Mellow Dreamin’: lounge soul and jazz for autumn days

27 Oct

I’ve always enjoyed the softer, more beige side of soul and jazz (from the lounge pop orchestrations of the 5th Dimension through to the string-draped arrangements of Wes Montgomery’s 1960s Verve albums), and the music of Jimmy Webb and Bacharach/David have always seemed to me to represent a high point where popular art meets cosmopolitan sophistication that’s never been repeated.

A couple of other inspirations have led to me revisting this music recently.  Richard William’s excellent ‘the blue moment’ blog, which is a real treasure trove of memories and unexpected links between music (the kind of thing we love here – see the link to his blog below), had a really good post on Dionne Warwick’s overlooked 1970s Warner Bros material.  And Jamie Cullum (who has, I think the best pound-for-pound jazz show on radio at the moment, covering all the really important names from the past with some great selections of contemporary jazzy tunes – forget the sneery highbrow coverage he normally gets, and check him out – a real enthusiast as well) played some lovely late period Young Holt Unlimited that captured a period when popular jazz could reflect the changes  going on at that time, albeit in a gentler, less direct way than the likes of Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler.

You can just imagine this sort of thing coming on the radio as you drove through the sunshine to the Monterey jazz festival in 1969.  Or something…

Anyway, enough wistful time travelling back to a period I never knew – here’s some tunes that may make you feel similarly nostalgic for an idealised moment in time (and hopefully a million light years way from those awful cheesy Ray Conniff-style ‘lounge’ comps that were punted round in the 1990s):

1) Young-Holt Unlimited ‘Going In Circles’

I could’ve picked anything off of the ‘Mellow Dreamin” album from the erstwhile Ramsey Lewis backing group (Jamie Cullum chose another track from this excellent album for his show) but this version of the peerless Friends of Distinction tune captures their wide screen cinematic soul jazz (now there’s a genre) perfectly – check that purring organ!

2) Cal Tjader ‘Message to Michael’

From his Skye Records period, when he was produced by Gary Mcfarland (whose work typifies this type of vibe), this is a lovely version of the Bacharch-David tune that still seems incredibly haunting and wide-eyed.  Imagine Ali McGraw staring out of the window of a California condo at the ocean as you listen…

3) Dionne Warwick ‘Do You Believe In Love At First Sight’

A different decade (the 1970s) and Dionne, her collaboration with Bacharach and David the victim of legal wrangles and bad faith, was scratching around for a hit, despite some great material and collaborations (notably Holland-Dozier-Holland and Thom Bell).  This song is a typical example, which was picked out by Richard Williams in his previously mentioned post, but you can find any number of songs of equal quality on the recent compilation ‘The Complete Wartner Brothers Singles’ (and its even newer companion ‘We Need to Go Back: The Unreleased Warner Bros. Masters’).  Music that’s become undeservedly forgotten.

4) Wes Montgomery ‘Bumpin’ On Sunset’

Previously famed for his lightning chops and song-like improvisational skill, by the mid 60s Wes had adapted these to mirror the advances in popular song and production techniques, to predictable howls of derision from the jazz police (and widespread acceptance from the listening public).  But how can anyone cry foul when the music seems to hang beautifully in time and space like this does?  Gorgeous.

5) Ray Charles ‘Wichita Lineman’

And to link back to where we came in (you know we love to do that):  Brother Ray’s version of the wonderful Jimmy Webb tune, famously recorded by Glen Campbell but also covered by Young Holt Unlimited on the aforementioned ‘Mellow Dreamin” album.  Never has heartache and simplicity sounded so eloquent.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: