More Bert Kaempfert on Decca, Pt. 4: Bert Kaempfert Now! (1971)

In writing about Bert Kaempfert, I am often impressed by his American albums’ liner notes. Sure, this sort of thing reeks of record-company p.r.-speak. But the notes written for Kaempfert’s Decca albums are as much puffery as poetry. Indeed, this listener usually agrees with whatever that machine churned out.

The notes to Bert Kaempfert Now! – which are notably not reproduced on the European issue of the album – may well be worth sharing in full. In this case, producer Milt Gabler signed his name to the notes, and while I think he had much to do with previous notes, I am sharing these because they say much about why Gabler – a musical icon himself – had long believed in Kaempfert and the German bandleader’s ability to pump out good music:

Like it says in the song, Put your hand in the hand of the man that makes the music, Mr. Bert Kaempfert. This is his music for NOW and the way he sounds today. Bert’s ear has always been turned to the present without ever forgetting the rich heritage of what has gone before. That is why this album, of how Bert feels and hears the sounds of today NOW, is a musical event for perpetual enjoyment.

Each time Kaempfert records he strives for something new. You know the great sound will always be there, but it is the new and original material that keeps him out in front, for first and foremost Bert is creative and an innovator. We particularly want you to listen to the instrumental “IN OUR TIME” (A Prayer for Peace). This is big band contemporary music at its finest.

In this album Bert also brings you his interpretations of such hits as The Oceans’ PUT YOUR HAND IN THE HAND, Paul McCartney’s OH WOMAN, OH WHY?, Glen Campbell’s DREAM BABY, Creedence Clearwater [Revival]’s PROUD MARY, the beautiful theme from RED SKY AT MORNING, and for his loyal followers, the old standard ME AND MY SHADOW.

Most of these sides features solos by the finest jazz trumpeter in Europe, ACK van ROOYEN. He is outstanding on the originals as well as all of the contemporary and chart material. On these sessions Bert used new rhythm patterns which are really exciting. This made for a bright and happy album, unmistakably Kaempfert and undeniably dynamite for listeners of all ages. The big bands are coming back (so they tell us) but Bert Kaempfert has never left. This is his music for now, and tomorrow, and for all time. – Milt Gabler

Bert Kaempfert Now! is an enigma. Like Smile (1979), it is more modish than most Kaempfert records, which tends to date it a bit. But like The Magic Music Of Far Away Places (1965), it is an attractive travelogue, inviting the listener to travel to another time and place in melodic music.

As Gabler intimates, Bert Kaempfert Now! is an effort to Gerry rig a rock group in to the big band sound, something like the horn-led rock bands Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears were already doing. For the most part, I think, it’s a success. Now! is one of Kaempfert’s most attractive and interesting records from the period.

While the covers are referenced above – although CCR is properly referenced for “Proud Mary,” it is likely included here because of Ike and Tina Turner’s hit version of the song at the time – one in particular merits more attention.

Paul McCartney’s “Oh Woman, Oh Why” is one of Kaempfert’s most eclectic and audacious choices, perhaps in the entirety of his vast discography. The song was originally the B-side to the 1971 non-album single “Another Day.” As McCartney’s single gained popularity, both songs ended up charting together. 

(It’s worth pointing out that “Another Woman/Oh Woman, Oh Why” was in the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 at the same time as “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “Proud Mary” – but Kaempfert seemingly did not cover “Another Day.”)

Here, Kaempfert turns McCartney’s electric blues into a dynamic horn-led jazz-rock tune worthy of Maynard Ferguson or even BS & T. This surely establishes Kaempfert’s cool cred in my book. Kaempfert turns McCartney’s fierce vocal into a gorgeously harmonic horn line and transforms the original’s clever melody into something memorable and truly melodic.

Surprisingly, the Bert Kaempfert-Herbert Rehbein team turn in only one composition here: the melancholy “Kiss Her Once With Feeling” (Milt Gabler is credited here as well, likely as lyricist, although a vocal version of the song is not known to exist). Kaempfert and Rehbein had been co-credited writing partners since 1966, regardless of who wrote what or how much.

That makes it even more remarkable that for pretty much the first time in five years, each takes sole credit for their own songs: Kaempfert alone on “Gray Eyes Make Me Blue” (as “Grey” on the European issue), “Bell Bottoms” and “Living Easy” and Rehbein alone on “In Our Time (A Musical Prayer For Peace)” and “Falling Free.”

The Kaempfert tunes are typically energetic swingers with strong melodies and good charts while Rehbein’s more introspective and moody originals both hint at themes that pepper Bruno Nicolai’s score to the 1972 giallo film All the Colors of the Dark.

The record is strangely programmed, though; the moodier pieces anchor the original LP’s first side while the more up-tempo pieces are all clustered on the album’s second half. It seems like “Proud Mary” should have kicked this party in to gear, but here it is the penultimate song on the record.

Now! was released in August 1971 and was the last Bert Kaempfert album to ever chart in America, reaching 188 on the Billboard Hot 200. The album’s sole single, “Proud Mary” – backed with the far more intriguing “In Our Time” – failed to chart at all.

“With the accent on rhythm,” wrote Billboard at the time, “Kaempfert comes up with another outstanding collection of instrumentals that should win much favor with programmers and buyers alike. His bright treatments of ‘Put Your Hand in the Hand,’ ‘Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)’ and ‘Proud Mary’ are complemented by a smooth and relaxed ‘Me and My Shadow’.”

Bert Kaempfert Now! was released only once on CD, in 2004 by Polydor.

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