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LET'S GET LOST
- Let's Get Lost 3:38
- Don't Blame Me 5:26
- I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me 4:55
- Too Young to Go Steady 5:10
- I Just Found Out About Love 3:04
- It's Me Remember 2:26
- You're a Sweetheart 4:38
- They Really Don't Know You 4:48
- I've Got My Fingers Crossed 3:23
- On the Sunny Side of the Street 5:18
- Hooray for Love 3:37
- You're the One for Me 3:20
- Where Are You? 5:23
- I'm Shooting High 2:30
- Warm and Willing 2:35
|mike, wesla, gary foster & ken peplowski|
LET'S GET LOSTWesla Whitfield: vocals
Mike Greensill: piano / arranger
Michael Moore: bass
Joe LaBarbers: drums
Gary Foster: reeds
Ken Peplowski: reeds
Orrin Keepnews: producer
LET'S GET LOST
Leave it to Wesla Whitfield to uncover the finest songwriter hiding in plain sight. Despite composing a couple dozen of the best known and loved standards, a list that includes, in the words of Alec Wilder, “some of the best pop songs ever written,” Jimmy McHugh is rarely counted among America’s great tunesmiths. In the three decades since his death in 1969 at the age of 74, there have been less than a handful of albums devoted to his music. Perhaps it’s Ella’s fault, since she left McHugh out of her canonical series of songbook recordings.
Whatever the reason, this album is a unique affair, as much for the artistry with which Wesla and her superlative accompanists render McHugh’s songs as for the material itself. Over the years the rhythmically assured jazz/cabaret singer has gained a reputation for finding seldom-sung treasures and shedding new light on standards by performing rarely heard verses. In taking on McHugh, she’s avoided some of his best known pieces – “I’m In The Mood For Love,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “It’s A Most Unusual Day,” among others – and gleaned a collection of McHugh as one of pop music’s most effective composers. Indeed, two of the tunes, the sentimental “They Really Don’t Know You” and the unspeakably melancholy “It’s Me, Remember” were previously unpublished.
“His music is so accessible,” Wesla says. “He wrote so many really good songs that became hits to the mass public. Some of his obscure tunes like ‘It’s Me, Remember’ are beautiful, but they’re hard to find.
McHugh started his music career as a song plugger for Irving Berlin’s publishing company. After early successes in the 1920s writing for the Cotton Club’s elaborate reviews, McHugh scored a number of hits on Broadway. The stock market crash sent him West, and he spent most of his career working in Hollywood, composing enduring songs for largely forgettable films. Paired with some of the finest lyricists of the day, especially the brilliant Dorothy Fields, McHugh created a body of tunes perfectly suited for Wesla’s incisive, unironic delivery.
Part of what makes her so distinctive is that she straddles the usually disparate worlds of jazz and cabaret. Her warm, lustrous but edgy voice seems perfectly suited for the popular song, and she combines deft rhythmic sensibility with a keen, almost analytical approach to a lyric. The fact that she’s accompanied by a gold standard rhythm section featuring the great bassist Michael Moore, ever-sensitive drummer Joe LeBarbera and empathetic pianist Mike Greensill, who crafted the lovely, uncluttered arrangements, means that the music swings from the get go. Gary Foster and Ken Peplowski contribute a number of delectable solos, switching back and forth between clarinet and tenor sax (and in Gary’s case, alto flute and bass clarinet). On “Hooray for Love,” for instance, Mike uses a clarinet/tenor voicing often employed by Ellington (“You have to steal from the best,” Mike says), while the rhythm tune “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” opens with a captivating unison clarinet line.
“You can let Ken and Gary loose and you know they’re going to make great music,” Mike says. “It was really fun for me to do those charts because it’s material I grew up with as part of the Dixieland repertoire. I think some of my ideas for arrangements come from my background in traditional jazz, and yet all the lines I wrote are bebop, though they don’t sound so bebopish when played by two clarinets.
” The spare but harmonically rich arrangements perfectly support Wesla’s prodding approach. She treats each song as a narrative with a story and a subtext, and is completely unafraid of unconventional interpretations. Most singers use a jaunty tempo for “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” but Wesla transforms the song into a soaring ballad laden with unfulfilled desires.
There are certain moods, such as longing and the electric spark of infatuation, that she evokes as effectively as any singer in popular music. She renders “I Just Found Out About Love” with a sultry, knowing air that makes the line acknowledging the possibility of unrequited love, “Hey you, give me a clue,” pass by like a could blown across the sun. “Too Young To Go Steady” is sung, as Wesla describes it in her live shows as a sweet anthem of teenage angst. She also knows how to have fun. On Johnny Mercer’s endlessly clever “You’re the One For Me,” a tune with a breezy melody and a Cole Porterish lyric, she delivers each unlikely zoological reference with perfect comic timing. Wesla closes the session with the ravishing tune “Warm and Willing,” an obscure ballad she turns into a sensual tour de force.
By the end of the album, Wesla has made an unimpeachable case for the enduring relevance of McHugh’s oeuvre. Her exquisite taste reveals that some of his best pieces weren’t hits, and some of his most popular tunes were among his finest songs. But then, anyone who’s followed Wesla’s career knows that a songwriter couldn’t be in better hands when it comes to distilling the essence of a tune.
Andrew Gilbert – Jazz writer/critic