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High Noon: The Jazz Soul Of Frankie Laine by Gary Smulyan

Who knew that Frankie Laine, popular singer from the 1950’s and whose records now remain largely unheralded, was a songwriter too? In fact, some of his songs, like "We’ll Be Together Again," may assure him a higher degree of immortality than his 45-rpm hits, now unavailable and largely forgotten, like "Mule Train." Gary Smulyan and Mark Masters knew and appreciated Laine’s songwriting talent, so much so that they have recorded High Noon, an album consisting solely of Laine’s songs and popular recordings. Unfortunately, Laine passed in 2007, a year before the Smulyan/Masters recordings were made. No doubt he would have been pleased with the result. For Laine’s affinity for jazz was evident in some of his recordings that incorporate a blues feel, and he did record an album with Buck Clayton as well. However, Smulyan and Masters appreciate Laine’s music too fondly simply to re-create standard versions of his songs. Anyone could do that. Instead, they listened to the possibilities that each song offered and altered them to suit the specific sound that they sought in the nonet assembled for the album.

High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine starts not with "High Noon" for that’s the second track on the album but with an unpretentious, swinging song, "I’d Give My Life," that Masters brightened with a faster tempo to introduce some of the group’s members with their own solos. Several of those musicians have recorded their own Resevoir CD’s as well and have backed each other in other projects, and their comfort in performing with each other is evident. And even though Smulyan, one of this generation’s leading baritone saxophonists, is the focus of the album, High Noon decidedly is a group effort, and intentionally so. Masters and Smulyan’s low- to middle-range voicings within the group, including the use of John Clark on French horn, suggest that they intended for a mellow, cohesive sound in the reconsideration of Laine’s music. And so, "High Noon" itself becomes almost unrecognizable as Masters abandons the simplicity of the original song to mold it into various shapes, including a strolling blues and free-rhythm choral-like fragments from the song of elastically stretched or snapped phrases.

Who knew that Laine collaborated with Hoagy Carmichael when he wrote the lyrics to "Put Yourself in My Place, Baby"? An initially languidly paced interpretation, like many of Masters’ other arrangements, "Put Yourself in My Place, Baby" unexpectedly quickens into fast segments, only to decelerate, again and again, thereby keeping the listener’s attention? While John Fedchock’s solo on that piece lends it an mellifluous eloquence, Scott Robinson’s presence on bass clarinet claims much attention when he asserts blues on "High Noon." And then there’s Clark’s brief solo on "Torchin’," a counterpart to the beauty of Smulyan’s and alto saxophonist Dick Oatts’ presentations of the melody reminiscent of some film noir scores.

Astutely recognizing the value of the songs Laine wrote, rather than recounting only his hits, Smulyan and Masters do acknowledge Laine’s first successful single, "That Lucky Old Sun." Once again, however, Masters uses the original song as a departure point for an arrangement, faster and brighter, that features the talents of the nonet itself, particularly drummer Steve Johns’ understated ability to nudge the soloists after setting the pace up front by trading his fours with pianist Pete Malinverni’s eights. And then Laine composed the perfect ending for his own tribute, "We’ll Be Together Again," a poignant, totally improvised duo performance by Smulyan and Malinverni which includes a gorgeous final cadenza by Smulyan.

Smulyan and Masters perceived the same quality in Frankie Laine overlooked by many that is now accepted wisdom about other Italian singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett: his soulfulness. His ability to draw upon his entire being when he sang. While many remember Laine as the singer of the themes for "Rawhide" or "Blazing Saddles" the Western production songs in which he was pigeonholed no doubt it is Smulyan and Masters’ wish that Frankie Laine be appreciated on a broader scale. It’s one thing to state that Laine deserves more attention; it’s another to create a multi-faceted statement that demonstrates the overlooked value of Laine’s expansive work.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Gary Smulyan
  • CD Title: High Noon: The Jazz Soul Of Frankie Laine
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Reservoir
  • Tracks: I’d Give My Life, High Noon, Torchin’, It Only Happens Once, Baby Baby All the Time, When You’re in Love, Put Yourself in My Place Baby, A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry, That Lucky Old Sun, We’ll Be Together Again
  • Musicians: Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; John Fedchock, trombone; John Clark, french horn; Dick Oatts, alto saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Pete Malinverni, piano; Andy McKee, bass; Steve Johns, drums
  • Rating: Five Stars
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