Spring comes early in England. It comes, in fact, despite what the barometer says, in the last full month of Winter when Marlene VerPlanck arrives for her annual tour of the UK; around eighteen one-nighters spread evenly over thirty days and a dozen counties, allowing plenty of time to recharge the batteries.
2015 was somewhat different; seventeen gigs compressed into nineteen days, gruelling whichever way you look at it with only two days off but on the credit side it did leave a week for R&R which in this case is not an abbreviation of Rest & Relaxation but means Rehearsal and Recording of a new (her 24th) album backed by the trio who have been her principal support since 2009, John Pearce, piano, Paul Morgan, bass, Bobby Worth, drums, a trio par excellence, beyond excellent, in fact, as is Marlene herself, but until Peter Marc Roget lays a new Thesaurus on us I lack a superlative to trump excellent, all I do know is that these four cats left excellent dead in the water along with their salad days. On two of the twelve tracks they're augmented by the tenor of Andy Panayi, on a further two by his flute, and on a further five by the trombone of Mark Nightingale. On all twelve tracks the six pros were augmented, in a completely different meaning of the word, by me and in the interests of declaring an interest this is where I say that I have loved, admired, and respected the artistry of Ms VerPlanck since the day in 1979 when in the small record section of a now long defunct Doubleday's bookstore on 5th Avenue, Serendipity brokered an introduction that left his moment on the road to Damascus looking like a mere bagatelle.
So, what can I tell you.
The Mood I’m In is a typical VerPlanck album which means, as any of her fan-base will testify and new admirers will soon discover, a blend of acknowledged standards, a sprinkling of the neglected, forgotten, obscure, invariably the work of heavy hitters, plus a smattering of newer material by contemporary composers and lyricists.
This 24th album is no exception; you want contemporary? Choose track 5 where you'll find Ronny Whyte and John Bunch's Certain People, wonder as the trio in turn, first John, then Paul, then Bobby, elevate the art of accompaniment to a new dimension.
You want obscure? Try track 3 and listen as Paul's bass leads Marlene into the Bobby Troup Henry Mancini collaboration Free And Easy then plays tag with her up to the release before making way for Andy's liquid flute.
You want neglected? Step right this way and inhale Duke Ellington's It Shouldn't Happen To A Dream with a gorgeous solo from Mark.
You want forgotten? Here's the very thing, a Cahn-Van Heusen entry from 1962 that no one and his uncle Max remembers; but Marlene found Come On Strong and having found it she sings the bejesus out of it while Andy's tenor just about manages to keep up with her.
And now, you want standard? Boy, is this your lucky day. Close your eyes and wallow in Marlene's definitive interpretation, backed by just the trio, of one of the most gorgeous ballads of the twentieth century, Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's Too Late Now. It was actually written at the mid-point of the twentieth century, 1951, for the MGM movie Royal Wedding where it was squandered on Jane Powell but looking on the bright side at least it wasn't Dick.
I could of course name-check all twelve tracks and come up with a superlative or three for each one but what the hey, ninety to ninety-five per cent of you holding this CD are repeaters, the loyal fan-base who know as well as I do that when it comes to interpreting the Great American Songbook and if it comes to that the lesser American Songbook Marlene not only wrote the book but also edited and published it and is so far ahead of the pack it isn’t even funny.
On the other hand I would like to single out track 9 which is, in fact, a medley. The album was recorded in England in March, 2015, at the end of MVPs 26th annual UK tour and as most of you will know 2015 is Mr. Sinatra’s centenary so for her own personal tribute Marlene linked a number he performed with Tommy Dorsey, It Started All Over Again with one he recorded on his own label, Reprise, some twenty years later, The Second Time Around. They were so well received on the tour that she decided to include them here because, let’s face it, not everyone is able to get to a venue and hear her live.
And there you have it, a ballad or two, a bouncer or two; an in-betweener or two, like the man said, something for everyone.
Don't look now but that ‘everyone’ means you, so stop reading and start listening and keep in mind that if Marlene were a movie she'd be Casablanca. Better than that it doesn't get.
Lyricist, Journalist, contributor to Jazz Journal Int'l, UK
Artist Website: www.marleneverplanck.com
Label Website: www.jazzology.com/audiophile_records.php