25 May

Lena – A New Album

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LENA HORNE with ROBERT FARNON AND HIS ORCHESTRA and featuring PHIL WOODS saxophone: "Lena – A New Album" I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face, Someone To Watch Over Me, My Funny Valentine, Someday My Prince Will Come, I’ve Got The World On A String, Softly As I Leave You, I Have Dreamed, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, I’ve Got To Have You, My Ship Vocalion CDLK 4342, 43:03 mins. Last February Mike Dutton asked me to pen some notes for this reissue of an album which – I must confess – I hadn’t listened to carefully for several years. To say it was a magical experience is something of an understatement. Around that time, in the mid-1970s, we were in the happy situation of receiving a steady supply of new Farnon albums, each one containing some priceless gems. To coin a familiar phrase, it was like being let loose in a sweet shop; there were so many treats all around that you didn’t always realise how wonderful some of them really were. I am facing the same situation today when I make selections for the Guild Light Music CDs. I often include individual tracks from Bob’s early Decca LPs (now out of copyright) and in many cases they stand out from the rest. In their original settings, among twelve or so of similar works all receiving his masterly touch, the orchestrations still sounded wonderful – but not as wonderful as they seem today when placed in the spotlight on their own. After several years of negligence I have now returned to the Lena Horne project, and it has been a true revelation. At times I struggled to find the words to express my overwhelming feelings of admiration for the way in which Bob treated each number – the only exception being A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing which Lena’s husband Lennie Hayton arranged. When three unique talents met at London’s Olympic Studios in April 1976, the result was bound to be something rather special. Lena Horne had already been at the top of her profession for almost forty years, beginning with her international fame in great musicals such as "Stormy Weather " and "Cabin In The Sky" (both in 1943), leading to her many concert appearances at the finest venues. She felt equally at home at the plushest nightspots in London, Paris, Monte Carlo, Stockholm, Chicago and New York, and the talented little girl who grew up in Brooklyn never short-changed her legions of doting admirers. By the time she was 16 she appeared at the famous Cotton Club, and this tended to set the tone for her life in show business. Lena was in her element entertaining the diners in nightclubs, yet to the millions who adored her around the world it was her films and recordings that were so magical. Her taste in choosing her material was undoubtedly helped by her marriage to Lennie Hayton, from 1940 to 1953 one of the leading musical directors at M-G-M. The third ingredient in the magical mix of unique talents was Phil Woods, a bebop-influenced alto-saxophonist whose impressive credits included working with Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Gene Krupa and Thelonious Monk – to pick just four at random. He honed his craft during four years at the Julliard in New York where he majored in clarinet. Critics and readers of Downbeat praised him with awards, and he received two Grammys around the time that he went into the studios with Lena Horne and Robert Farnon. The bonus of an album such as this is that it allows those involved to express the music in a way that may be completely different from the version that has already become familiar. Divorced from "My Fair Lady", I’ve Grown Accustomed to his Face takes on an almost doleful feel, bringing out the full meanings in Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics which cleverly convey the realisation that familiarity has moved on to a new, higher plane. Composers must get frustrated when their carefully crafted verses get omitted by singers, but happily Lena Horne does not disappoint in Someone to Watch Over Me. This track marks the first appearance of Phil Woods, far removed from his bebop roots, but his saxophone provides the perfect foil to Lena’s complete grasp of the meanings in the lyrics. My Funny Valentine reveals the Robert Farnon strings in all their glory, with an almost religious feel encompassing the singer who clearly worships her lover. The earlier comment about familiar versions of well known tunes certainly applies to Someday My Prince Will Come. For a while after the release of Walt Disney’s 1937 masterpiece "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", Adriana Caselotti’s high soprano frightened off anyone else but by 1976 a new generation had emerged largely untouched by the original, and receptive to a new interpretation. Robert Farnon always knew when simplicity was best, and Lena begins with the intimate sound of Gordon Beck on piano, with the strings gently ushering in Phil Woods as the chorus ends. This is late night music par excellence. The simple theme is maintained in I’ve Got the World on a String with Phil Woods and Gordon Beck supported by Chris Laurence on bass, before the strings eventually shimmer in and alert us to the fact that the lady is about to sing – preceded by a suitable fanfare from the brass. Softly As I Leave You gets the tender treatment it deserves, with the strings providing a heart-rending backdrop before the piano provides just the right touch of perception.I Have Dreamed recreates the jazzy sound of saxophone, keyboard and bass, but the rich orchestral colours are never too distant. Lena’s husband Lennie Hayton provides the lovely string setting for A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, then I’ve Got to Have You is the one track that acknowledges that popular songwriters were still around in the 1970s, although styles had changed quite dramatically. Personally I feel that this is the one number that was out of place in this collection. Kurt Weill composed My Ship for the 1941 show "Lady in the Dark" and it now seems incredible that some bands at the time treated it as an up-tempo number (which you can find on a future Guild CD!), especially when you hear the magnificent setting created for Lena Horne and Phil Woods. Farnon always filled his orchestras with the top session players: his regular Concertmaster, and first violinist, was Raymond Cohen (for whom Farnon composed his "Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra") and the usual choice of harpist was David Snell, today a leading composer and conductor for films. Each and every performer involved in this album was at their peak when this recording was created in 1976, and the sheer quality shines through in every track. I urge every reader to add it to their collection while they can. If you need an extra incentive, in the booklet there is a colour photo of Bob with Lena relaxing during a break in the sessions. David Ades

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.