Nils Landgren Celebrates Leonard Bernstein

Nils Landgren with Janis Siegel "Some Other Time"It is his most ambitious recording project yet, according to the liner notes. And even though he has indeed recorded what feels like a million different things, it seems hard to believe that Nils Landgren will turn 60 next month. So consider this as his birthday present – and he not only has the Bochumer Symphoniker behind him (which is fitting giving the nature of this project), but also singer Janis Siegel from The Manhattan Transfer, who has recorded a lot of solo albums over the years, most notably a beautiful duo album with pianist Fred Hersch (“Short Stories”, 1989), to work on the music of Leonard Bernstein.

After a brief overture, “America” from the West Side Story, both Nils and Janis gel on one of two tracks from the 1944 opus “On The Town”: “Some Other Time”. My personal problem with those two tracks (the other being “Lucky To Be Me”, recorded here with Janis accompanied by piano and trombone only) is the fact that both have been recorded in definitive versions by one of my all-time favorite vocalists, Irene Kral. I seriously can not imagine that any of the tracks from her sublime 1974 duo LP “Where Is Love?”, which she recorded with Alan Broadbent, will be topped or that any song by any other artist will even come close to her out-of-this-world performance on that particular album.

The nice thing about Nils is that he steps away from his at times strange-sounding high-pitched falsetto voice and rather sticks to the lower registers, like on “Cool”, one of five tracks in total from the West Side Story and one of the tracks he sings on his own and backed only by his quartet (Janis can be heard on five tracks). Or on “Something’s Coming”. And it is also a nice tool regarding the overall sequence and sound on the album that he tackles “Maria” as an instrumental, with the Symphonic Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza. It is difficult for me though not to think of Aretha Franklin‘s only valid version of “Somewhere”, produced by Quincy Jones in 1973, but Nils does a beautiful, sensitive and caressing work on this one.

Janis is back on the sweet ballad “The Story Of My Life” from “Wonderful Town”, displaying some raspiness in her voice which suits her pretty well. Jan Lundgren (piano), Dieter Ilg (bass) and Wolfgang Haffner (drums) comprise the rhythm section on the album so you really can’t go wrong here as well. “One Hand, One Heart” is offered as a load-bearing quartet piece with some more of that intimate, dirge-like phrasing by Nils on trombone. A nice piece.

I just can’t help but compare “Lonely Town” to the masterpiece recorded by the Charlie Haden Quartet West with guest singer Shirley Horn (from “The Art Of The Song”, 1999), but again, Janis does a good job on this one as well with supple trombone work by the leader. The longest track here is from “Wonderful Town” again, the 1953 musical with words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. “A Quiet Girl” is another slow and slightly gleaming piece backed by the full orchestra. Nils ends his birthday album with a piece from “Mass” (1971), which Bernstein intended to record as a traditional mass, but then decided to do it as a more innovative, musical theatre work. With “A Simple Song”, recorded with his quartet and the orchestra, the new Landgren album ends on a fitting note for a soon-to-be 60 year old: brave, wholehearted, and demure.

Don’t miss Nils and his All Stars on tour together with the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt:

03/02 Dortmund – Konzerthaus

03/09 Frankfurt – Alte Oper

03/11 Dresden – Alter Schlachthof

03/12 Karlsruhe – Tollhaus

03/13 Düsseldorf – Tonhalle

03/18 Lübeck – Musik- und Kongreßhalle

03/19 Hamburg – Laeiszhalle

03/20 Leipzig – Haus Auensee

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