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Frank Sinatra And Duke Ellington’s “Francis A. & Edward K.” Reviewed

Does the name Yves Montand ring a bell? The French superstar actor and singer, a master at at least one of these things, catch him in Costa -Gavras story of an assassination, “Z” . Or, if you want to hear him sing, try the Marilyn Monroe musical “Let’s Make Love” (George Cukor directed). He isn’t bad, he isn’t great, and his singing is a drag on the movie version of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” saved by an effervescent Barbra Streisand. In the latter he sang “Come Back To Me” and I mention it because his version is better than the Frank Sinatra-Duke Ellington attempt here. And that teaches me a lesson.

Before I even get started on a review I take a look at other reviews, and there aren’t many of the only Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington’s Francis A. And Edward K., a meeting of giants, but I did find one on Allmusic by Stephen Thomas Erlewine (here), and he wasn’t overwhelmed. I then read readers comments, all of who were overwhelmed, and while it isn’t as mediocre as Erlewine seems to think, it certainly isn’t a five star masterpiece.

The contention is that Ellington and his band was past their peak, undeniable just via when it was recorded, December 1967, Frank had a slight cold which effected his singing, and finally, the concept was one side new songs, the other side standards, and, with the exception of Ellington’s “I Like The Sunrise,” the duo didn’t follow through with it. The flip side is Frank Pierce’s contention: “Duke’s band is so subtle and Frank is right in the groove. Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Cootie Williams… its a treat to hear these guys anytime”.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle, the album’s construction is off center, they open with the Lerner-Lowe  “Follow Me” and close with the Lane-Lerner “Come Back To Me”-a song that has “Follow Me” in its DNA, Frank swings a little harder on “Come Back To Me” bt neither are the thundering swing monsters they might have been.  And while the close of the first side with “Indian Summer” -it includes a glorious horn solo,  and open of the second “I Love The Sunrise” could be taken out of context as a masterclass on brooding, internalized popism, there is little excuse for the contemporaneous “Sunny” and whenever Sinatra went for the hits of the day he could be hit and miss.

At a scant 35 minutes in length, his 44th album doesn’t have the length to resist a couple of week tracks. If you include the Sondheim/Styne “All I Need Is The Girl,” an excellent take on the classic and with the Duke subtly and gracefully handling a brevity and compressed piano part, there are three excellent songs. But elsewhere, subtle becomes too quiet and Duke disappears into his own headliner. The truth appears to be that they should have recorded it a decade earlier. Francis A. & Edward K. isn’t disastrous, it is just a lost chance in the winds of time. And while better this than nothing, that is hardly a ringing endorsement at the best of times.

Grade: B



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