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Frank Sinatra’s “Sinatra And Strings” Reviewed

Finally, Frank Sinatra’s preposterously prolific 1961 comes to an end and we start 1962 with album #20, Sinatra And Strings,which amounts to large band Sinatra performing ballads, a flip flop of what we are used to. In 1962, Sinatra was already repeating some standards, “Night And Day,” “All Or Nothing At All”… we’ve heard these a number of time, but it was 1962 and still time to rethink the way he presented them. While in 2018, the Great American Songbook appears to be on constant repeat while the more popular practitioners, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, and last man standing Tony Bennett, repeat when necessary.

This year, the Great American Songbook has made one sorry representation after another and that sort of repetition started here, the heydey was in the 40s and 50s, and within two years of Sinatra And Strings, the modern age was with us and the classicism pop jazz, strings and stuff, was out of fashion. It never really effected Sinatra’s career, it didn’t end it or hurt it, but it set the place for now and Sinatra And Strings was a placesetter.

Besides Sinatra’s singing, the conductor and arranger Don Costa made this an especially rich and textured affair. Everything old is new again, and when you read about remixers like Skrillex or beat masters like Metro Boomin, go back to a man like Don Costa, who began his career as a guitarist (playing with the likes of Bucky Pizzarelli) before making a living out of scaling new arrangements of standards for big bands. This is something that the 1960s killed off only to be revisited in the 2000s under a different disguise.

Ten songs in thirty-five minutes, the first song is worthy of Wee Small Hours, “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” if the arrangement wasn’t so big, the song has that wave like build and subside and whispers out. “Night And Day” is overdone, even in 1962, so what makes this take so special is its soaring coda, a glorious thing. By this early in, it is obvious that these are huge arrangements by Costa. This was the height of Sinatra with a big band sound, and it allowed him the freedom to rethink some classics, the one verse only “Stardust” is a wonder of compartmentalization, “All Or Nothing At All” a tempo destroying wonder: quiet and quiet and then an explosion, it is Sinatra does grunge.

This winter I have been very dismissive of major new Songbook releases, you can’t hold Tony Bennett in contempt, it is impossible, but to claim that his last couple of albums are great parts of his canon of work is another matter entirely. Part of my problem is that I’ve spent over a month listening to Sinatra And Strings with awe, Bennett also had great artistry as well, but Sinatra was mind boggling. Like the Beatles after him, Bing Crosby before him, he was a pop artist but first an artist. This is a great piece of work, a deeply moving, brilliantly orchestrated set of soaring ballads. Perfection.

Grade: A

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