Although it makes for an odd pairing as two-fers go -- Suddenly It's the Hi-Lo's is a studio album from 1957, and Harmony in Jazz represents a retrospective from 1980 -- this Collectables release is nevertheless a superior introduction to one of the premier vocal harmony quartets of the postwar era. Thanks to exposure via television's Nat King Cole Show, Suddenly It's the Hi-Lo's proved to be the group's commercial breakthrough, a somewhat surprising distinction given that it's also their most eclectic and challenging effort to date. Reuniting with conductor Frank Comstock, the Hi-Lo's continue to challenge the formal limitations of the group harmony aesthetic -- their vocals go up, down, and side-to-side, yet Gene Puerling's arrangements are unerring, walking the tightrope between chaos and control with absolute assurance. However, for all its flights of fancy the album remains a human and heartfelt affair, never substituting acrobatics for emotion -- renditions of perennials like "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," "Stormy Weather," and "Love Walked In" are both innovative and immediately accessible. Harmony in Jazz surveys material from throughout the Hi-Lo's five-year Columbia tenure, the creative zenith of their distinguished career -- moreover, two-thirds of the tracks pair the group with arranger Marty Paich, whose jazz credentials and sensibilities perfectly complemented the quartet's own ambitions. While the Hi-Lo's always resisted attempts to pigeonhole their music, it's clear that their preference for syncopation and penchant for swing brought them closer to jazz than any other idiom, and Paich enhances the formula, recruiting a series of top-flight West Coast session players to lend the performances additional energy. The Hi-Lo's responded with the most soulful and sophisticated performances of their career, reinventing chestnuts like "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and "Dancing on the Ceiling" from the inside out.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Ankeny