Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-03-08


Carmen McRae: Carmen Sings Monk (Bluebird, 2002) For those of us who admire the eminently capable McRae primarily for what she isn't--that is, a self-aggrandizing improvisor like Betty Carter or a nightclub hack like Nancy Wilson--this expanded reissue of the 13-track 1988 original is welcome because it honors Monk the melodist. Believe me, Johnny Mercer is not on board here; more than half the lyrics are by Jon Hendricks, who thinks "body loose" is a dandy rhyme for "loose goose," although his biographical takes on "Monk's Dream" and "In Walked Bud" speak enjoyably to what he knows best, which is music. The same goes for McRae, who burnishes and reshapes these great tunes subtly enough to let you know how deeply she's thought about them. Although pianist Eric Gunnison gets through way too many notes, the Al Foster-George Mraz rhythm section adds more than most of those the master gigged with, and longtime Monk saxophonist Charlie Rouse is so intimate with the material that there are times when he tops the headliner even though he never tries to upstage her. Note if you like that when I loaded this onto my iPod, where it certainly belongs, I omitted the five perfectly acceptable alternate takes, which have the effect of making the music go on too long. For an hour, it's a gift to the dead. A-

Louis Prima: Zooma Zooma: The Best of Louis Prima (Rhino, 1990) A Vegas fixture for a quarter century before he died at 67 in 1978, this Storyville-born Sicilian singer-trumpeter shared his entertainment philosophy as well as his Christian name with Armstrong and Jordan. He crossed over r&b with 1950's "Oh, Babe!" but it was the honking tenor and rough vocal cameos of his compatriot Sam Butera that added rock and roll anti-class to a jazz act that pitted Prima's jocular leads against the sensible musicality of his consort Keely Smith. Prima was a go-for-the-gut clown whose signature musical tactic was to intersperse flat-out novelties like "Robin Hood" and "Jump, Jive an' Wail" with two-song medleys that moved the crap-shooting punters on to "I Ain't Got Nobody" before "Just a Gigolo" got old. Since 1990, when Rhino assembled these 18 tracks (14 on cassette, remember that one?), there have been more straight reissues, reshuffled comps, radio transcriptions, and live exhumations than I want to hear or count. More likely to cost four bucks than the 40 some chiselers are charging, this out-of-print 18-track laff-fest is probably the best, probably because it keeps the rock market in mind. The best alternative I've heard is the 1991 Capitol Collectors Series, which has eight more tracks but omits the nostalgic "Robin Hood" and the fat "Them There Eyes"/"Honeysuckle Rose." Forget Capitol's 26-track 2007 Jump, Jive an' Wail: The Essential Louis Prima, with its non-NAACP "Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)," pre-IIADL "Luigi," and bored run-throughs of "Hello Dolly" and "Cabaret." The pura the zooma the betta. A

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