Chris Connor & Maynard Ferguson - Double Exposure (1961)
I've been waiting awhile to share this album due to the tracks I really wanted to explicate. I think that certain albums imply a season whether it be the album title or the tracks within. Double Exposure is one of two albums that vocalist Chris Connor and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and his orchestra collaborated on in the early 1960s. What is unusual is that Connor was signed to Atlantic at the time, where Maynard was signed to Roulette at the time. In a rare move, the record companies agreed to the collaboration with the stipulation that one record would be released on Atlantic and one on Roulette. Double Exposure is the Atlantic release, where Two's Company is the Roulette release. In retrospect, I think Connor was one of the finest vocalists of her time. She didn't simply sing the song as written; she often takes interpretive and rhythmic liberties that really add a lot to the music. The album begins with the often recorded "Summertime." Even from the first track of the album, the listener can appreciate the aforementioned rhythmic liberties that Connor takes as she sings very lyrically in vast contrast to the punctuated accompaniment of the jazz orchestra. This track also shows how well Maynard can add energy to a piece with his high register trumpet playing. The following track, "I Only Have Eyes for You," is a great example of the quality of arrangers had in his ensemble. The ensemble playing in the space that vocalist Connor leaves is well executed, and the stylistic transitions throughout the track make it a real joy to answer. "It Never Entered My Mind" is a relaxed ballad notable for its atypical instrumentation of having the woodwinds double of flutes and clarinets. This addition combined with the muted trumpets and the closely-voiced trombones create a great texture for the vocalist. The following two tracks are interesting in that both have lyrics penned by poets. "Two Ladies in De Shade of De Banana Tree" has lyrics penned by Truman Capote and is an uptempo number with a lot of energy and more of Maynard strutting his stuff in the upper register joined often by his trumpet section. The rhythmic precision of the band throughout the track is quite remarkable. The next track "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is the main reason why I waited to share this until April. My favorite track on the album, the lyrics were penned by poet Fran Landesman and the title is actually a "jazz rendition" of T.S. Eliot's "April is the Cruellest Month" from The Wasteland. This track is fantastic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Connor's interpretation of the rhythms and the inflections in her voice really display a feeling for the lyrics. Secondly, the arranging is phenomenal. The generally unknown Willie Maiden uses clarinets, flutes, and a vibraphone to create a lot of distinct colors and textures that only make a great tune sound ever richer. "The Lonesome Road" is an interesting blues number, with a slow tempo beginning transitioning into the faster section with a prominent baritone sax bass line. My favorite part of this track are the few examples of word painting such as when Maynard delivers a high note foray after the lyric "Before Gabriel blows his horn." The tempo changes in this track are really what makes it great to listen to. The following track, a version of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" is another testament to the arranging genius of Willie Maiden. Maiden manages to quote the Kenton tune "Maynard Ferguson" in the arrangement after the double time section. The melodic precision in the double time section make this track one of the best on the album for showcasing the instrumental talent on the album. The track even ends with Maynard playing the French horn "Black Coffee" is a favorite blues standard of mine, and Connor does a great interpretation of the lyric. The sliding doits and powerful sections in the brass are testament to the other notable arranger in the Ferguson orchestra at the time, Don Sebesky, most known for his later work for CTI. "Happy New Year" is a strange tune that begins with a quote of "Auld Lang Syne," but ends the quote on a minor chord indicating a dualistic tune whose subject addresses sads individuals who are not enjoying the reverie of the New Year celebration. The album closes with "That's How It Went, All Right," which is a great medium tempo closer to an album. The contrast of the bands' punctuated rhythms and Connor's relaxed vocal style, in addition the building sections present a lot of the musical ideas that are present on the rest of album.