Saturday, July 22, 2023

Gil Evans Paris Workshop / Laurent Cugny – "Spoonful" (2017)

I recently received an email message from the Spanish Fresh Sound Records listing Spoonful as a new release. Only after I ordered it did I learn this marvelous double-disc set was issued way back in 2017. Still, it was new to me and well worth the effort to get.

Why name a big band after Gil Evans? French pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Laurent Cugny puts it simply: “Pleasure of sound, of harmony, of melody, of form.” Indeed, Gil Evans (1912-88) had a language all his own. Maybe several languages. And each were pure pleasure.

In addition to being a musician and bandleader, Cugny is also a professor of music and musicology at Sorbonne Université. He is also the author of a number of significant jazz-related books, notably Las Vegas Tango: Un vie de Gil Evans (1989) and Électrique Miles Davis, 1968-1975 (1993), neither of which were ever translated in to English.

Cugny’s books available in English include the well-regarded reference texts Analysis of Jazz (2019) and Eurojazzland (2012), on which he served as a contributor and coeditor.

Laurent Cugny (b. 1955) met Evans in the mid-eighties when the younger man was writing what turned out to be the first book published about the jazz legend, best known then – and probably still today – for his magnificent work with Miles Davis. (At the time, Maria Schneider, now a revered leader of her own orchestra, was more than a protégé: she, too, was actively working with Evans.)

In 1987, Cugny invited Evans to travel to Europe to play his music with the French bandleader’s Big Band Lumiere. They played 21 dates in Europe and recorded enough music to fill two discs, Rhythm-a-Ning (1988) and Golden Hair (1989).

Both of these discs were studio recordings (captured over several days in November 1987), a real rarity for Evans at this point in his recording career – and both loom large as some of Evans’s best late-period work. Much of the reason for these discs’ artistic success is due, in large part, to Laurent Cugny himself.

”My idea at the time,” writes Cugny in this disc’s liner notes, “was…to rebalance somewhat the equilibrium between writing and improvisation, which, to my taste, too often went towards improvisation in his groups in his later style.”

Cugny, who cites his own favored model of the maestro’s, the superb 1972 album Masabumi Kikuchi + Gil Evans, continues to remain fond of Gil Evans – in his own music as well as the wide-ranging repertoire of Evans himself.

Cugny continues to work actively in France, and has worked with such Americans (in Paris) as Abbey Lincoln, Lucky Peterson and Rhoda Scott.

In what is – at least, to date – the lone GEPW project, Cugny manages to balance the acoustic and electric Evans and the decades-length Evans-like sound in a 16-piece band, with electric guitar and Fender Rhodes mixing and matching with French horns, tuba, trumpet and saxophone.

This remarkable double-disc set from 2017 features one disc devoted to the music of Laurent Cugny, titled “La vie facile” (The Easy Life) and another to the music of Gil Evans titled “Time of the Barracudas.” Each holds many secrets, only some of which I will reveal here.

Cugny bolts out of the gate, running with the banger that is “Krikor.” Given the gaming craftsmanship and the crafty gamesmanship at play here, it’s likely the song is named for the Brazilian chess grandmaster Krikor Mekhitarian. The solos may well be beside the point (the clever writing is what is most memorable here), but tenor player Adrien Sanchez takes solo honors, while Cugny offers up an impressionistic Gil Evans-like piano “solo” that gives the clever piece a welcome moody and contemplative vigor that sixties-era Evans would have appreciated.

The set progresses beautifully with a gorgeous cover of Milton Nascimento’s “Lillia,” spotlighting the ethereal and evocative guitar work of Marc-Antoine Perrio and a Steve Lacy-meets-Wayne Shorter soprano solo by Martin Guerpin (“Lilia” is best known from Wayne Shorter’s 1975 album with Nascimento, Native Dancer).

Also of note are Cugny’s lively, loping and lovely “Liviore,” the dreamy “La vie facile” and GEPW French Horn player Victor Michaud’s compelling “Louisville,” featuring a haunting trombone solo by Bastien Ballaz. “Louisville” harks to or recalls, to this listener, the dramatic and emotional story-like gravitas of so much of Snarky Puppy’s work. (I hear a little Hugh Masekela – or maybe Jonas Gwangwa – here too.)

One of the nicest surprises on this part of the program is the Gershwin classic “My Man’s Gone Now.”

You’d think this properly belongs on the Gil Evans portion of the set. But not the way Cugny handles it. Here, Cugny reframes the Porgy and Bess piece in the Miles mode of David Crosby’s “Guinnevere” – which Cugny previously tapped for his own “Lady, Like Yours” (from the terrific 1991 disc Santander). A dash of “Las Vegas Tango” informs as well – as though delivered by Henry Mancini.

With a few exceptions, the disc devoted to the music – or, more specifically, the repertoire – of Gil Evans, dubbed here “Time of the Barracudas,” falls just below the high bar set by “La vie Facile” and, in some respects, the earlier discs Cugny waxed with Evans, too.

Cugny covers a great swath of Evans’s music – maybe too great. The set spans Evans material from the fifties (“King Porter Stomp,” “Bud and Bird”) to the eighties (“London” and the Mingus covers), with the best material coming from somewhere in between. To be fair, though, the two extremes in Evans’s career noted here surprisingly seem to have much more in common than not.

Still, rousing as it is, the opener, “King Porter Stomp,” is a bit of a jolt. It’s delivered with great verve and Cugny’s typical wit but seems only peripherally Evans-ish. Jelly Roll Morton’s original was first “interpreted” by Evans on his 1958 album New Bottle, Old Wine. It wasn’t so much a feature for Evans (or even his writing) as much as it was a showpiece for saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who swings the hell out of the tune.

Here, alto player Antonin-Tri Hoang gives it his all, but he still can’t fit it in to what this listener considers Evans country. (To be fair, Evans revisited the tune again in 1975, a few months before Adderley’s untimely death, where it was a feature for David Sanborn.)

But if opening with “King Porter Stomp” seems a bit off, the remaining program is beautifully balanced with alternating Cugny duets, all in the ever-so brief one-to-two-minute range: the underrated “Sunken Treasure” (with Pierrio), “Zee Zee” (with Quentin Ghomari), “Orange was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues” (with Martin Guerpin) and two versions of “The Barbara Song” (one with Bastien Ballaz and another with Cugny on dueling keyboards).

With these pieces, Cugny reveals precisely how Evans could turn mere sketches into full-fledged paintings. But on the longer pieces, Cugny expertly turns Evans’s one-act plays in to three-act theater.

This is most evident on the haunting and hypnotic 15-minute take of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” While certainly this disc’s finest moment, the otherwise wonderful tune has a troubled provenance in Evans’s world.

Originally made famous by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960, ”Spoonful” was recorded by Evans in 1964 but not issued at the time. When a nine-and-a-half-minute edit of the song was first issued in 1974, Evans was unhappy about its release. Presumably, he was displeased with the performance but perhaps he was more upset about the edit. The song was, however, restored to its original near 14-minute glory – to Evans’s apparent satisfaction – for the 1988 CD release of The Individualism of Gil Evans.

Cugny joyfully extends Evans’s framework on “Spoonful” while juicy solos are served up by Marc-Antoine Perrio on guitar, Quentin Ghomari on trumpet, Léo Pellet on trombone and Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto sax.

“Spoonful” is undoubtedly Spoonful’s “La Nevada” or “Las Vegas Tango” moment, two Evans classics curiously missing here – even as Cugny boasts in his liner notes of getting Evans to perform “La Nevada” during their time together, a song Evans hadn’t performed since recording it on Out of the Cool in 1960.

Additional highlights of this Evans-Cugny collaboration include the perfectly evocative “Time of the Barracudas,” with Adrien Sanchez on tenor sax, Charles Mingus’s always delightful “Boogie Stop Shuffle” (which Evans arranged, late in his career, for the soundtrack to the 1986 film Absolute Beginners) and the bravura “Blues in Orbit,” with solos by Miles-ish Brice Moscardini on trumpet and Eric Dolphy-esque Jean-Philippe Scali on bass clarinet.

Kudos, too, to Cugny for the New Orleans lilt he brings to ”Bud and Bird,” topped by infectious solos by Bastien Ballaz on trombone and Quentin Ghomari on trumpet.

If the “Time of the Barracudas” disc isn’t as satisfying as “La vie facile,” it is due, perhaps, to the former’s “big band” sound overpowering its more ethereal and orchestral moments, the sound Cugny absolutely masters on the latter disc. But those brief interludes on “Barracudas” are exquisite and make for essential listening even so.

More recently, Cugny has put out the electrifying CD Zeitgeist (2023) with a group he calls the Laurent Cugny Tentet, which also includes GEPW trumpeter Quentin Ghomari.

This is a superb fusion fest that mines Bitches Brew-era Miles, shaped and grooved by Cugny’s logic and love for electric Miles, ca. 1969 to 1975. There, he offers scintillating covers of The Beatles’ “I Want You” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (like Bitches Brew, postcards from 1969) as well as an electric Milesian cover of Cugny’s “Liviore” (also on the GEPW disc).

Zeitgeist also offers an impressively electric take on Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and an unexpected cover of Miles Davis’s “Mr. Foster,” recorded by the trumpeter in 1973 but not released until 2007 on The Complete On the Corner Sessions box set (it also serves as the title track to the titular drummer Al Foster’s 1979 Japanese album). Like Spoonful, Zeitgeist is well worth exploring.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Cubana la Guantanamera. Nueva versión.

Wow! So beautiful, so perfect. No words required.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

George Freeman – “The Good Life” (2023)

In a recording career that spans nearly eight decades, guitarist George Freeman (b. 1927) can be heard on only a handful of discs: some by others and fewer yet by Freeman himself.

One reason for this is that Freeman wasn’t often credited on his sessions for others (particularly in the forties and the fifties). Another reason is that Freeman always went back home to Chicago when he got tired of gigging to be with family and occasionally lead a trio of his own.

George Freeman, brother of Von and uncle to Chico, has played with sax greats Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. He’s traveled the R&B circuit with Sil Austin and Jackie Wilson and done his time in the organ combos of Wild Bill Davis, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Jimmy McGriff.

While George Freeman was never as prolifically recorded as other guitarists of his generation – say, Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell – the sound he put out on guitar was unlike anything heard before or since. His tone could be pretty, but often raw and aggressive. It’s the sound of feeling. Also, his phrasing could be melodic, but charges more like a leader on a horn than a section mate who takes a solo.

"There is virtually no precedent,” wrote tenor saxophonist, bandleader, educator, scholar, author and The Good Life producer Loren Schoenberg in his notes to a 1998 Charlie Parker compilation, “for the outrageously experimental music that George Freeman creates…[His playing] is unlike anything I have ever heard, and seems much closer to what John Scofield and Bill Frisell have brought to the jazz guitar in the '90s than to anything from his own contemporaries.”

In other words, once you hear George Freeman, you pay attention – as though a whole new sound and groove had taken over and a song becomes immediately transformed. The music takes on a totally new meaning and requires a whole new way of hearing.

Even an organ trio is amped up by Freeman’s presence. Check out the way he steals the show and shreds – before it was even a thing – on Jimmy McGriff’s “Freedom Suite (Part 2)” or Groove Holmes’ “Licks a Plenty” (both 1973, although Freeman can be heard to superb effect on the 1961 version of the latter tune with Ben Webster). On that latter recording, Freeman brings out a whole new meaning to the titles “Out of Nowhere” and “The Squirrel” as well.

Consider, too, the remarkably sizzling and scintillating “Jug Eyes” and the guitarist’s own “The Black Cat” from saxophonist Gene Ammons’ 1971 album The Black Cat!. And, of course, there is the psychedelic acid-jazz classic “The Bump” from Freeman’s 1973 rarity Franticdiagnosis.

Once you hear George Freeman, you’ll want to hear more.

That brings us to The Good Life, which, by my count, is only George Freeman’s twelfth album as a leader. To celebrate his 95th birthday in 2022, George convened two trios: one in May with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Carl Allen and another in June with organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Lewis Nash.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, Freeman had never worked with either McBride or DeFrancesco, yet, unfortunately, The Good Life seems to be the organ player’s final recording. Joey DeFrancesco died only two months after this date with Freeman.

Throughout, this nonagenarian is in especially fine fettle. While maybe not as fleet as he used to be – or maybe no longer in need of standing out – the guitarist is never less than witty, even feisty. He is, by turns, playful yet precise; sly yet succinct, and always warm, wise and wonderful. He’s clearly having fun here, playing, indeed, as though he’s living “the good life.”

The program is mostly made up of George Freeman’s bluesy originals, bookended by the jazz standard “If I Had You” (with DeFrancesco) and Sacha Distel’s popular “The Good Life” (with McBride). With his solos on these two pieces, however, the guitarist reveals his characteristic resolve of exploring the more unchartered waters of the otherwise well-known songs: not so much deconstructing, but reconstructing. As ever, his playing commands attention.

While there’s not a dud in the bunch, the disc’s highlight is surely Freeman’s “Lowe Groovin,” from the trio with McBride. The song dates back to the mid-forties when Freeman played it with trumpeter Joe Morris’s orchestra, a group that also featured Johnny Griffin.

When the song was released on record in 1948, it was wrongly credited to Morris – a move that caused Freeman to leave the band. By the eighties, Freeman was able to reclaim credit for the song and its publishing rights.

Here, Freeman and McBride turn the heat way down “lowe” to a smokey, smoking blues. It’s a stark contrast to the jumpy R&B of the original and contains many fine moments in its all-too brief six minutes (replete with the guitarist’s devilishly clever quote of “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis”).

It’s a shame that Defrancesco and McBride aren’t heard together here – as they occasionally had been as far back as Joey’s 1993 Part III and as recently as Christian’s marvelous big band outing For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (2020).

Here, Joey shines on “Mr. D,” written by the guitarist especially for the late, great and much-missed organist, and “Up and Down,” while Christian rocks, as expected, throughout, most notably on “Lowe Groovin” and “Sister Tankersley,” written by the guitarist for his mother, who lived to be 101.

The disc’s affectionate liner notes were written by producer Michael Cuscuna, who, in a nice “full circle” moment, financed and produced George Freeman’s 1969 recording debut, Birth Sign. Cuscuna “discovered” Freeman back in 1968 while writing the notes for the album The Astonishing Mickey Fields, where the tenor saxophonist was backed by Groove Holmes’ group, featuring George Freeman.

One could wish for a full disc’s worth of material from both sessions. But what is here is absorbing, often bracing and always enjoyable. Five guys just a-sittin’ and a-rockin’.

The Good Life is good jazz.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Herbert Rehbein on Decca

The German composer and bandleader Bert Kaempfert looms large as a pop-song composer and maestro of exceptional easy-listening music. Nearly half a century since his untimely passing in 1980, Kaempfert’s presence in music continues to be felt.

He stands head and shoulders among the world’s best and best-known songwriters and his music continues to be covered today. And Kaempfert’s records – dozens waxed from the fifties through the seventies – are as timeless as ever.

But there’s no talking about Bert Kaempfert without mentioning Herbert Rehbein. And, sadly, too many of us – this writer included – fail to mention Rehbein’s significant contribution to music and the success of Bert Kaempfert.

Herbert Rehbein was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1922. His first contact with music was an inexpensive violin his parents gave him instead of the more expensive piano he wanted. He practiced with fervor, mastering the classics of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

By age 19, he was drafted in to the military but was lucky enough to get stationed on the Mediterranean island of Crete, where he served in the Music Corps. Later, he was taken as a prisoner of war, yet somehow was allowed to play the violin. Even more remarkably, he was named violin soloist and musical director of Yukoslavia’s Belgrade Radio Orchestra.

Rehbein eventually returned to Hamburg in 1952 to attend to his mother’s illness. While there, he met fellow orchestra leader, Bert Kaempfert. After several performances together, the two became friends and, eventually, songwriting partners.

By the mid-fifties, Rehbein had relocated to Switzerland, where he became musical director and principal soloist of the Swiss Radio Orchestra, a position he held for many years. He began issuing singles under his own name and accompanying Swiss singer and actor Vico Torriani (1920-98) on a series of international hits.

On record, Kaempfert and Rehbein’s partnership seems to have begun on the former’s 1961 album Lights Out, Sweet Dreams with the pairs’ songs, “Highland Dream,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Magnolia Blossoms.” Expat Rehbein is also said to have had an even greater role in the Kaempfert universe as the Hamburg-based orchestra’s principal arranger and conductor. (Albums, in those days, rarely gave credit where credit was due.)

The pair were credited with crafting a “continental sound” that made the “Kaempfert Touch” an international success in the sixties. They wrote hundreds of songs (together and with others) over nearly two decades including “My Way of Life (Over and Over)” (a hit for Frank Sinatra), the lovely “Sweet Maria,” “The Lady Smiles,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Lady” and “You Turned My World Around” (also covered by Sinatra).

Dean Martin recorded the writing partners’ “I Can’t Help Remembering You” and “Welcome to My World” while Sammy Davis, Jr. had a hit with “Lonely is the Name” and Al Martino scored with “Wiederseh’n.” The two wrote many more songs – particularly for Kaempfert records – that deserve to be much better known. Only some are noted here.

Music To Soothe That Tiger (1965)

This is cheek-to-cheek music, designed to be shared with someone you love. Sit back and turn the lights down low…you might even unlock the cage…you’ve got nothing to worry about, start the music and “hold that tiger.” - From the album’s cheeky liner notes

This album title understates the contents. The tunes and arrangements could soothe the most savage of beasts. Lush, smooth strings and brass envelop the listener into relaxation. - Billboard (February 6, 1965)

European export Herbert Rehbein guides his lush [orchestra] in a rich-sounding tour of “cheek-to- cheek” music with this outing…a beautiful package of romance-filled nostalgia. - Cash Box (March 27, 1965)

Originally released in Europe in 1964 as Bert Kaempfert Presents Love, Music To Soothe That Tiger is specifically engineered to echo those popular mood records of the fifties, particularly the records of Jackie Gleason. Although this sort of thing was still in vogue, its luster was dulled rather significantly by the breakout of the Fab Four around this time.

Rehbein goes out of his way to contrast the then-popular “Kaempfert sound” by bringing strings to the fore, swapping out Fred Moch’s trumpet for the welcome smokey after-hours tenor of Emil Wurster and, most significantly, doing away with Ladi Geisler’s signature “Knack-Bass” in favor of upright bass and acoustic guitar for rhythm support (giving the orchestra a feel of Count Basie lite).

The Kaempfert-Rehbein compositions here include “Don’t Talk to Me” (also on Kaempfert’s Living It Up! and later covered by Johnny Mathis) and “The Lady Smiles” (also covered by Matt Monroe) as well as the little known but worthy “Moon Maid” and “Dry Eyes.” Also here is Rehbein’s solo composition “I Love You So,” which Kaempfert covered a decade later on the 1975 Moon Over Miami, his final American release.

(Interestingly, all five of the previously mentioned songs were sampled in 2018 by Pit Baumgartner for the fascinating and compelling Strangers in Dub: Bert Kaempfert meets De-Phazz. “I admit that in my youth,” writes Baumgartner in his liner note, “I thought Bert Kaempfert’s music was uncool. Today I can see his quality.” His loving tribute is proof of just how cool this music is – still.)

A violinist, possibly Rehbein himself, takes the lead on “Chances Are,” “If I Had You” and “Speak Low.”

”Sweet and Lovely” b/w “Blue Beat” (1966)

Of the three albums issued under Herbert Rehbein’s name in the United States, surprisingly none bore any single releases. This means that either radio stations expressed little to no interest in Rehbein’s music or Decca wasn’t doing much to promote Kaempfert’s co-hort. Either way, this is an indication that these records did not fare particularly well.

But in 1966 Decca managed to sneak out a Herbert Rehbein single that never appeared on any album. The A-side was the old chestnut “Sweet and Lovely,” a song made popular in 1931 by Bing Crosby and also Guy Lombardo.

The song has been covered by jazz pianists Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal but was largely ignored by the easy-listening maestros – although former Jackie Gleason Orchestra soloist Bobby Hackett (who cut a Kaempfert tribute album in 1963) covered “Sweet and Lovely” in 1961.

The single is notable, however, for its flip side: the otherwise unknown Kaempfert-Rehbein composition “Blue Beat.” This all-too brief and uncharacteristic bit of Kaempfertiana is a cool, catchy mishmash of Neal Hefti’s “Batman” theme with Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk.” “Blue Beat” has somehow eluded all the many Kaempfert compilations on LP and CD, yet is well worth hearing.

Love After Midnight (1967)

A nightcap in a dimly-lit café, a slow ride through the park in a hansom cab, sweet nothings whispered in the wee small hours…Love After Midnight is beautiful music, beautifully played, certain to make lovers of us all. - From the album’s dreamy liner notes

A selection of romantic tunes performed by Herbert Rehbein and his orchestra. The sound…is full, rich, and clear, and the package should attract plenty of attention. - Cash Box (February 18, 1967)

The strings are lush and flowing, the trumpet muted and soft, and the violin crystal clear yet subduing in a beautiful program. - Billboard (March 4, 1967)

Recorded around the same time of Bert Kaempfert’s 1967 album Hold Me - which also includes versions of this record’s “Lady” and “Hold Back the Dawn” - Love After Midnight is a bit more taciturn than its predecessor: music to soothe that tiger to sleep.

Rehbein’s rather mournful violin is brought forward on more of the program than before but rather notably on “Yesterday” and the Rehbein original “A Gypsy in Manhattan,” a nice companion piece to the earlier Kaempfert-Rehbein number “Tipsy Gypsy.” This particular “Gypsy,” however, suggests a Bernard Hermann combine as much of the past (say, Vertigo) as of the future (possibly Taxi Driver).

Trumpeter Manfred “Fred” Moch (1930-2011), Kaempfert’s regular soloist at the time, is brought in to add a refreshing edge of jazz to the proceedings, much as Bobby Hackett added such flair to Jackie Gleason’s records in the fifties. Moch peps up the program considerably when he steps up to the mic, particularly on the title track, the lovely “Li’l Darlin” (a performance which likely made composer Neal Hefti especially proud), “Lady” and “A Gypsy in Manhattan.”

The record is flush with lush strings and all the better for it. The swells throughout are dreamy, and often vaguely suggestive. This sense of programming highlights what many listeners of this sort of music already knew: easy listening isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Along with the previously noted Kaempfert-Rehbein tunes, the album also features the pair’s terrific title track, which was previously recorded by Kaempfert in 1963 and included on his European compilation album Let’s Go Bowling. A particularly dreamy take of Kaempfert’s “Strangers in the Night” – a number one hit for Frank Sinatra and originally derived from a song on the soundtrack to A Man Could Get Killed - is included but it’s worth noting that Rehbein had no hand in composing the tune, even though he’s frequently credited there as Kaempfert’s co-composer.

…And So To Bed: The Love Music of Bert Kaempfert (1969)

The choice of songs offered here is dedicated to that special time when day ebbs away to a quiet close, when reality tunes out…and dreams tune in. Some of the songs are familiar favorites, popular with many of today’s top recording artists, while others are somewhat less familiar. Each, however, is a musical gem that sets a special mood, enhanced by Herbert Rehbein’s faultless musicianship. - From the album’s grim liner notes

Easy listening is not always all that easy, but with Bert Kaempfert's long-time collaborator, Herbert Rehbein, the soft sounds of easy listening are coupled with the pleasant sounds of smooth dance rhythms. If you were planning on dancing in your sleep, you would listen to Herbert Rehbein…” - Cash Box (August 23, 1969)

While it might be difficult to determine whether either of the above comments are positive or negative, there is a real sense about this album that Herbert Rehbein’s previous records, lovely as they may be, were anything but big sellers.

Marketing …And So To Bed as a Bert Kaempfert tribute album suggests that Herbert Rehbein seemed to need the more familiar name to sell records. After all, ten of the eleven songs here are as much Rehbein’s as Kaempfert’s. But it’s not even clear this was enough: Kaempfert’s popularity – at least in the United States – was beginning to wane.

…And So To Bed actually sounds more like a Bert Kaempfert record than Rehbein’s two previous efforts. Most notable of all is the inclusion of electric bass and the light touch of a drummer, both echoing the typical Kaempfert record of the period.

In addition to the soaring strings typical of Rehbein’s previous records, the leader’s violin (nicely) shares the solo spotlight with an unnamed flautist – a staple of Kaempfert albums of yore. A batch of vocalists also offer a minimal background of “oohs” and “aahs,” as was happening on Kaempfert’s records at the time as well.

The program is well-conceived too. Oddly, the one song here that Rehbein didn’t have a hand in, the well-known “Spanish Eyes,” is the album’s most significant highlight (and this listener’s first exposure to Herbert Rehbein and His Orchestra). Rehbein’s strings positively caress this most beautiful of melodies.

Other joys abound, though, too. These include the haunting “Malaysian Melody,” the otherwise too-morose “The World We Knew,” and the appropriately moody “Manhattan After Dark.”

Also included here are two numbers that don’t factor on any of the Kaempfert records: “The Times Will Change” (later covered by Johnny Mathis) and “I Can’t Help Remembering You” (covered earlier by Dean Martin). The cover versions – and not the Rehbein takes heard here – are included on the 2002 compilation The Bert Kaempfert Story: A Musical Biography.

While …And So To Bed was seemingly – and oddly – never released in Europe or Rehbein’s native Germany (or adopted Swiss homeland), it is also the last of Rehbein’s albums released in America. And so to bed, indeed.

The Rehbein Compilations

Bert Kaempfert continued to work with Herbert Rehbein throughout the seventies – even after the United States stopped issuing Kaempfert recordings in 1975. Rehbein won a 1972 competition for his Olympics theme song, “Munich Fanfare March,” recorded by German orchestra leader Max Greger (and also known as “Olympic Games March” and “Olympis-Jodler”).

Rehbein later recorded one final album under his own name in Italy (seemingly without Kaempfert), Beautiful Morning, which was issued posthumously in 1980. Sadly, Herbert Rehbein died of cancer at the relatively early age of 57 in 1979 while Kaempfert himself passed away eleven months later from complications of a stroke at the equally young age of 56.

In 1993, Herbert Rehbein and Bert Kaempfert were both inducted in to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Three of the writing pairs’ compositions - “Lady,” “The World We Knew” and “Sweet Maria” (the only song not represented on these recordings) - won music publisher BMI Awards for exceptional performances.

The emergence of the CD format and streaming technologies were very good for Bert Kaempfert’s catalog, keeping much of the bandleader’s recordings in circulation throughout much of the more than four decades that have passed since his death.

Rehbein has also seen two CD compilations of his work: Herbert Rehbein and His Orchestra: The Complete LP Collection (Taragon, 2000) and Soothing The Tiger: The Gentle Sound of Herbert Rehbein and His Orchestra (Edel, 2013). Both sets contain the entire contents of the three Rehbein albums on Decca, though neither adds either side of the 1966 Decca single.

All three of the albums discussed here are thoroughly delightful. None are exactly the same, though each bears a consistency that begged for more.

One senses, though, that Herbert Rehbein was an uncomfortable and possibly unwilling leader. He seemed happier – and certainly more prodigious – behind the scenes.

He is a genuinely accomplished writer – my guess is Rehbein was responsible for the moodier and more wistful melancholy of Kaempfert’s music (Kaempfert’s thing was swing) – as well as a sensitively seasoned arranger who was able to corral large groups of strings, horns and rhythm into a beautiful singular whole. Again, easy ain’t easy.

A lot of Kaempfert’s success is due to Herbert Rehbein. Certainly, both owe much to producer (and occasional songwriting partner) Milt Gabler for their international renown. But Herbert Rehbein was the man behind the curtain: the maker of magic. Not the face of the music, but the body and soul of it.