Fresh spin on jazz favourites

The music of composer Frederick Loewe, most frequently associated with his most successful collaborations with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, is celebrated in two new releases from Arbor Records this month.

The American label has assembled an impressive line-up of jazz stalwarts for these two albums, whose programmes are dominated by instantly recognisable tunes from My Fair Lady and Gigi, which have long since become part of the jazz repertoire.

The musicians are experimental in different ways, giving familiar favourites a fresh new spin.

Pianist Dick Hyman and clarinettist/ saxophonist Ken Peplowski's Counterpoint is the must-have for fans of intimate jazz gigs as the 14-track album features the duo in easy conversational mode.

The opening track, Waitin' For My Dearie, gains an unfamiliar edge as 92-year-old Hyman underlines Peplowski's straight melody line with a hiccupy, syncopated bassline, which the latter soon picks up in counterpoint.

Especially endearing are the two contrasting takes on Gigi, one on the tenor saxophone and the other on the piano.

Hyman works in waltz trills and syncopated single-note cascades into his introspective take, while Peplowski opts for swoonsome romance in his horn version.

Saxophonist/clarinettist/flautist Adrian Cunningham and his friends add contemporary zing to their 11-track album, with more improvisational flights. Cunningham led a Lerner & Loewe programme at Jazz at Lincoln Center last year, so he is primed to record the oeuvre.

  • JAZZ 

  • COUNTERPOINT LERNER & LOEWE 

    Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski Arbor Records

    4 Stars

  • ADRIAN CUNNINGHAM AND HIS FRIENDS PLAY LERNER & LOEWE 

    Adrian Cunningham, Fred Hersch, John Hebert, Eric McPherson with Randy Brecker and Wycliffe Gordon Arbor Records

    4 Stars

Check out the Nawlins brass band strut to I Could Have Danced All Night, which transforms the melody while still staying true to its terpsichorean spirit.

I Was Born Under A Wanderin' Star gets a bluesy piano vamp before the horns introduce gospel attitude and The Rain In Spain gets an aptly Latin arrangement with syncopated drums and piano.

It has been 30 years since Shelly Manne recorded his jazz take on My Fair Lady songs and these two albums are a timely reminder of Loewe's lush melodies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'Fresh spin on jazz favourites'. Print Edition | Subscribe