André Previn’s 1960 jazz tribute to West Side Story gets a fresh vinyl upgrade.
André Previn And His Pals, Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell/West Side Story – Contemporary Records M3572 (1960)/Craft Recordings CR00390 180-gram stereo vinyl 38:16 ****1/2:
(André Previn – piano; Shelly Manne – drums; Red Mitchell – double bass)
West Side Story was a turning point in the American theatre. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, the 1957 stage play examined modern social and political themes. The ill-fated romance between a member of the Jets and a sister of the opposing gang, The Sharks reflected the volatile and changing New York urban scene. In addition to the hugely successful Broadway production, an equally ambitious film by Robert Wise earned 10 Academy Awards, including best picture. At the core of this phenomenon is the brilliant jazz-infused score by Leonard Bernstein (with lyrics from Stephen Sondheim). Cast recordings and jazz artists have recorded this music frequently. Among these performers is film composer, arranger and pianist André Previn. He is noted for his jazz translations of Broadway show music (Jerome Kern and My Fair Lady). In 1960, Previn released an album of selections from West Side Story.
Craft Recordings has released a 180-gram vinyl of André Previn And His Pals, Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell – West Side Story. Joining Previn are Shelly Manne on drums and Red Mitchell on double bass. The trio comes out smoking on “Something’s Comin’”. Previn’s innate grasp of phrasing and syncopated rhythm is infectious, with chord vamps in the left hand and percolating right hand notation. He captures the melodic, jazzy boldness of “The Maestro” and the rhythm section is relentless. “The Jet Song” will always be loved for its finger-snapping cool grooves and street imagery. Previn savors the loping resonance, but emphasizes the jazzy elocution with many flourishes. His playing is both frenetic and precise. Manne is ferocious and Mitchell executes a nimble walking bass. Like great jazz interpreters, Previn transforms standards. On “Tonight” he introduces a melancholy relaxed feel for the first 1:30. Then the pace quickens to a traditional straight ahead jazz tempo with sprightly play. While there is some faithful adherence to the melody, this is re-invented as a complex jazz arrangement. Mitchell solos before the trio returns to ruminative aesthetics. The ensemble swings on “I Feel Pretty” with a propulsive bass and Manne’s trademark drumming is terrific. Again, Previn’s ebullient punctuated runs are buoyant and polyrhythmic.
Always demonstrating originality, Manne’s hi-hat kicks off “Gee, Officer Krupke”. Previn utilizes interesting chord changes but observes some of the song’s lilting accents. At the 1:40 mark, there is an ethereal soulful interlude that flows into medium-swing. “Cool” seems to have a bluesy New Orleans vibe in stark contrast to the original. Previn adjusts to the style with muscular, slower runs. In keeping with the jazzy rewrite of the score, “Maria” is a meditative ballad. The piano glows with warmth and subtlety. It seems fitting that “America” is the album closer. With Manne providing potent support, Previn lays down some wilder riffs with adroit dexterity, utilizing both higher and lower register. Another gritty blues shift with some free-form articulation give the song a new approach. There are more than enough direct allusions to the opening bars. The entire album bristles with uncanny jazz that transcends the source.
With the 2022 updated West Side Story film, this trend-setting score has reached new audiences. This 180-gram vinyl Bernie Grundman) is excellent with a crisp, vibrant sound. mix. The pressing (QRP) is superior with no hisses or pops.
André Previn And His Pals, Shelly Manne & Red Mitchell/West Side Story
Side 1: Something’s Coming; Jet Song; Tonight; I Feel Pretty
Side 2: Gee, Officer Krupke; Cool; Maria; America.
More information through Craft Recordings