One thing that set Helen Merrill apart from other '50s jazz singers was her acutely dramatic vocal style. Her earnest phrasing, elongated notes, and incandescent tone might even strike the contemporary listener as qualities more appropriate for the Broadway stage than a jazz club. On 1955's Dream of You, though, Merrill found reconciliation, sounding both melodramatic and swinging within Gil Evans' darkly spacious, yet economical arrangements. Suitably, torchy ballads are prominent. On the somewhat grandiose side there's "Where Flamingos Fly" and "I'm a Fool to Want You," which find Merrill in a pensive mood amidst a variety of tempo and timbre shifts. More subdued ground is covered on "I've Never Seen" and "He Was Too Good to Me." Briskly swinging numbers like "People Will Say We're in Love," "By Myself," and "You're Lucky to Me" balance the program and feature the demure, yet fluid delivery Merrill favored on fast numbers. What is most impressive on this date is a group of sultry, medium tempo numbers including "Anyplace I Lay My Hat Is Home," "Just a Lucky So and So," and in particular "A New Town Is a Blue Town." The programmatic quality of Merrill's coyly sensual voice and Evans' slightly askew, bubbling reeds and languid rhythm conjure up dramatic, balmy southern scenes á la Tennessee Williams. In the picturesque arrangements one also hears the seeds of Evans' own future collaborations with Miles Davis. Even though her collaborations with Clifford Brown and others are great recordings, this one with Gil Evans shows off more of Merrill's expressive vocal talents, due in no small part to the sympathetic and urbane arrangements.
Dream of You Review
by Stephen Cook