Georgie Fame: Sound Venture

Sound Venture

Georgie Fame’s Legendary Big Band Album
(released October 1966)

Reviewed by Uli Twelker

If you trundle through music encyclopedias, there is still the popular belief that Georgie Fame, of the ”Flamingo All Nighters,” disbanded his guaranteed-to-party combo the Blue Flames in order to become a ’serious’ jazz interpreter; as if the fun had gone out the window with his impending big band album Sound Venture. For Georgie, the real, creative fun had started with this attractively orchestrated venture, much as he soon regretted the loss of his comrades.

Rather than suddenly developing ’an attitude,’ Fame had in fact started recording this eclectic yet breath-taking jazz collection as early as 1964, when his live audiences bopped but his singles still flopped. He had hired a virtual Who’s Who of whoever mattered in the UK, wherever and whenever ’bebop or swing meant a thing.’

The popular Harry South Big Band included saxophone buffs like Ronnie Scott (the famous club owner who started bebop in England in the 1940s and established the Soho jazz club which is still going strong today and is regularly graced by the current Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames!); Dick Morrissey (the future renowned player in the jazz-rock outfits If and Morrissey-Mullen); and the equally admired Ray Warleigh and Kenny Wheeler, amongst others. Trumpets and trombones abounded likewise, Stan Tracey provided piano parts, and Bill Eyden played drums. Incidentally, some of Georgie’s Blue Flames had been integrated as well: Colin Green on guitar, Phil Seaman on drums, and Phil Bates on bass.

But the young pro had run out of money in the process of putting up his own limited funds to hire his dream team of the British ‘Jazz Cream,’ and the project had been put on hold. Yet when Georgie’s Yeh Yeh--the Mongo Santamaria rhythm oil equipped with words by Vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks--shot to Number 1, he had the welcome Sterling to finish his heartfelt and ambitious LP.

He started off tenderly with Many Happy Returns, his own catchy melody in a 6/8-rhythm, a romance for the wee hours in a Early Sinatra-style. Down For The Count lives up to its title, because here, the young musical director really swings free and easy, and if he was shivering with nerves in front of all those hardened pros, this certain edge only adds to the overall impact of his rendition. It’s For Love The Petals Fall bows to another of Fame’s strong qualities, the love of Latin styles. This slow rumba evokes dreams of Cuban beaches, three decades before Ry Cooder could make the famous claim.

I Am Missing You presents more lovesick thoughts, a slow swing Georgie really seems to feel at home in. Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away has stayed in the Flames sets for a long time, and it’s interesting to note how he has rearranged it over the years. Sound Venture saw his second, more elaborate version developing from the first reading on Sweet Things. His own band tackled the song for a third time 23 years after this lavish version: for the Pye album Right Now, the brass and woodwind have been slightly rearranged, but Ray Warleigh is again on flute and sax, still stunning after all these years.

Lil’ Pony shows what Fame had learnt from his mentor, Vocalese pioneer Jon Hendricks. The New York-based veteran from Newark, Ohio, who had started with stride pianist Art Tatum and came to fame as the founder of the Manhattan Transfer-inspiring vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, had not only written the lyrics to Yeh Yeh, but introduced Georgie to the pleasures of making up words where before a trumpet or sax solo had spoken to the listener. Fame and producer Ben Sidran invited Hendricks into the studio for a re-recording, included in his 1991 Go Jazz album Cool Cat Blues, but this reading has the benefit of an obvious joy of delving into a freshly detected art form: swinging fast and mastering the tongue twisters.

Lovey Dovey presents some more relaxed swing, the singer totally at ease as far as the audiences ’indoors’ are concerned, but probably still in awe of the assembled studio talent that waited for cues and cash. Lil’ Darling, like the little pony, came courtesy of Hefti & Hendricks. The Blue Flames had already issued a version where Georgie’s Hammond reigned instead of the big brass in action here. With Three Blind Mice, like on the earlier Humpty Dumpty, our man proves that you can adapt children's’ songs to exotic rhythms--these mice made kids swing hard years before Fame got into BBC television programs for youngsters.

Strictly for adults then is Dawn Yawn. Georgie picked this song of his own pen to represent Sound Venture in his 1990 compilation The First Thirty Years, and it is indeed a gem: showing off all the bravado and hipness of the mid-1960s--leaving the Flamingo Club in Soho early in the morning, ”the cats all high” when ”today becomes tomorrow.” Not a yawn is in sight when you groove along to this one.

The energy level is held for more swingtime fun, with the dangerously speedy Feed Me, leading into a finale which is also a kind of departure. American GIs had given Georgie some serious Bronx Funk by then, and he leads the Harry South Big Band through James Brown’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Elvis Costello--in his Mojo magazine piece about Sound Venture--may have complained of the brass section playing ’from the charts,’ but I can recall that for this 14-year-old, the Fame-version made more sense, because it combined familiar jazz elements with New Soul, without going over the top, while still more than retaining all the necessary adrenalin.

The album shot into the British album Top Ten, peaking at No. 9 and making the album Georgie Fame’s second best seller of all times after its predecessor Sweet Things. Not a bad feat for a 22-year-old, acting thoughtful and bold at a period in his life when most of his generation hadn’t even left university. Georgie had passed his master’s degree with flying colors via the release of Sound Venture. A tremendous achievement which still stands tall today.

Copyright © 2003 Uli Twelker

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