Now this album is somewhat of a tricky one for me to review, fond as I am of both Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and loved the original recordings they made together. So this album should by all accounts be made of win, the tracks are amongst the most well known they recorded together, some of which Frank went on to record several times in different contexts. On top of this the orchestration is by none other than Dorsey arranger Sy Oliver, so this should be a treat….
Well this is where it gets a bit complicated, as it is by no means a bad record, not by any stretch of the imagination. The problem is, I think, like a lot of tribute albums is that the album lacks the spark and feeling of the original recordings.
The album opens up with the tune which would become the signature tune for the Dorsey band, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, a tune which usually was performed as a showcase for Dorsey’s Trombone skills and would get him dubbed the sentimental gentleman of swing. Here the lyrical passages of the song are vocalised by Sinatra and illustrates that like Dorsey, he gets the subtly of the somewhat downbeat lyrics. However where on the original recording we the soft swell of the orchestra and the angular off-key passage on piano this recording presents us with a syrupy and dramatically unswinging strings arrangement which jars with the style Sinatra is aiming for and the aim of the album. This arrangement would of suited better of one of the more Sinatra introspective albums of the era.
Things pick up with a full on rousing big band arrangement of the standard ‘Imagination’, which Sinatra brings to great swinging heights as the lead for this arrangement. He originally did record this with Dorsey early on in his career, but being the band’s vocalist he has one verse before the band took over. In this case the boot is on the other foot and the instrument riffs are second fiddle to the vocal refrains. This is no matter as the while the crescendos of the band may be more Basie then Dorsey, the band certainly swings here and gets the album going, which leads me to the next track. The wonderful ballad ‘There are Such Things” which captures the sentiment of the Dorsey band perfectly without over applying the sugary texture which could take over some of the later recordings. Sinatra himself is a more relaxed mood and his vocal tones are slightly higher than the usual as he attempts to recreate the timber of his voice back in the hey days of the Dorsey band, he just about succeeds which is probably better than most of us would do without over voices cracking.
East of the Sun, now this one is an oddity as the originally it was a ballad piece with band throwing in call and response vocals to Sinatra’s vocal lead. Here the tune is presented as if the arranger isn’t quite sure whether he wants this to be a ballad or a swing piece and as such it changes tempo in the middle. Now this doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad as many pieces of music successfully change from one style to another, but not usually on a sixpence as it does here. Perhaps if they’d stuck in the call and response element of the original the change would work better, but it just jars here and they finish off with a reprise of the lyrics and stop… okay next track… now wait they repeat the coda a little bit louder and faster… and then again. Come on guys, that is one time to many and detracts from the ending.
Okay, next up is a lovely little ballad entitled Daybreak which I have not heard done by the Dorsey band so I cannot compare it to the original so in a way perhaps this track gets the most unbiased view. The lyrics are very romantically sentimental which suits the band well and the soft orchestration compliments Sinatra’s old school crooning, no intrusive strings here unlike on Getting Sentimental, so boys why didn’t you re-record the first track?
Without a Song is up next, a song which is improved on from the original I think. The original is a bit too slow and unswinging where here the tune is set at medium pace which helps the feel of the lyrics but helps it swing without detracting. This is voiced by the ‘present’ Sinatra as his voice is more akin to other recordings of the era. The rhythm section takes of here with a catchy drumbeat sending out its foot-tappable rhythm and the trombones really come into play for the first time. An ironic thing really since Dorsey was primarily a Trombone player, here there are some strings as well but they compliment rather than intrude.
Points lost for the overtly upbeat swinging of the romantic ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You”, this totally missed the point of the lyrics and a couple of times it sounds as if Sinatra is trying to get to the end quicker. Also the horns are really intrusive!
This is followed by a rendition of “Take Me” which basically sounds like it comes from a ridiculously OTT romance film and to be perfectly frank (ahem), seems an odd inclusion. Why not something like “Everything Happens to Me” which is a great example of Sinatra taking the lead of the Dorsey band or the smiling inducing rendition of Blue Skies?
“It’s Always You” is a return to form with a medium swing tempo for the sentimental lyrics and the band cushioned the lyrics leading to a good instrumental bridge in the middle leading to a much more humble and amused take on the lyrics. Evidently Mr Sinatra has been taking lessons from the ultimate crooner the old Bingle.
“Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, a tune which is a popular jazz standard, is up next and the tempo is down to slow ballad and here it works best. I feel as if perhaps Sinatra is thinking of the way Lester Young played the tune rather than his original interpretation of the tune. The bridge has a more Dorsey feel to it and for those of you unaware of the original you get the feeling of how Sinatra originally interpreted the piece.
Next up is a piece called “It’s Started All Over Again” presented here more as a jazz ballad, an improvement as the original has a vocal trio harmonising some of the lyrics which would be a foreshadow of what would befall Sinatra as he went solo for the first time. The original is a bit and cloy so the laid back, end of the night jazz work out suits it better. You could visualise this as Sinatra sitting at a table with a half empty bottled of booze, collar undone and bow-tow untied singing this.
Now the penultimate track “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else” tries the tempo and tone change trick tried on East of the Sun, but this pulls it off spectacularly. Starting as a ballad before becoming much more upbeat as the tune progresses, but here it feels planned and the icing on the cake is the duet vocal reminiscent of the call and response the band often employed. Now I like both interpretations of this piece despite them being so different, this should be the big finish for the album but it’s not. We get a brief reprise of Sentimental I guess reflecting the way a live set would be bookended.
Overall it’s not a bad album, pretty much reflective of Sinatra of the period but with a few nods to the past. Certainly its worth a listen as a stepping stone onto the original recordings, seems a pity that nobody thought to put the originals on as bonus tracks.