Cab Calloway – Cab Calloway – Pure Pleasure Records

by | Mar 30, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Cab Calloway – Cab Calloway – Epic Records EPIC LN 3265 (1956)/Pure Pleasure Records (2019) 180-gram mono vinyl **** 1/2:

(Featuring Cab Calloway & His Orchestra)

There are legends, and then there are LEGENDS! Band leader Cab Calloway transcends the cultural landscape of jazz. A renowned proponent of scat singing, he became synonymous with the Cotton Club in Harlem. This was no easy feat, considering none other than Duke Ellington was the “house” band there. They eventually shared the ‘house band” designation. Calloway’s orchestra specialized in swing and featured Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster. More importantly, Calloway’s dazzling showmanship, choreography and vocals electrified audiences. “Minnie The Moocher” and “St. James Infirmary” became signature pieces for Cab. His moniker, “The Hi De Ho Man” (culled from the chorus of “Minnie The Moocher”) established a musical legend, that lasted for over half a century. Calloway crashed through barriers in movies (The Cincinnati Kid, The Singing Kid, Snow White), Broadway (Porgy And Bess, Hello Dolly) , radio and television. He reached a new generation of fans in the 1980 smash, The Blues Brothers. Audiences would continue to be entertained by the jazz showman for decades.

Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram vinyl of the 1956 self-titled album on Epic Records. Featuring an eclectic mix of well-known and quirky songs (recorded between 1933 and 1945), the heavily orchestrated set is a true measure of Calloway’s talent. Side A opens with the exquisite folk/jazz dirge, “St. James Infirmary”. First popularized by Louis Armstrong in 1928, the slow mournful ode to the gambling lifestyle features the idiosyncratic vocalization (with requisite yells) and the blended horns and reeds. References to “cheapskatin’ pallbearers” is hilarious. Calloway dips into vintage r & b in his version of “The Honeydripper”. His call and response with the orchestra is timeless and the “hoy hoy’ exhortations are exhilarating. “Blues In The Night” is a standard from The Great American Songbook. Many singers have covered this, but the low-down blues context seems to fit effortlessly with Calloway’s vocal elocution. “My momma done told me, when I was in knee pants…” is classic Americana context. A “Duke Ellington-like” piano riff at the beginning gives a nice shading to the arrangement. Another brilliant American opus, Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” exudes sauciness and Southern charm. Singers like Ethel Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf and Jose Feliciano have done justice to this composition. Somehow, the looser delivery by Calloway (with the little explosions) ups the ante. In what seems like a jitterbug presentation, ‘Chop, Chop, Charlie Chan” has staccato jazz swing and modulation. The upbeat lyrics (“…heppest cat in town…”) almost mask the dubious ethnic connotation, but not quite! Jump blues is alive and well on the classic Calloway hit “The Jumpin’ Jive”. His scatting and wordplay are ingenious.

Portrait Cab Calloway, by William P. Gottlieb

Cab Calloway,
by William P. Gottlieb

No Cab Calloway collection would be complete without his “theme” song, “Minnie The Moocher”. This “nasty” muted trumpet vamp is eternally associated with Calloway. His inspirational “…Hi-De-Hi…” call and response is iconic. The drug references and wild vocals only seem to enhance the evocative nature of the song. The listener can almost visualize the dapper showman strutting across the stage, baton in hand, enticing the audience. “The Ghost Of Smoky Joe” feels like a continuation of “Minnie The Moocher’, but with an other-worldly twist. His soulful elegance is on display. On “Take The Long Way Home”, a surprisingly conventional big band fox-trot is different from the majority of the album. In his unusual operatic gospel incantations, “Utt Da Way” is bouncy swing with compelling wails. “Geechy Joe” is pure blues, but with the unmistakeable Calloway touch. As a finale, “Eadie Was A Lady” is vintage Cab with exchanged vocals and bandstand accessibility.

Pure Pleasure has done a superior job in re-mastering Cab Calloway to 180-gram vinyl. The mono fidelity is crystalline. Calloway’s ever-changing voice is captured with vibrant tonality. The dense orchestration is layered fluidly. The cartoonish album cover (with the signature long white tails) pops in 12” format. Typical smaller details like protective inner sleeves are part of the top-notch packaging.    

Side A:
St. James Infirmary
The Honeydripper
Blues In The Night
Miss Otis Regrets
Chop, Chop, Charlie Chan
The Jumpin’ Jive

Side B:
Minnie The Moocher
The Ghost Of Smoky Joe
Let’s Take The Long Way Home
Utt Da Zay
Geechy Joe
Eadie Was A Lady

—Robbie Gerson

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