Various Artists

By George (& Ira): Red Hot on Gershwin

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Major record companies rarely run out of ways to package previously issued material, and Verve is among the more active (and imaginative) companies in this regard. One of their more popular reissue formats is a series of compilations of songs by important contributors to the Great American Popular Songbook. And there are none who have made greater contributions than the brothers Gershwin, George and Ira. The compilation technique permits companies to include only the best performances of the composer's music from their vault, helping to assure a winner. Red & Hot on Gershwin is no exception to this marketing principle. This is a set of excellent performances by a host of fine musicians who have recorded for the Norman Granz label. With the exception of the cut by Janis Joplin, all of the numbers were recorded during the '40s, '50s and '60s, and the participants, including the so-called sidemen, read like a who's-who of the upper echelon of jazz musicians. The producers have included a good balance between instrumentals and vocals, as well as between jazz styles. Bop luminaries are represented by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, mainstream jazz by Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson. Lester Young, doing "The Man I Love," represents that class established by Duke Ellington for the very special -- "beyond category." Multiple versions of some songs appear here, reaffirming the jazz principle that there can be legitimate differences in the way artists approach the same material. Viva la difference.

Contrasting vocal styles are reflected by Nina Simone (whose "I Loves You, Porgy" may well be the seminal version of the classic tune), the delicate-voiced Blossom Dearie, and Sarah Vaughan. Billie Holiday is represented with two cuts, including the classic version of "Embraceable You" with Ben Webster and Harry "Sweets" Edison. And then there's Janis Joplin, whose rendition of "Summertime" will certainly get the listener's attention as she twists and turns the lyrics in a raspy interpretation. On the other hand, Billy Stewart's interpretation of the same song, while out of the ordinary, is exciting and one of the highlights on an album filled with highlights.

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