Place Vendôme. The Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Philips 824 545-2 (1989) and subsequent reissues

Place Vendôme. The Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Philips 824 545-2 (1989), barcode 042282454522 (corresponding Japanese edition 30JD-10092, barcode 49988011314346, see entry on discogs.com)

“All tracks newly remixed digitally from the original tapes under the personal supervision of John Lewis on October 2, 1988 at Phonogram Studio in Tokyo”

 

(digipak) Philips 982 626-2 (2005), barcode 602498262627:

 

The latter compiled (with 982 620-1 “American Look”) on Philips 982 626-1 (2005), barcode 602498262610:

 

 

Digipak CD also compiled (with 10 other digipak-CDs of the Paris Swingles) in Swingle Singers. (11 CDs) Philips 982 632-5 (2005)

 

 

(non-digipak CD reissue) Philips 0602498305560 (2005), barcode 602498305560:

 

 

Augmented reissue (with 9 additional tracks excerpted from “Les Romantiques / Getting Romantic” and “Sounds of Spain”, on “Compact Jazz The Swingle Singers”, Mercury 830 701-2 (1987), barcode 042283070127 (Japanese edition barcode 4988011324925):

 

 

Same compilation published in Japan, “Swingle Singers Best Selection”, Philips UICY-8014 (2002), barcode 4988005297983:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same compilation reissued on “Swinging the Classics”, Emarcy Jazz Club Legends 532 258-3 (2009), barcode 600753225837

 

See also discogs.com for some Japanese CD reissues

Recorded 27 September – 30 October 1966, Paris.

Elegant, gentle, pretty, non-aggressive, agreeable – and not extremely challenging
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 10 March 2011

What happened of significance in September 1966 in Paris? François Truffaut’s film “Farenheit 451” came out, General de Gaulle announced that France had become a nuke power, the famous founder of Surrealism André Breton died, and the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded “Place Vendôme” with the then Paris-based Swingle Singers (in their original lineup). As the liner notes recount, the two groups had met as early as 1964 on the occasion of a concert given by the MJQ in Paris and plans for doing something together had immediately ensued, but both groups’ busy schedule did not make it possible for them to come together for recording sessions until two years later.

The LP was published in Europe in 1967 as Philips 840.257 BY and in the US under the title “Encounter” as Philips PHS 600-225. This is the reissue of the LP and the TT is rather short, in LP fashion – 37:20 minutes – but that’s still better than the first LP albums of the Swingle Singers, that did not even reach the 30-minute mark (see my review of Anyone For Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi?).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note however that “Place Vendôme” has been reissued, with 9 additional tracks excerpted from two other Swingle Singers albums from those years (“Getting Romantic / Les Romantiques”: tracks 2, 3, 8, 10, 12, 16 and “Sounds of Spain”: tracks 5, 7 and 14), on “Compact Jazz” (a reissue that in fact pre-dated the one of “Place Vendôme” on Philips 824 545-2) and “Swinging The Classics”, as well as on the Japanese “Swingle Singers Best Selection” (see heading). That said, my own preferences goes for the original programs rather than for this kind of motley compilation. The tracks alternate between original compositions (all by John Lewis) and improvisations on themes of baroque composers, mostly Bach (Air for G string, from the Suite no. 3, Ricercare from the Musical Offering), but also Purcell (Dido’s Lament, track 5). But even the original compositions are Bach-inspired, and were among Lewis’ first confrontations with the forms typical of Bach that fascinated him throughout his life: the two or three-part invention and the fugue.

The liner notes are informative, but they are in fact nicely complemented by those written by Lewis himself for his much later tackling of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier (Philips 824 381-2, 1985, barcode 042282438126). There he describes the history of his encounters with Bach (“I must say that the counterpuntal music of J.S. Bach has had a great influence on my work for the MJQ“), says that this version of Vendôme – a composition which represented Lewis’ “first effort” with counterpoint and “the problem of creating material that would have a feeling of swing” – has more such a feeling of swing than the original recording made by the MJQ alone in 1962, and complains (specifically about “Alexander’s fugue”, track 6) that “it was designed in improvised sections for the MJQ which due to poor remixing [in the original album] were practically eliminated with respect to the balance fo volume between the MJQ and the singers“.

Well, here, for the 1989 CD reissue, which is the edition I have, “all tracks [were] newly remixed digitally from the original tapes under the personal supervision of John Lewis on October 2, 1988 at Phonogram Studio in Tokyo“, and I hear no such problems of balance. In fact, the recordings sound great, and there is no telling they are more than 40-years old. My comments here about sonics pertain only to the first CD reissue from 1989 on Philips 824 545-2. I haven’t heard the subsequent CD reissues and don’t know how they compare sonically, or even if they use the same transfers. When I could compare some of the installments in the series of 11 (short-timed) digipak reissues made by Universal in the early-to-mid 2000s of the recordings of the Paris-based Swingle Singers, to earlier reissues of the same material made in the early days of the CD by Phonogram Germany (other than the “Anyone for…. ” mentioned above, the two Bach albums from 1963 and 1968 on Philips 824 703-2), the Universal reissues were too loud and the stereo spread was artificially widened, but I don’t know that it’s the case also with the subsequent reissues of “Place Vendôme”.

Obviously I don’t know how it sounded on the original album, but on the remixing, due in part to the timbral characteristics of the instrument (it rings!), Milt Jackson’s vibraphone is prominent and many pieces sound in fact like concertos for vibraphone and ensemble. In the famous Aria from Bach’s Suite n° 3 (track 2), the melody is intoned first by vibraphone, then picked up as a soft background, closed-mouth humming by the Swingles, while jazz-improvised by Jackson. After 3:40 the piano picks up and develops the theme.

The jazz here is typical Lewis/MJQ: elegant, gentle, pretty, non-aggressive, agreeable but not extremely challenging. The compositions are slow moving and sensuous, but it means also that the demands made on the Swingle Singers are much less challenging and inventive than on their solo albums. Only Alexander’s Fugue (track 6) is slightly more dynamic. But overall this is the kind of disc you can put on as background music during a cocktail – which arguably can be both its appeal and its limitation.

 

Comments are welcome