Joni James

100 Strings and Joni

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This CD reissue contains the entire contents of vocalist Joni James' 100 Strings and Joni (1959) album as well as a half-dozen supplementary sides from her follow-up long-player, 100 Strings and Joni: I'm in the Mood for Love -- Songs by Jimmy McHugh (1960). After a rousing success presenting James with Arturo Toscanini's 100-piece Symphony of the Air at the venerable Carnegie Hall, both the artist and her then-husband and musical director, Anthony Acquaviva, hit upon the idea to record an album backed by a mammoth orchestra in a studio setting. However, financially this would require a massive undertaking that the record company (MGM) was somewhat reticent to embark upon. The idea stayed on the back burner until James' triumphant engagement at the prestigious London Palladium. During her stay, an invitation was extended to record at EMI's Abbey Road facility. This would prove doubly fortuitous, as not only could the studio incorporate the expansive ensemble, but also the entire project could be successfully achieved at a fraction of the expenditure a similar commitment would have cost stateside. After choosing the material, the U.K.'s top pop arrangers, Geoff Love and Tony Osborne, were given the task of scoring the dozen pop standards -- which they accomplish with impeccable taste -- for the British orchestra. The blend of warm and vibrant acoustics at Abbey Road as well as the fresh scores of timeless material give James an inviting sonic canvas that she and the assembled musicians impeccably utilize. The accompaniment for "Imagination," "But Beautiful," and the lilting "Hi-Lilli, Hi-Lo" are a few of the more exquisite and accomplished performances, although it is admittedly difficult to find fault with any of them. James delicately balances an authoritative intonation with tasteful restraint and the purity of innocence. Again, the disc is replete with examples; however, the enchanting and airy woodwind introduction to "Wait and See" is among the more memorable passages that reveal these recordings are far from rote or perfunctory. The success of 100 Strings and Joni would spawn several spinoff long-players -- such as the thematic 100 Strings and Joni on Broadway (1961) and 100 Strings and Joni in Hollywood (1962). While they too would be filled with James' timeless magic, there is a palpable connection that remains within the grooves of the original project that would be seemingly impossible to re-create. The bonus material, while certainly wrought with merit, is comparatively lackluster. There are a few unmitigated moments of musical brilliance, as one might expect from the likes of James. The dainty (if not somewhat drowsy) reading of "Let's Get Lost" and the stirring "How Blue the Night" are worth checking out for the casual enthusiast as well as the seasoned listener.

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