No shortage of liner notes on this collection of 14 classic standards, vocalist Monte Procopio and writer James Gavin both providing lengthy tomes that will evoke much squinting in the CD format. With the jazz police having issued an edict against critics quoting directly from liner notes -- there are the sleaze, to be sure, who simply rewrite liner notes as reviews -- it should suffice to paraphrase from a comparison between the Procopio effort and the flood of standards collections put forth by everyone from Rod Stewart to Linda Ronstadt, not that it would be desirable to know who exactly lays in between the two of them. Procopio describes himself as the basic lounge entertainer: the classic Tin Pan Alley standard songbook is only part of what he might present, a typical evening stage side with this artist is also likely to include country, pop, even impressions. Thus he is quite a different creature than the burned-out, over-the-hill rockers who turn to this type of material because they shot their wad rocking out, trying to go disco, failing at grunge rock, and so forth.
Like these big stars, Procopio wisely found an experienced arranger to put the musical background together for these songs. Based in Arizona, the vocalist located arranger Robert M. Freedman in the shade of one of the local cactus patches. Credited sometimes as simply "Bob," Freedman has been arranging for jazz and other genres of vocalists since the '50s. In stepping up to his charts, Procopio follows in the footsteps of greats such as Lena Horne and Dianne Reeves. Comparing the resulting effort to, say, the Rod Stewart collections, is perhaps unfair or too easy, like comparing a pizza made by an American franchise to the efforts of an Italian chef in Venezia. The Freedman charts are simply a marvel, leading to the necessary comment that this CD is also a good example of what kind of quality big-band sounds can come out of a local scene such as Phoenix, a city that can be assumed not to be any kind of mecca for jazzmen. In reality, jazz rules everywhere. Of the 14 tracks on the program, quite a few run between four and five minutes, a statistical indication of the breathing room. "Someone to Watch Over Me" unfolds so dramatically as to suggest a 90-minute classic film. Elsewhere, Procopio sings the often-forgotten introductions to some of the songs, again a decision not so common to the fast-food standards set.
Guitarist Clark Rigsby also serves as producer, recorder, and mixer of the project and is the fellow who connected Procopio with Freedman after having worked on a previous album by the vocalist. It is a totally great match, the arranger's handiwork full of so much detail that listeners will want to reserve a session in which to concentrate on that alone. One highly enjoyable detail is the snippets of music from elsewhere weaving in and out of the total picture, a sudden reference, for example, to what sounds like part of the introduction to "Round About Midnight." Rigsby does a great job with the sound of Procopio's voice, taking a calculated risk in the process. At first the treatment comes across as sounding tinny, too trebly, a notion that is set aside quickly as the arrangements unfold. It is a sound that suggests vintage microphones, peering into the past like a telescope. What defines a song as worthy of being called a standard cannot be established like the so-called rule of law, if it could, the felony count would be a reversal of the dubious "singer not the song" principle. "The Best Is Yet to Come" for performers who successfully take on the challenge with a "Smile" -- good choice, that, the image of a teenage Claire Bloom comes to mind, complete with chaperone hired by Charlie Chaplin to protect his image. If the subject of the phrase "The Very Thought of You" was a song itself, it would be a song that is remembered as its own entity despite how many famous singing stars create classic versions. Also observed through this telescope of references, more of a kaleidoscope considering the psychedelic array of possibilities, is each listener's associations with each song from having heard it at a key point in life, on a favorite film soundtrack. "More" cannot be said about this subject, that lively theme bringing to mind the horribly popular exploitation film with its beached turtles, snake-eating weirdos mangled by bulls, and paparazzi crushing Rossano Brazzi. Which is a good name to conclude with considering how handsome Procopio looks on his front cover photo.