Film Music Review
The Sammy awards






Music composed by Ralph Rainger. Lyrics by Howard Dietz, Dorothy Parker and Leo Robin.

15 Tracks (Playing Time = 79:21)



Album produced by Dick Bank. Music performed by the vocalist Sue Raney, with the Chuck Berghofer Trio: Jan Lundgren, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; and Joe La Barbera, drums. Music recorded and mixed by Talley Sherwood. Mastered by Bernie Grundman. Music recorded at Entourage Studios, Hollywood, January 5-6, 2008. Album art direction and design by Heidi Frieder.

Fresh Sound Records 5048

Rating: ****


Fans of the Great American Songbook need not be reminded as to who this Ralph Rainger (1901-1942) was; likewise any fan of classic Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, or jazz affici0nados, will recognize at least some of the songs which Rainger composed. Ralph Rainger’s story is at times a relatively tragic one as he struggled to get his musical career off the ground. His untimely death in a bizarre airplane disaster meant that his talent was cut off right at its height. His teaming up with lyricist Leo Robin would lead to a number of great songs that appeared in Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. The Robin-Rainger collaboration was essentially to Hollywood what Rodgers-Hart was to Broadway. Rainger’s musical stylings fit perfectly into the milieu of the period though his name has nowhere near the recognition of his contemporaries such as Arlen, Berlin, or even Gershwin.

Rather than release excerpts from the original tracks, Fresh Sounds has found the perfect match for re-introducing this music in the Chuck Berghofer Trio which features pianist Jan Lundgren. Sue Raney appears to sing “If I Should Lose You” and “Thanks for the Memory.” The latter song is perhaps the best known Rainger tune. Robin’s lyric is familiar to any Bob Hope fan as it was his signature song throughout Hope’s long career. The song itself though appeared back in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938. It would win an Oscar for him in 1939. Jack Benny fans will also note the composer of that star’s “theme song,” another Oscar nominee, also penned by Robin and Rainger, “Love in Bloom” which the team wrote for the 1934 film SHE LOVES ME NOT.

Rainger’s melodic gifts are on display throughout these selections. One can hear that slow transition from the Tin Pan Alley sound of the 1920s into a richer harmonic language that began to appear as Broadway musicals enriched their musical language with jazz harmonic influences. Rainger’s music fits that latter style perfectly and unable to get his music produced on Broadway, Hollywood beckoned creating a wealth of material much of which still deserves to be rescued from semi-oblivion. Rainger’s output for many popular, though often throwaway commercial films, meant that he often wrote songs for some of the biggest names in the industry at the time. His work on THE BIG BROADCAST series, and others, often led to his songs having a life on their own far after the films were forgotten. Of the 14 songs presented here, “Please,” and “Blue Hawaii” may be the most familiar beyond those mentioned earlier, though “June in January” and “Moanin’ Low” might also be considered jazz standards.

These are all faithful jazz interpretations of the music which lay out the entire song without extending the improvisational aspects of the music as a more traditional jazz set might do. It allows you to hear the music in a purer form akin to discs that present Gershwin songs minus extensive jazz riffs. Lundgren’s playing is sublime in many moments of these songs bringing a eal care that comes from his obvious respect and admiration for each of the pieces included here. Raney’s vocals create some variety from the combo sound of the trio on its own. There are also songs for just piano as well as tracks that omit the drum set. It is a most enjoyable trip through some of the great Hollywood songs of yesteryear.

Beyond just the fantastic performances heard on this release, Fresh Sound has included an amazingly detailed booklet (whose only real problem is that the text is in extremely small font to squeeze everything in so that the booklet fits in the case!). Mark Gardner’s extensive essay on the music and life of Rainger would be worth the price of the disc alone. But Dick Bank also contributes a lengthy essay on Rainger’s film music. Pages devoted to comments by both Rainger and Robin are included giving a window into their compositional approaches—taken rom their own writing on the subject—lends another air of authenticity to the release as well. The final track features a canned 1937 interview with the composer with him performing a rather florid rendition of “Love in Bloom” and the segment concludes with another performance featuring the composer and Robin from a 1940 ASCAP concert.

All around this is a great set of music in an engaging series of songs from one of Hollywood’s masters that is easily recommendable.

Fresh Sounds earlier released another film music related jazz trio disc featuring music by Bronislau Kaper (Fresh Sounds 5041) with pianist Frank Collett that finds equally engaging choices and performances worth checking out as well.


--Steven A. Kennedy, 16 March 2009

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