Helen Merrill

7 Classic Albums

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Real Gone Jazz compiles seven recordings by the great Helen Merrill on four discs, taken from her EmArcy and Metro Jazz years from the mid-'50s to about 1960. The release includes her self-titled debut offering from 1954 (featuring Clifford Brown); Helen Merrill with Strings, 1955 (a record she didn't want to make because of its commercial orientation but which is a true creative success); Dream of You (arranged by Gil Evans); Merrill at Midnight, 1957; The Nearness of You, 1958; You've Got a Date with the Blues (arranged by Quincy Jones), 1959, and Parole e Musica, recorded in Italy with producer and arranger Piero Umiliani for a television show. With the possible exception of the last date -- one of her finest records -- these are indeed Merrill's best-known sides. The music is mostly exceptional, The Nearness of You being the only middling date in the pack, and that's because she does rather unusual things with her vocal technique. Then there's the issue of the label, well-known for releasing cheap compilations. And the word "cheap" means more than just inexpensive. Great Britain has different copyright laws than the U.S., so Real Gone Jazz is not legally obligated to pay royalties; the artist sees nothing by way of remuneration, hence part of the soft price mark. The other reason for it is that the source materials for these discs are quite suspect: in many, if not all cases, vinyl was used instead of the original tapes, so sound tends to be thin and shrill. The stars are for the music, not its presentation.