Sammy Davis, Jr.

The Wham of Sam

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This is the original The Wham of Sam (1961), and the vintage dozen song titles here offer six from Paich and another six from a standard big-band combo under the baton of Morty Stevens. Stevens gets the first side of the platter, kicking off with a soulful take of "Back in Your Own Back Yard." Davis instantly kick-starts into high gear with his immutable lead in full command of the entire ensemble. His untouchable sense of rhythmic flair unleashes some lighthearted interaction between the vocalist and hard-driving instrumentalists. Particularly hip -- especially for 1961 -- are the surges of rock & roll just prior to the song's fade. Noted jazz session guitarist Tony Rizzi even inspires Davis to dedicate a line to his R&B guru, Ray Charles, with the ad-libbed "Ray Charles don't cha know that yard...Ray Charles done told me 'bout the yard." "Lush Life" is a credit to Davis' conversational interpretive style and Stevens' capacity to transform that skill into an art form of sorts, as he makes it sound as if Davis is the one conducting the band with the energy of his voice. Another specific, albeit subtle, example would be the warm and melodic fretwork from Rizzi that provides the bed underneath Davis' opening. "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die" is an up-front, no-nonsense blues that finds the singer with a sublime and yearning that all but ooze right outta the grooves. His proficiency as a romantic balladeer -- not to mention presenting one of the most commanding productions on the package -- is heard at its best on the Frank Sinatra co-written "I'm a Fool to Want You." Here, Davis engages a sultriness that simmers just below the surface of the light yet intoxicating tango. The final pair from the Stevens-scored side of The Wham of Sam are high-spirited, with the star's irresistible charm driving the fun and playful reading of "(Love Is) The Tender Trap" and the sassy, classy "Out of This World."

For the second side, Paich brings in the ten-man Dek-tette, featuring the talents of West Coast cool innovators Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Bud Shank (alto sax), Vincent DeRosa (French horn), Red Callander (tuba), Joe Mondragon (bass), and Mel Lewis (drums) among them. A loose and jiving "Bye Bye Blackbird" kick-starts Paich's contributions as he instantly separates himself sonically with a comparatively intimate approach that is faultlessly suited to Davis' easygoing reading. "Thou Swell" goes from zero to full throttle in less than a downbeat, with all participating parties holding on for dear life after a deceptively staid and exquisitely charming introduction that never gives away the rapid turnaround that seemingly erupts from nowhere. The prowess of the previously mentioned West Coast cool contingent is front and center on the unhurried "Can't We Be Friends," as the singer melodically blends right into Paich's custom-fit arrangement, and specifically when the band completely drops out, as it effectively bookends or envelopes Davis' correspondingly dynamic delivery. Proving his eminence from a purely emotive level is the West Coast post-bop of "Let There Be Love," which swings forward with refined soul. The project concludes with the Gershwin standard "Soon," allowing Davis to send listeners home on a familiar and optimistic note.

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