor to much of his work. Landesman picks up on this in “Small Day Tomorrow” and Ken finds that same touch to illuminate the intrinsic humor of the song’s understated optimism. Frank Ponzio inserts a deft solo here, kicking up the tempo an appropriate notch as he does so. Wit and intelligence are also hallmarks of Dorothy Parker, although she usually applied this with often devastating bite. In one of her few song lyrics, the bite is replaced by a caress that makes “I Wished On The Moon” a gentle love song. Composed by Ralph Rainger, the song has attracted jazz musicians ever since Bing Crosby sang it in The Big Broadcast Of 1936, although Billie Holiday recorded it a little earlier. The reason for the song’s appeal to jazzmen is especially apparent as Frank, Pete Donovan and Vito Lesczak provide a lithely swinging Latin background while Ken again finds that light touch of understated optimism.
Optimism is an appropriate word for the lyrics Harry Woods wrote for “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Introduced in 1934’s Road House. The song was recorded by Billie Holiday the following year, a performance that is a timeless classic, which might explain why this delightful song has not been overdone. Creditably, Ken approaches the song in a very different way and with pulsating urging from Pete, finds the right touch of humor, which is skillfully echoed by Frank’s crisp solo. “Street Of Dreams”, by Victor Young and Sam F. Lewis has become a much-loved pop and jazz standard with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald among many who have recorded it, although it was Young’s lover, Lee Wiley, who delivered the benchmark interpretation. Lionel Hampton’s original improvisation, “Midnight Sun”, polished by Sonny Burke, has a magical lyric by Johnny Mercer. More than anyone, Mercer made brilliant use of colloquial language; yet here, he adopts a completely different approach. The language of this lyric is rich and evocative, and Ken revels in these riches while Frank leads the trio into the music’s jazz origins. Another master of language is Alec Wilder, although for “Moon and Sand”, which he co-composed with Morty Palitz, the lyric is the work of William Engvick. Performed by Xavier Cugat’s orchestra in 1941’s Ma Ma Maria, the song’s lyrics, like the film, have faded into obscurity, most recordings being instrumentals. Fortunately, though, Ken has given the rarely heard lyrics a finely wrought outing.
On one of his most enduring compositions, “The Night We Called It A Day”, Matt Dennis collaborated with lyricist Tom Adair. As Ken demonstrates here, the lyric’s somber theme echoes lost love and lost opportunities. Like Hopper’s Nighthawks, there is more here than the first encounter suggests, and the listener can build a personal back story upon the explicit images. Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh co-wrote many songs and although “Let Me Down Easy” is not one that has found favor with many singers, Ken shows it has considerable merit. Wry humor is evident here, too, as the tale teller tries and almost succeeds in glossing over the pain of a departed lover. Pete is prominent here, with a fine bass solo. Another Matt Dennis collaborator was Earl Brent, their work beautifully exemplified with “Angel Eyes”. There is about this song an exquisite tenderness that pleads for similarly gentle attention and this is what it is given by Ken who is aware that the lyric’s fragility could be carelessly bruised. Frank, Pete and Vito are clearly conscious of the song’s rich use of harmonic changes, an attribute that has helped make “Angel Eyes” popular with jazzmen.
Ken’s choice of songs here has a powerful undercurrent of nostalgic regret, a quality intrinsic in “I Keep Going Back To Joe’s”. By Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal, the song has a familiar setting: a bar much like Phillies diner in Hopper’s Nighthawks, to which the customer returns in the hope that, against all odds, lost love will be re-discovered. Perhaps the most amazing of the many wonderful things about “Lush Life” is that when he wrote it composer-lyricist Billy Strayhorn was still a teenager and might well have been still unsure of, or at least uncomfortable with, the nature of his sexuality. Even so, this poetic and deeply insightful lyric is probably autobiographical. The extent of its personalization is such that even in the early 1960s, with several well-known recordings already made, Strayhorn would declare that no one had got it right. In his version, Ken drifts elegantly over the complex material, leaving the listener free to imagine what the true meaning might be and this is surely the most satisfactory way to approach “Lush Life”.
Another lonely barroom song is “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”, composed by Harold Arlen with Johnny Mercer’s lyric. This time, Mercer is in his more familiar role as vernacular poet, smoothly allowing the singer’s story to run along the unconventional structure of the song. Here, Frank and Pete set the scene against which Ken tells the bartender his sad tale. The four o’clock-in-the-morning melancholy that imbues this album, ends with the appropriate coupling of “Early Morning Blues”, by Cy Coleman and Joseph Allen McCarthy, which segues into the soulfulness of Joe Greene’s “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”. Best known from Ray Charles’s performance, the inherent power of the bluesy gospel current that flows through the song is kept subtly under wraps by Ken, who chooses to reveal its atmospheric brave-faced melancholy. -Bruce Crowther Spain May 2012 Author and Reviewer and Blogger http://jazzmostly.com/tag/bruce-crowther
This 3rd CD is a part of a 10 CD project to record Arlen’s music in a comprehensive way to include rare, vintage, novelty and instrumental songs. The idea was to record these wonderfully crafted songs and bring them to the modern ear, with hip arrangements in different grooves-swing, jazz waltzes, bossa novas, ballads and sometimes swift up tempos.