Ginger Berglund & Scott Whitfield – Sing: Solitary Moon/ The Johnny Mandel Songbook – Bi-Coastal Music

by | May 30, 2015 | Jazz CD Reviews

Ginger Berglund & Scott Whitfield – Sing: Solitary Moon/ The Johnny Mandel Songbook – Bi-Coastal Music BCCD-1401, 67:17 ****:

(Ginger Berglund – vocals; Scott Whitfield – vocals, trombone, all arrangements; Corey Allen – piano (except #9-11); Jennifer Leitham – bass (except #9,11); Kendall Kay – drums (except #9-11); Roger Neumann – tenor sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Rusty Higgins – alto sax, alto clarinet; Billy Kerr – alto sax; Pete Christlieb – tenor sax, clarinet; Nancy Neumann – baritone sax; Jamie Hovorka – trumpet; Kyle Palmer – trumpet; Anne King – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Steve Huffstetter – trumpet; Carl Saunders – trumpet, scat vocal; Ira Nepus – trombone; Linda Small – trombone; Rich Bullock – bass trombone; John Dickson – horn; Stephanie O’Keefe – horn; Special Guests: Ken Peplowski – clarinet (#4, 6,13); Don Shelton – clarinet – (#4, 13); Jack Petersen – guitar (#8, 11); Airto Moreira – percussion (#1, 3,15); The Modernaires – vocals on #9;  LAVA (Los Angeles Vocal Alliance) – vocals, brass (#6, 14))

My interest is typically jazz instrumentals rather than vocals. Occasionally, however, my head can be turned by a CD with a heavy concentration of vocals, especially when the accompaniment is of high caliber. Such is the case with Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield’s CD: Solitary Moon, where they honor Johnny Mandel. Mandel is one of the top living composers of film scores, and many of his songs have become standards in the Great American Songbook. Earlier in his career Mandel was a noted trumpeter and trombonist in the bands of Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey. He has contributed arrangements for both Count Basie and Artie Shaw.

Scott and Ginger honor Mandel by singing the lyrics to some of his classic compositions that had lyrics added by the dream team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, as well as Dave Frishberg, Johnny Mercer, and Arthur Hamilton. What elevates this CD to a higher level is that Scott and Ginger have assembled a “who’s who” of LA-based jazz musicians to provide the “punch” that makes the lyrics pop. Berglund and Whitfield have an outstanding vocal blend that combined with the swing of the backing musicians, catches your attention and makes you listen even more attentively.

Scott’s liner notes point out the wide ranging influence that Mandel has had with his music being recorded by artists ranging from Sergio Mendes to Stan Getz, and his compositions featured in movies such as I Want to Live and Harper. His standards such as “The Shadow of Your Smile”, “Close Enough for Love”, “Where Do You Start?”, and “Emily” are immediately recognizable by even casually-sophisticated jazz fans.

“Cinnamon & Clove” did bring back memories of Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66, however, I prefer Scott’s big band. Adding Airto was a nice touch. Pete Christlieb follows Scott’s crisp solo with some uptempo blowing.

“Little Did I Ever Dream” brought to mind Fred and Ginger dancing (no, not our Ginger here…). Being a Portland resident, I know what a national treasure we have in Dave Frishberg, who wrote the lyrics for this song. The title track follows, and Airto appears again to spice up the arrangement for Scott and Ginger.

“First” has a fresh lilting quality brought out by the clarinet quartet of soloists, Don Shelton and Ken Peplowski, aided by Rusty Higgins on alto clarinet, and the bottom end provided by Roger Neumann on bass clarinet. Scott and Ginger’s vocals are especially effective in lightly soaring over the clarinets.

Ginger takes the vocal solo on “The Shadow of Your Smile” and her enunciation and range is impressive on this well known standard from The Sandpiper. “El Cajon” features Ken Peplowski on clarinet. Ken can make the most taxing chart seem effortless. Scott has a nice solo as well, and Jennifer Leitham’s bass solo is well recorded. Scott introduces the Los Angeles Vocal Alliance here, and the four part harmony from these brass players kicks ass over any barbershop quartet I’ve ever heard. Frishberg’s witty lyrics remind us that “it’s no fun to be alone in El Cajon.”

“A Waltz From Somewhere” has its world premiere here. Jack Petersen has a tender guitar solo and the two vocalists soar with Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s sweet lyrics. Jennifer Leitham’s bass solo is rich and woody, and I dug Scott’s burnished trombone.

A five-part a capella of the Modernaires is featured on “Where Do You Start?” It is one of the highlights of the CD for me. The song’s lyrics are inspiring. Scott has a great gut-bucket trombone solo on the following track, “Vacation From the Blues,” accompanied by Leitham’s bass.

Ginger is outstanding on “You Are There” with only Petersen backing her on guitar. I’d love to hear her on a ballad set. “Sure as You’re Born” gives us an opportunity to hear Scott scat with Carl Saunders, who adds a hot trumpet solo as well. “Mr Dependable”, Pete Christlieb also has his say. Shelton and Peplowski score again with the clarinet choir on “I Never Told You.” My favorite instrumental  Mandel tune, “Emily” is included as the second to last track. It’s the first time I’ve heard the Johnny Mercer lyrics. The Vocal Alliance is back again in a winning fashion.

Johnny Mandel has got to be pleased with this package. I sure was…

TrackList: Cinnamon & Clove, Little Did I Dream, Solitary Moon, First, The Shadow of Your Smile, El Cajon, Close Enough for Love, A Waltz From Somewhere, Where Do You Start?, Vacation From the Blues, You Are There, Sure as You’re Born, I Never Told You, Emily, I Won’t Believe My Eyes

—Jeff Krow

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