Although not initially released until 1992, 25 years after composer Billy Strayhorn's death, this is his definitive CD. Strayhorn is heard singing "Lush Life" while backed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1964 (his voice is not strong but his phrasing is quite sincere), jamming on piano with flügelhornist Clark Terry and Bob Wilbur (on clarinet and soprano) in a quintet, backing singer Ozzie Bailey, and taking a pair of piano solos ("Love Came" and "Baby Clementine"). These are very valuable and intriguing recordings, shedding some new light on a nearly invisible genius.
This is a little-known and rather melancholy set, virtually Billy Strayhorn's only recording away from the world of Duke Ellington. The focus is totally on Strayhorn's piano throughout his interpretations of ten of his compositions (including "Lush Life," "Take the 'A' Train," and "Something to Live For"). Three selections have the Paris Blue Notes adding sparse wordless vocals, two other numbers add some quiet playing by the Paris String Quartet, and bassist Michel Goudret is on five of the ten selections (including one apiece with the strings and the voices). "Strange Feeling" and "Chelsea Bridge" are taken as unaccompanied piano solos. Of the ten songs, only "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'" hints at happiness; otherwise, Strayhorn's melodic and concise playing is quite somber, peaceful in volume but filled with inner tension.
Here is one of the musical giants of the 20th century, poised on the precipice of greatness. Between the spring of 1957 and the winter of 1958, during which time Lush Life was recorded, the music of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) was developing in giant steps, thanks in great part to a six-month 1957 stint with Thelonious Monk that had much to do with sharpening Coltrane’s harmonic conception and torrential attack.
Lush Life contains Coltrane’s first recordings as sole leader, his initial date fronting a pianoless trio, and one of his first extended readings of a ballad, Billy Strayhorn’s resplendent title track. We also hear him at the helm of a quartet and quintet, featuring pianist Red Garland, with trumpeter Donald Byrd added to “Lush Life.”
By 1990's aptly named Charmed Life, Billy Idol was seemingly more well-known for his excessive lifestyle than his creative zenith of a few years prior. This made his channeling of Jim Morrison on a rowdy cover of "LA Woman" even more apt. He had done so before, of course, most memorably on 1986's Whiplash Smile…
Nancy Wilson was one of the few jazz-based pop singers of the 1960s who was able to navigate that decade's rock & roll-crazed waters and stay on top of the single and album charts. While her natural physical beauty certainly didn't hurt her career, it was probably her honest feel for soul and the blues, as well as jazz, that had her riding high during a time when so many of her peers were being dropped by the major labels or moving to Europe. Lush Life follows Wilson's winning formula of combining jazz and adult pop, but while individual tracks stand out, a heavy Barbra Streisand influence hurts the disc overall.