The Four Freshmen

The Swingers

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With the title referring to the dozen jazzy numbers and vocal arrangements found inside, 1962's The Swingers was the 19th release in less than eight years from the influential Four Freshmen. Although the combo's membership had already seen three prior incarnations, the fourth -- featured here -- would be the longest aggregate to perform together (1960-1973). Co-founders Ross Barbour (vocals) and Bob Flanigan (vocals/trombone) are joined by 1956 recruit Ken Albers (vocals/trumpet/arranger), as well as Bill Comstock (vocals). What hasn't changed, however, is the tradition of ultra-tight harmonic precision and unmistakable flair on which the Four Freshmen were established. While they had adopted a variety of musical genres, reworking jazz classics was undeniably their forte. Here, they provide both lyrics and wordless adaptations of melodies that had become familiar standards, including a trio of Duke Ellington compositions. Demonstrating their interpretive versatility, "Satin Doll" is given a bright and buoyant monosyllabic (i.e., "do-do-do-do") rendering, contrasting the somewhat zany collaboration with Peggy Lee -- who wrote the lyrics -- on Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'." Bill Holman's orchestral direction is more pop-driven than the lush backdrops that Dick Reynolds was known for. It fits nicely on the Four Freshmen's second stab of George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland," initially showing up five years earlier on their fifth long-player, 1957's Four Freshmen and Five Saxes. Additional highlights include the intricate syncopation and timing of "Lulu's Back in Town" and the boppin' take of Count Basie's "Taps Miller." "L'il Darlin'" is the album's sole ballad; not surprisingly, it arguably seems out of place in the context of the other material, but that shouldn't be seen as a reflection of the song's presentation. [In 2000, Collectors' Choice Music paired up The Swingers with the Four Freshmen's previous platter, 1962's Stars in Our Eyes, on a two-fer CD.]

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