Morton Gould / Gordon Jenkins / Moondog

Manhattan Moods

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The idea of this compilation was to combine three albums that "capture the strangeness of Manhattan" onto one CD, as stated in the liner notes. The three albums, all released in the early '50s according to notes, are by three entirely different artists, including Moondog's Moondog on the Streets of New York, Gordon Jenkins' Manhattan Tower (whose title, oddly, is given as Views from the Manhattan Tower on the CD's back cover), and Morton Gould's Manhattan Moods. While the notes also declare "there's something about the music on all three albums that links together," it can be questioned as to whether they're really such good fits for one-after-the-other consecutive listening, since they're quite musically different from one another. Certainly the most impressive is Moondog's Moondog on the Streets disc, originally issued in 1953. Although its eight songs add up to just over 20 minutes, that's enough time for the legendary street musician and composer to offer haunting, heavily rhythmic pieces on a combination of then-exotic instruments, showing influences of jazz, Japanese music, Native American sounds, and the avant-garde. Eerie chant-like vocals are sometimes heard as well, along with actual street and traffic noise. It's not at all dated as a product of its time, which can't be said of the other two albums.

In contrast, Jenkins' Manhattan Tower is a lushly orchestrated work bringing to mind the sweeping soundtracks to both American films and American life in the fresh post-World-War II era. One can just picture the camera sweeping over the skyscrapers and densely packed neighborhoods as it picks out vignettes of ebullient street life, largely free of urban blight, and (judging from the rather corny and whitebread musical-like vocal numbers celebrating the pleasures of the city) ethnic minorities. Simultaneously melodramatic and breezily optimistic, it's a document of an entirely different street life than that lived by Moondog, the blind musician drawing from numerous American and international cultures. Gould's Manhattan Moods is closer to Jenkins than Moondog in tone, but is a less frivolous endeavor than Manhattan Tower. Orchestral in arrangement but wholly instrumental, it has a somber dignity but a cinematic feel that makes it more accessible than many classical pieces, if not quite easy listening. These might indeed be different shades of the Manhattan experience as reflected by mid-20th century composers, but it isn't done much favors by the packaging, which have little background information on either the composers or the original albums. The sonic transfer is less than perfect, with occasional surface noise (and varying speeds on the Moondog tracks) indicating that vinyl was used for source material.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 1:06
2 1:27
3 1:03
4 2:14
5 1:28
6 1:31
7 1:19
8 1:14
The Manhattan Tower
9 4:11
10 3:50
11 3:57
12 3:19
The Manhattan Tower
13 4:04
14 2:23
15 2:08
The Manhattan Tower
16 3:35
17 3:34
18 4:57
19 4:56
20 3:27
21 5:00
22 4:36
23 5:07
blue highlight denotes track pick