Peter Stenshoel's Album of the Week: Fantasy Records Hi-Fi Sampler

This is not a fantasy: Earl Hines' hands scan piano in vast swaths, Ferlinghetti reads beat poetry in The Cellar, Lucy Reed intones on translucent red, Gerry Mulligan stakes out new turf with trumpeter Chet Baker, Cal Tjader hammers mallets in hot mambo rhythm, Desmond and Dave play like crazy, and Greek Dance enhances the whole.

All for one ninety-eight!  Fantasy Records Hi-Fi Sampler is a disc-shaped time-capsule from 1957.  Caught just before records went stereophonic, the back of the album boasts Stereophonic Recorded Tapes available.  Stereo cartridges and records began to be sold in large numbers in 1958.  I'm betting lots of folks forgot this monaural release in all the excitement.  But from the time I heard Uncle John Rockne's copy, I never forgot it.  It's not just the translucent red plastic vinyl--though that was exotic to me--it was the chance to hear Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan in their formative stages, to hear Earl Hines pounding out an elaborate boogie-woogie piano solo, to be introduced to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, without whom Allen Ginsberg and the Beats might have fizzled out.  There were things that struck me as bizarre, particularly the Baldwin Organ rendition of "Moonlight In Vermont," by Les Strand. 

Yet, for all the solid recordings from these major talents, the prime reason I remember this disc is Lucy Reed's definitive version of "It's a Lazy Afternoon."  What can I say about her voice?  Think of a light charcoal-gray velour.  Now imagine sliding your fingers across the fabric.  This chanteuse, this "Singing Reed," is beckoning to me from a "place that's quiet, 'cept for daisies running riot, and there's no one passing by it to see.  Come spend this lazy afternoon with me."  My thirteen-year-old limbic brain ran wild with the possibilities.  Perhaps it's fitting that Lucy Reed embodied my mythical Siren's voice:  It turns out that "It's A Lazy Afternoon" is from a Broadway musical about the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer.

But, wait.  There's more.  It seems some wonderful studio sound technician managed to enhance Lucy Reed's voice by completely acoustic means.  At least that's my guess. Perhaps a secondary microphone captured early reflection from a nearby wood surface, or a small cabinet close to her voice was utilized.  Even if it was accidental, the result is at once subtle and intimate.  She could be singing to you in your own room.

Finally, the kicker:  All these years I had admired the restraint and finesse of the jazz musicians accompanying Reed, particularly the pianist.  In researching this blog entry, I was stunned to learn the pianist is none other than the great Bill Evans, one of the most influential and admired players of modern jazz.  He was virtually unknown at the time of this recording.  Reed went out of her way to make sure the young pianist was included on the date.  In this way, Lucy Reed, who sadly never achieved much fame outside of Chicago, contributed to Evans' career, and sweetly enhanced jazz history.

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