Signature Songs

Various Artists

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Signature Songs Review

by Ken Dryden

The idea behind the compilation Signature Songs is workable, but the execution is a bit questionable. In all but one case, each jazz star is showcased playing a song strongly associated with him. The high points include a modern-day edition of the George Shearing Quintet swinging through "Lullaby of Birdland," yet another rendition by the tireless Dave Brubeck of "Take Five," Clark Terry's umpteenth recording of his famous nonsense scatted blues "Mumbles," joined by Oscar Peterson (with whom Terry premiered the original version some 32 years earlier), and Erroll Garner's reprise of his ever-popular "Misty." Unfortunately, there are some less-successful tracks. Lionel Hampton's all-star big band version of "Flyin' Home" suffers from an uneven horn section at times and the vibraphonist is a bit past his prime (understandable since he was 82 at the time). Dizzy Gillespie's chops had slipped considerably by the time of his 1992 performance of "Con Alma," though he wouldn't make his final recording until three years later. Two other tracks previously unissued by the label seem to have been left in the vault for a good reason. Cab Calloway is overwhelmed by a far-too-busy arrangement featuring Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, while Ahmad Jamal's remake of "Poinciana" comes off rather lukewarm and slow to develop. The strangest choice of songs is the inclusion of Liza Minelli performing "New York, New York." While this number is strongly identified with her, she's hardly a jazz artist by any stretch of the imagination and it ends the CD on a rather dubious note. The absence of liner notes could be explained by the presence of this track, as most jazz journalists would have a hard time justifying its inclusion alongside eight jazz greats. Skip this well-meaning but uneven disc.

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