Georgie Fame: "Poet In New York" Reviews

Reviewed by Don Williamson

Vocalese is such a specialized style of singing that one worries about its future. Thank goodness for Kurt Elling, and to some extent, to Manhattan Transfer, for revitalizing the form and resetting it in contemporary vocabulary and arrangements.

Just as one frets about whether vocalese is truly evanescent or merely too hard to sing, along comes Georgie Fame. On Poet In New York, he reminds us that he also is contributing to the advancement and continuation of the art form -- one which relies on the creation of words, sensible and delighting, that imitate the phrasing of instrumental solos.

Indeed, Fame's voice, like Eddie Jefferson's or King Pleasure's, certainly isn't classically trained. But no matter. What does matter are the ingenious ways that Fame employs his voice to deliver just-right interpretations of tunes, like his comical, slight falsetto accent at the start of a phrase on Symphony Sid. Using something like "Sweets" Edison's technique of making the listener feel swing in his or her heart during the repetition of a single note, Fame expresses an unsung quarter-note feel, even when he sinuously sings lines or holds out notes over an entire chorus.

Produced by Ben Sidran, who retains an abiding interest in hipsteristic singing, Poet In New York reminds us of Fame's strengths not only in vocalese, but also in songwriting. The opening track, Tuned In To You, is Fame's original composition in honor of Benny Golson, an icon he’s admired ever since their collaboration on the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. "And if my days and nights go by without a single rhyme, I know what to do, just tune in to you. Benny Golson wrote me, I treasure what he said, talking 'bout the music, his wisdom was clear and good for my ear." Anyone who has heard Benny Golson emcee a performance knows that he appreciates the cadence of the spoken word, the poetry, as well.

However, by the evidence of Poet In New York, Fame's fascination seems to lie in the lyricism of Chet Baker's solos more than Golson's. The majority of self-penned lyrics to jazz instrumental solos involve those of Baker's, such as his memorable work on But Not For Me or On A Misty Night. Sidran inserts a reminder of the lyrics he wrote to Neil Hefti's Girl Talk, as he and Fame exchange bars of words before ending in unison.

The enjoyable aspect of Poet In New York, though, consists of the chances Fame takes, such as his outrageous emission of a low note almost out of his range at the end of It Could Happen To You or the question-and-answer session between Fame and himself on Horace Silver's Doodlin'. Even though Lush Life recalls the classic Mark Murphy version in timbre and the intervals he chooses, the conversational, clipped nature of Fame's voice, as well as his dramatic use of dynamics, separates his version from Murphy's.

Fame is backed by musicians who are as involved in the total concept of the songs as he is. David Hazeltine and Peter Washington, who have learned to anticipate the other's thoughts as part of All For One, assume the respectful accompanists' role, allowing Fame to remain out front, even as they make his poetry attain more cadence and feeling than it would have accomplished otherwise. Legendary drummer Louis Hayes animates Fame's work with sensitivity. And saxophonist Bob Malach, with his rich bop vocabulary, represents the perfect foil for Fame, since Fame's vocalese improvisations simulate horn lines anyway.

Born Clive Powell in Lancashire, England, Fame's sensibility and interests give the impression that he indeed is a New Yorker through and through, rather than considering the American-born musical form of vocalese from an outsider's perspective.

But then, Annie Ross was born in Scotland, Jon Hendricks spent years in England, and James Moody (whose Moody's Mood For Love sparked the whole vocalese tradition) recorded that tune in Norway while he was living in France. International claiming rights to the music are irrelevant (perhaps to Wynton Marsalis' chagrin), and Georgie Fame continues to stamp his own personality on the genre.

Copyright © 2003 Don Williamson

Reviewed by Brian Davis

In reviewing his Walking Wounded CD, I referred to Fame's music as not strictly jazz, but usually leaning strongly towards it. This album, recorded in the USA, is -- take it from me -- pure jazz, and of the highest order. Every track is a Fame vocal but, in jazz terms, his finest yet by far!

The amazing thing about Fame's singing is that, in the strict vocal sense, he does not have a singing voice; neither is there the required vibrato. None of that matters, because his attributes are perfect pitching, timing, total relaxation and (new to me - as heard here) an incredible range. But to top all that, the utterly unique timbre, which is an essential to his penchant for vocalese; and, in my book, of the few who have adopted this form of jazz singing, he is the best!

One of the many pleasures in the CD's 55 minutes are the frequent choruses of Fame in unison or harmony with tenor man Bob Malach, in some of the wonderfully convoluted passages where Georgie is performing either his own words, such as in the Chet Baker solo from Tadd Dameron's On A Misty Night; or Jon Hendricks' lyrics to both the melody and the piano solo of Horace Silver's Doodlin'; or in the roaring up-tempo Symphony Sid with King Pleasure's lyrics to Pres's theme, then Fame's own words for the tenor and trumpet solos from Pleasure's version.

There are three other pieces using Chet Baker solos, plus two more Dameron items, for the Fame word treatment. The first Dameron is That's The Way It Goes, and an exciting, swinging mover, Accentuate The Bass, featuring the ubiquitous Peter Washington. The quartet is completed by drummer Louis Hayes and an inventive, fluent, exciting pianist, David Hazeltine.

Two Fame compositions are included, a very original love ballad and a tribute to tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, which brings me back to the tenor man on the session (not dated, incidentally, but probably late 1999).

Maybe it's just me, but I hadn't heard of Malach, yet he sounds so consummate a soloist, totally immersed in the unmistakable genre of Benny Golson, that I cannot understand why he has been hidden away on rather obscure recordings. As it happens though, he is evidently on a duo session with the late Michel Petrucciani on the very next Go Jazz album issue.

Poet In New York is a real winner.

Copyright © 2003 Brian Davis (used courtesy of RonnieScott'

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