Various Artists

The Golden Age of Light Music: Light and Lively

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The Guild label's extensive series of CDs devoted to what North Americans call easy listening and Europeans call light music has employed various organizational principles for individual discs. They have been devoted to musical themes or moods, to chronological periods, to specific musicians, composers, national styles, or musical forms. This release, titled Light and Lively, is something of a grab bag, with most but not all of the music being upbeat in rhythm. With one exception, Percy Faith's Caribbean Nights (recorded in 1947 but unissued until 1954 when it was used in a B movie called Starlift), the music all dates from the 1950s, and mostly from the high-water mark of easy listening between about 1954 and 1957. A few major figures -- Faith, Robert Farnon, and Frank Chacksfield -- are represented, but actually what ties this album together more than lightness or liveliness is the diverse collection of bandleaders and orchestras, several of whom made only a few recordings. The curiously named violinist and conductor Florian ZaBach, for example, may be remembered by fans of Ed Sullivan and other early TV hosts, but his presence on reissues is sparse indeed. French composer and bandleader Gérard Calvi contributes Le bal de Madame Mortemouille, better known in a texted version called One of Those Songs. But this original, with a little melody stated first by a baritone saxophone and developed in a dizzying variety of orchestral textures over its two minutes and 42 seconds, is far superior. If you were raised to hate easy listening music, which was one of the few things classical and rock fans could agree on, sample this arresting piece of work for a good example of why it is loved. Another orchestration highlight is Proud as a Peacock, composed and conducted by Britain's Eric Spear, with its unusual piano-plus-harpsichord timbre. The selection of pieces from outside the music's Anglo-American-Canadian axis is an attraction, as is the presence of the Telecast Orchestra, which is not explained in the rather brief notes, but apparently an ensemble that specialized in transcription discs, whose function in the easy listening genre awaits investigation. Not necessarily the best disc to start with in Guild's series (Mantovani: By Special Request or The 1950s, Vol. 1, would be better choices), this release will nevertheless be eagerly welcomed by collectors and libraries.

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