Friday, July 16, 2010

Michael Fremer Album Review

Johnny Hartman (reissue)
I Just Dropped By to Say Hello

Impulse/ORG A-57 2 45rpm 180g LPs

Produced by: Bob Thiele
Engineered by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mixed by: Rudy Van Gelder
Mastered by: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

Review by: Michael Fremer

Perhaps had the dulcet-toned baritone Johnny Hartman lived beyond sixty (he passed away from lung cancer in 1983) he might have experienced a resurgence similar to Tony Bennett’s—not that Hartman was ever as popular as Bennett.

Though Hartman’s brand of sophisticated balladry was rooted in pure jazz (why else would John Coltrane ask to collaborate with him?) he drifted occasionally towards an easy Mel Tormé or even Bobby Short cabaret style delivery and in his later years as popular jazz singing hit hard times he played cocktail lounges.

His phrasing was impeccable and his tone gave “the velvet fog” a run for his money and here, backed by jazz greats Hank Jones, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Burrell, Jim Hall, Milt Hinton and Elvin Jones (sounding more laid-back than you’ve probably ever heard him) Hartman finds the pocket from the first note of “Charade” and doesn’t stray.

The eleven song set doesn’t have a bad moment—unless you’re not enamored of sophisticated, popular balladry. Hartman’s timing and phrasing are exquisite and he plays it close to the vest except for a few brief phrases of “Our Time,” a tune he co-wrote, where he sings with greater fervor and passion than I can recall hearing him on record.

Rudy Van Gelder gets this one, recorded in two sessions fall of 1963, just right including the piano sound. The instruments are panned hard right/left leaving center stage to Hartman and it works fine, though the “instruments in a box” perspective now sounds somewhat dated—as do most recordings of that time, but in terms of timbral accuracy and transparency they can’t be beat.

Hartman recorded a great record for the tiny Evanston, Illinois based Bee Hive label in August of 1980 backed by a small group. While he suffered an occasional lyric lapse, his phrasing, timing and unerringly perfect diction were intact. The recording by the late Ben Rizzi, who went on to own Astoria Studios in Long Island City, is spectacularly intimate and natural, but don’t look for it on reissued vinyl anytime soon.

Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions locked up the rights to the album back in 1995 and some of the tunes were featured on the soundtrack to Eastwood’s movie “Bridges of Madison County.”

I got an advance of the soundtrack CD and was surprised to hear the Beehive songs had been transferree at the wrong speed making Hartman’s voice sound cartoonishly deep.

As I remember it, I contacted Eastwood’s office to alert them to the problem and I was initially told it was impossible but later I received a thank you call for spotting a problem caused by someone playing the digital transfer at the wrong sampling rate! I think they caught it in time to fix it for either the initial release or maybe the second pressing.

Clint, do you want to go into the vinyl record business? Call me!

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

No comments: