This AIX Collectors’ Edition set is packed with even more formats and materials than their usual fare, so I should start by listing them. The video portion of their productions, which began as just a camera on a tripod set up in the recording studio during a session, has evolved into a complete 16:9 widescreen video production shot in hi-def and with a choice of two bitstream 5.1 surround options: Dolby Digital in an “Audience” perspective, or DTS in a closer-sounding “Stage” acoustic. On the second side of the video DVD is the audio setup section, all the tunes in two-channel uncompressed PCM, and in addition to Steve’s live show there are interviews and historic black & white footage and still photos of Mel Tormé.
The second disc is a true DualDisc, in that one side is a normal 44.1K compact disc music program of Tormé’s concert and the opposite side is a DVD-Audio with a 5.1 96K hi-res surround version of the music program. The bonus features on the set include artist bios, a photo gallery, a Mel Tormé discography, family photos, rehearsal videos, a featurette on Mel Tormé and web connections. Plus the usual system setup and checking test section and a 12-page printed booklet. Whew!
Steve is of course the son of the late Mel Tormé, and this is a tribute to his father’s art. He doesn’t attempt to do an impersonation of Mel, thank goodness, but many of the tunes are the same and the arrangements are the ones bandleader Marty Paich created for his Dektette. The West Coast Jazz arranger/performer/producer worked with Tormé for many years, and in setting up the sidemen for this performance AIX Records strove to replicate the type of informal environment in which Tormé did his thing in the 50s and 60s.
The concert is broken up between most of the tunes with portions of the historical footage of the senior Tormé in performance, as well as small windows of Steve talking about his father, his own career as a singer, and working with various musicians. The assembly and pacing is very well done, though I don’t know if I would want to see all the historical footage and interviews again on viewing it a second time. The tunes are the best, and the band is on their toes. Yet, speaking for myself (who is not a real strong fan of jazz vocals, mind you) I found the clips of Mel Tormé – as fuzzy, out-of-focus and black & white as they were, with mono sound – to be much more appealing than the state-of-the-art presentation by Steve Tormé. It made me realize what a unique and towering talent we had in Mel, and made me want to rush to my collection and pull out my Tormé CDs and LPs to listen to again. My favorite old footage was of Mel Tormé and George Shearing rehearsing a medley and Shearing talking afterwards about what a terrific musician Tormé was. Those few singers to whom I’m attracted are all ones with completely unique voice personalities, and often would be classified as not really having such great voices. Examples: Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Mose Allison, Blossom Dearie, Billie Holiday. Well, Mel Tormé possessed both in spades – the unique and distinctive quality so easily identified, plus towering musicianship and vocal abilities.
TrackList: Sweet Georgia Brown, On the Street Where You Live, Just One of Those Things, Green Dolphin Street, When You Wish Upon a Star/I’m Wishing, Trolley Song, Get Me To the Church On Time, Ridin’ High/Shootin’ High, Comin’ Home Baby, Mountain Greenery, Born to be Blue, Ruby, The Folks Who Live on the Hill, Lulu’s Back in Town, If Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, The Christmas Song.
– John Henry