Mel Tormé

At the Crescendo 1954 and 1957

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One of those singers who could sing a grocery list and make it work, Mel Tormé never met a song he couldn't at least make memorable, and in most cases, he did a whole lot more than that. Tormé wasn't a singer who fed off of glitz and flash, and his vocal work was full of such subtle and effortlessly inventive phrasing that it's easy to miss how he never sings a successive verse exactly the same in a song, working the edges of the melody so deftly that it all seems naturally right, even if what he's really doing is working his vocals like a veteran horn player. What this means is that Tormé, who had his successes in the recording studio, certainly, was really at his most transcendent as a vocalist in a live setting, and these two sets, recorded three years apart in 1954 and 1957 at the Crescendo on Sunset Strip with the Al Pellegrini Trio (1954) and the Marty Paich Quintet (1957), are the perfect proof of that. This is Mel Tormé in his element giving classics like the Gershwins' "Our Love Is Here to Stay" an almost perfect reading, feeding the melody the intimacy it cries for, scat singing (a Tormé specialty) his way through "Bernie's Tune" like a jazz trumpet player, and approaching "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" with just the right touch to bring out its inherent dignity. He does more of the same to two of his own compositions, the brilliant "Stranger in Town" and the so-good-it-seems-like-it's-been-around-forever holiday classic "The Christmas Song." Graceful, warm, and spry, Tormé's singing always fits his material, and he gently bends the melodies, shifts emphasis on the rhythm, and elegantly turns phrases in subtle little ways on song after song during these performances, but it's all done with such seemingly effortless ease that he appears to be singing everything straight and true. He isn't. A close listen to what he's doing reveals continual and delightful surprises, all of them carrying the song where it really wants to go. With 41 tracks on two discs, this is both a great introduction to Tormé's elegant vocal universe and a historic pairing of his two Crescendo nights in a single package, which, amazingly, no one has thought to do before.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:12
2 4:07
4 2:32
6 3:03
7 2:29
9 2:43
10 2:52
11 3:27
12 2:26
13 4:26
17 2:42
18 2:19
blue highlight denotes track pick