Helen Merrill's recording with Clifford Brown has something of a legendary status, not least because the trumpet player made so few records before his tragix early death. That said, this is a record which is ripe for re-appraisal. Helen Merrill's voice is the best thing about the whole record and she is in excellent form. There is just enough inflection to raise this into the jazz category and out of the stupor of early 1950's pop. That said, it is a close run thing. Jimmy Jones' piano playing borders on muzak with his soft approach to chordal soloing managing to make George Shearing sound like Horace Silver. This is the musical equivalent to throwing a bucket of water over the proceedings. There are other elements that conspire against this record too. Quincy Jones' charts sound especially dated, particularly in the manner in which the bariotne saxophone is employed. I would also have to state that despite his undoubted prowess, I find Clifford Brown's pastuerised tone on trumpet to be especially problematic and the pureness of his playing seems cold and unlovely to me. I much prefer this instrument to be played with some earth as displayed by musicians as diverse as Miles, Sweet Edison, Dave Douglas or Lester Bowie. Brownie's playing is a huge turn off as far as I am concerned.
My main reason for buying this is that I am a massive Gil Evans fan. This is equally deceptive. The score of "People will say we're in love" is terrific and some of the writing was re-used on the "Old wine, new bottle" record which is unreservedly recommended. However, there are plenty of charts where Evans has a string section at his disposal and if the opening of "I'm a fool to want you" is stunning, there are too many ballads to make an impression. The whole feel resembles the pop music of it's day and probably represents Gil Evans' most commercial work on record outside of Claude Thornhill's record. "You're lucky to me" is not too bad yet this section of the CD is far from being classic Evans. In the 1980's, Helen Merrill re-united in the studio with Gil Evans and they re-visited some of these charts as well as some urecorded arrangements. I have heard a few of the recordings which are superior to these and it was rumoured at the time that both artists wish to re-visit the music as they had not been satisfied with the initial recording.
In conclusion, Helen Merrill is in good form on both the Evans and Quincy Jones sessions. Despite the star billings of Evans and Clifford Brown, this record suffers from the imbalance in the repertoire and very much shows itself to be nearly 60 years old. I quite like jazz singers ranging from Dianne Reeves, Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, Kurt Elling or Annette Peacock. Helen Merrill is obviously a significnat talent in jazz yet I wouldn't swap any works by the latter for this early 1950's MOR effort.