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Be Cool: The Modern & Dolphin Sessions 1952-1954, CD (£11.50)
As far as John Dudley Moore was concerned, when it came to making music, ‘cool’ was always the rule. From the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, Moore and the various musicians who passed through the ranks of his Three Blazers were the last word in what’s become known as ‘Cocktail R&B’. Inspired initially by the original stylings of the Nat King Cole Trio – Moore’s brother Oscar was, at various times, a member of both groups - the immaculate musical presentation of the Blazers was always enhanced by a succession of great vocalists.
Many might argue that the great Charles Brown was the best, and best known, of these – although, in both his and their early days, the wonderful and, sadly, recently demised balladeer Frankie Laine both performed and recorded with the original trio of Moore, Brown and Eddie Williams. But Brown’s was by no means the only good voice to front the recordings of the Three Blazers during their halcyon era. We’ve already taken care of the late 1940s recordings that Charles made for Modern with the group, via our best-selling "Drifting And Dreaming" CD. Its somewhat belated, but nonetheless-welcome, follow-up takes the Blazers and us into the early 1950s.
“Be Cool” presents an equally splendid selection of small group R&B that features the vocal talents of three of Charles’ successors, Frankie Ervin, Nelson Alexander and Mari (sometimes known as Mauri) Jones. These sides, some cut for Modern and others for the late John Dolphin’s Recorded In Hollywood set-up, carry on from where the earlier ones left off, with the same sublime, low-key instrumentation and languid vocals that had been a hallmark of every Three Blazers session since 1943. Along the way there are some exquisite guitar solos from both Moore brothers and the repertoire also features a number of mid-to-uptempo sides that reflect the changes that black music was generally going through in the years leading up to the rock‘n’roll explosion.
Vocalists Ervin - later to find further incognito fame as lead singer on the Shields’ doo-wop classic You Cheated – and Jones (who also doubled as both Johnny’s girlfriend and mother of his children – nothing like keeping it in the family!) are both ideally suited to the material they perform here. The former shines especially on the then-topical Dragnet Blues and a previously unheard, and equally humorous, prototype of the Dubliners’ Seven Drunken Nights, entitled Saturday Night. Jones, who sounds a lot like Buddy Johnson’s singing sister, Ella, is likewise heard to particularly good advantage on uptempo sides like Johnny Johnny (an early version of Little Richard’s Jenny Jenny) and the medley of Willie Mabon’s R&B Chartbuster and its equally popular answer disc by Linda Hayes, I Don’t Know, Yes I Know – where she’s joined by ‘Lex Nelson’ who’d perhaps changed his name from Nelson Alexander, on this one occasion, to protect the record.
Most of this material has never been reissued on CD – legally or otherwise. As always, we have an ‘Ace’ up our sleeve (pun definitely intended!) to beat the OOC merchants in the form of previously unissued songs and takes that will render any packages that have claimed to be the ‘Complete Recordings’ redundant. Almost all of these tracks have been taken from the original Modern and Dolphin tapes. Thus they appear in a sound quality that allows the listener to party like it’s 1949 or thereabouts, and he or she is actually sitting in a Central Avenue night spot listening to it being played live.
By Tony Rounce