Martinis With Mancini
Henry Mancini

Composer Henry Mancini (1924-1994) practically wrote the soundtrack to the cocktail culture of the late fifties and early sixties. The witty, moody themes he created for films and TV (Mr. Lucky, Hatari!, Experiment in Terror, Charade, A Shot In The Dark, The Pink Panther, The Thorn Birds and Newhart) often stayed with viewers well after the shows he scored faded from memory. During his two decades with RCA Records, Mancini's suave music was even fashioned into dance-band fodder for the adult crowd. So, true as it is, Mancini's music was as lounge as it gets.

But Mr. Mancini's mix-and-mingle musicianship tends to overshadow his jazz sensibilities. The composer started his musical career writing arrangements for Benny Goodman in the forties. He then single-handedly introduced jazz to television audiences in 1958 with his innovative music to Peter Gunn. Mancini frequently recorded in jazz contexts too (The Blues And The Beat, the excellent Combo! and Mancini 67). Moreover, Mancini always employed L.A.’s best jazzmen for studio and soundtrack recordings, keeping them well fed while they kept their ‘serious jazz’ credentials in check playing Hollywood’s clubs at night. Jazz has always loved Mancini too. Countless covers of "Days of Wine and Roses," "Dreamsville" and "Moon River" were immortalized by jazz legends over the years. And in the past year alone, full-disc jazz tributes to Mancini were released by Dave Grusin, James Moody, Joe Locke and the Oranj Symphonette.

Martinis With Mancini is a shrewdly conceived collection that contains plenty of value for jazz listeners. West Coast legends featured here include Art Pepper, Pete Candoli, Paul Horn, Plas "The Pink Panther" Johnson, Victor Feldman, Jimmy Rowles, Laurindo Almeida and Shelly Manne. This hour-long selection of mood jazz wisely avoids Mancini's often campy vocal material and favors a brief period (1958-1967) that yielded the composer's biggest hits and, ironically, his most significantly jazz-informed music.

The compilation is also smart to avoid such overplayed 'hits' as "The Pink Panther," "Baby Elephant Walk" and "Days Of Wine And Roses." This allows the listener to hear the quality of Mancini's conceptions. His compositions are almost always clever. But the delicate and evocative intricacy with which he scores each of these tunes should give rise to his stature as a gifted arranger as well.

So often Mancini simply states a well-devised theme. Then, in under three and a half minutes, he elicits stately, economical improvisation from his talented soloists. The overall flavor is lightly Latin and Mancini spices each dish with a variety of well-programmed percussion touches. Highlights include the groove of the catchy "Your Father’s Feathers;" the swinging "Everybody Blow!," featuring Larry Bunker’s vibes, Bob Bain’s guitar and Dick Nash’s trombone (and either Art Pepper or Ted Nash’s beautiful alto); the hard cooking "Odd Ball," which alternates excellent spots for vibes, trumpet and flute; the Shearing-goes-Latin of "Brief and Breezy,"also featuring Larry Bunker’s vibes, Bob Bain’s guitar and John (Star Wars) Williams’s piano.

All in all, this is a remarkably well-chosen collection of Mr. Mancini's music, lovingly compiled by Janet Grey (though I would've included the haunting "Lujohn" from Mr. Lucky Goes Latin and added every single song from Combo! as a bonus disk). And given the near-decade span of time and the variety of recordings these tunes were culled from, Martinis With Mancini really is considerably cohesive too. It makes a fine choice for sparkling background music and an engaging listen for jazz lovers who like hearing talented musicians exploring the moodier side of Latin jazz. Makes an ideal introduction to Henry Mancini’s music too.

Tracks: "Brief and Breezy" from Peter Gunn (9/4/58); "Odd Ball" from More Music From Peter Gunn (3/5/59); "Bijou" from The Mancini Touch (8/10/59); "Lightly Latin" from Mr. Lucky (12/17/59); "The Beat" from The Blues And The Beat (2/29/60); "The Old College Try Cha Cha" from High Time (6/12/60); "Playboy's Theme" and "Everybody Blow!" from Combo! (6/14-21/60); "Raindrops in Rio," "Mr. Lucky (Goes Latin)" and "No-Cal Sugar Loaf" from Mr. Lucky Goes Latin (1/10-12/61); "Moon River Cha Cha" and "Loose Caboose" from Breakfast At Tiffany's (4/20/61); "Your Father's Feathers" from Hatari! (12/5/61); "Mambo Parisienne" and "Megeve" from Charade (7/2/63); "Something For Sellers" and "It Had Better Be Tonight (Instrumental)" from The Pink Panther (9/16/63); "Something Loose" and "The Chaser" from Two For The Road (2/14/67).

Collective Personnel Includes: Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Frank Beach, Graham Young: trumpet; Dick Nash, Milt Bernhardt, Jimmy Priddy, John Halliburton, Karl DeKarske, Hoyt Bohannon, Sinclair Lott: trombone; Vincent DeRosa, John Cave, Richard Perissi, John Graas, Herman Lebow, George Price: french horn; Paul Horn, Gene Cipriano, Wilbur Schwartz, Harry Klee: woodwinds; Art Pepper: clarinet, alto sax; Plas Johnson: tenor sax; Ted Nash: alto sax; Ronnie Lang: baritone sax; Larry Bunker, Victor Feldman: vibes; John Williams, Jimmy Rowles: piano; Bobby Hammock: organ; Bob Bain, Laurindo Almeida: guitar; Rolly Bundock, Joe Mondragon: bass; Jack Sperling, Shelly Manne: drums; Ramon Riviera, Frank Flynn, Larry Bunker, Milt Holland: percussion.

Road Tested
Hank Crawford/Jimmy McGriff

Alto man Hank Crawford and organist Jimmy McGriff are made for each other. Mixing the right brew of blues, swing and funk, they compliment one another’s soulful sound in distinctive style. Road Tested, the seventh pairing under both their names, is exactly what you’d expect from these two: the tried and trues of funk and blues. What gives it an edge, though, is Crawford and McGriff riffing in the excellent company of Wayne Boyd on guitar and funkmaster Bernard Purdie on sticks. It takes you to a smoky club of long ago, when this kind of group could be heard by the dozen in any major city.

Road Tested opens and closes with two winners: Boyd’s funky "Peanuts" (a carbon copy of "McGriffin" from McGriff’s The Dream Team) and the 24-bar blues of Crawford & McGriff’s jam, "A Little Bit South of East St. Louis" (featuring Boyd’s terrific Melvin Sparks-like solo). In between, it’s a little more predictable. "Happy Feet" (credited to Hank Crawford) reheats the overly-familiar "Night Train" theme while "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon" and the sappy "For Sentimental Reasons" offer requisite R&B covers. "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Summertime" serve up the corn in ways that Crawford and McGriff have perfected over the years. But their surprising, soulful redux of John Coltrane’s "Mr. P.C" is redeemingly worthwhile.

No Crawford/McGriff album is perfect (although I’d put money on their LRC work from the late 70s, which was the disco music McGriff claims in this disc’s liner notes he "just didn’t feel"). But Road Tested offers some reliably soulful sounds and gotcha-groove for fatback fans and acid-jazzers.

Tracks: Peanuts; I Only Have Eyes For You; Happy Feet; For Sentimental Reasons; Caravan; Road Tested; Hope That We Can Be Together Soon; Mr. P.C.; Summertime; A Little Bit South Of East St. Louis.

Players: Hank Crawford: alto sax; Jimmy McGriff: Hammond X-B3 organ; Wayne Boyd: guitar; Bernard Purdie: drums.