Various Artists

A Collection of Various Interpretations of Summertime, Vol. 1

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Continuing the work initiated on A Collection of Various Interpretations of Sunny, Vol. 1 and A Collection of Various Interpretations of Sunny, Vol. 2 -- fascinating takes on Bobby Hebb's immortal song, "Sunny" -- the German Trocadero label has come up with another gem and artistic masterpiece, A Collection of Various Interpretations of Summertime, Vol. 1. Colin Escott's May 2003 liner notes are insightful and lay a foundation for the hour-plus experience of listening to these masterful renditions of George & Ira Gershwin's all-time classic. The opening James Brown/Martha High duet from 1977 segues perfectly into the piano-heavy 1966 Johnny Watson rendition. This is followed by the performance that enjoyed the biggest commercial success up to the pressing of this CD, Billy Stewart's Top Ten scat-filled stunner that went a couple of notches further up the chart than Billie Holiday's revered 1936 hit, also included here. Sidney Bechet's 1939 instrumental overlaps onto Janis Joplin's overwhelming study of the tune from her first number one album, Cheap Thrills. It's a credit to compilation producer Rudiger Ladwig and Arnd Esser's mastering that these 17 expressions (of the more than 2,600 known versions of the tune) fall into place perfectly, a tapestry that places the song in a whole new light. Billie Holiday melting into the Herbie Hancock/Joni Mitchell/Wayne Shorter/Stevie Wonder fest is as amazing as the Bechet/Joplin and Johnny Watson/Billy Stewart matchups. And the Stewart take sounds different from the 1960s radio version! The placement of tapes from different eras and different genres in this fashion is a work of art. One may think the Walker Brothers' vocal work from their hit period of "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" would be out of place, but it is the real sleeper here -- it is terrific! Al Green oozes out of the speakers with his wonderfully hesitant sound the year after Joplin gave the song underground chic. Keep in mind Green wouldn't hit the Top 40 until 1971, so this was two years before he became a household name. He's followed by Mongo Santamaria's exotic Latin impression of the title from 1965, the album concluding with Coco Schumann's 1952 recording. This disc holds up to repeated spins, is a superb history lesson, and is also, quite simply, a joyous study of a composition that is as much a part of Planet Earth as the air and the trees. Note: "Summertime" and "Sunny" both evoke warmth -- something to ponder.