Artist: Shirley Horn vocals and piano
Guest Artist: Wynton Marsalis, trumpet
Orchestra arranged and conducted by: Johnny Mandel
Release Date: April, 1992
If depression comes from the inability to find in
nature beauty commensurate with that in the human psyche, this album is
guaranteed to administer a cure.
— Samuel Chell
Most musicians I know collect a lot of music on record. This opus comes
up in conversation frequently when discussing "top ten" jazz vocal recordings.
It also arguably has a place in the list of the top ten jazz recordings ever
made. Shirley Horn makes love to every single note, every single word, every
single touch of the piano key — and is in full control of when the note from
the piano ends. What's more remarkable is that Johnny Mandel's
strings were arranged and over-dubbed following the session with Horn's
combo. Mandel's contribution, although thrillingly lush at times, is used as
marvelously sparingly as Ms. Horn's piano notes.
Trumpeter Marsalis takes the place of the intended artist, Miles Davis, Ms.
Horn's mentor and friend, who died shortly before the artists went into the
studio. Marsalis does a fine job doing justice to both charted and
improvisational parts; but he's no Miles.
Not too long ago I was in the company of two good friends; one, a hard-boiled
big-band trumpet soloist who's the last person I'd add to my list of emotionally
sensitive people. The other individual is a woman who's seen hard times and
doesn't frequently let her emotions rise to the surface. What we all had in
common was our love of this album. So at 1:15 in the morning one weekday evening
I put this record (the topic of conversation) on the stereo and poured another
round of drinks. Half-way through the record's play, all three of us were wiping
a tear or two away with our sleeves.
How could Ms. Horn's version of "You're Nearer" not be moving? The
tune's popularity was rekindled when Judy Garland hoisted herself up onto the
piano at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and sat and sang it from her heart. It's a song
that means so, so much to the recipient of such lovely words paired with minimal
accompaniment — Horn makes every listener believe that they, indeed, are the
recipient of this musical love letter.
Horn's critics claim that cuts like "Here's to Life" and "If You Love Me" are
emoted and over the top; cloyingly dramatic. I disagree but those cuts are
indeed not favorites of mine, although delightful components of this work.
"Summer (Estate)" is musically very, very serious; but its lyrics
celebrate this season and look forward to the singer's favorite season
hopefully. Don't listen to "Where do You Start" if you've recently had a
breakup. It's all about the pieces of two peoples' lives after a
good go at a relationship that has sadly fallen apart.
The beauty of this album is that it can be listened to over and over again
and new meanings, new nuances, are discovered at every turn. That's what makes
it an important work of art - a "painting" made of musical notes, if you will.
"Return to Paradise" evokes exploring a tropical island, perhaps Saint
Martin; orchids growing wild, azure seas and pink sand.
God bless Shirley Horn — as recently as the day before New Year's Eve 2004 when
I visited her backstage at the Le Jazz Au Bar night club in New York, she was
smoking two packs of Pall Malls a day, and insisting on her Drambuie with a
Heineken chaser; despite ailments that would've scared most folks
from these vices years before. She's a lesson in living life every single day as
if it were your last.
1. Here's to Life
2. Medley: Come a Little Closer/Wild Is The Wind
3. How Am I To Know?
4. A Time For Love
5. Where do You Start?
6. You're Nearer
7. Return to Paradise
8. Isn't It a Pity?
9. Quietly There
10. If You Love Me
11. Summer (Estate)
Even if jazz isn't your bag, a copy of this album can be had on record
store shelves at times for as little as $11. And it beats paying a shrink
$200 a week to cure what ails your psyche.