Sunday, 15 April 2012

Surprise Classic: Mr Lucky Goes Latin

This just in from the estimable Dusty Groove in Chicago (to my mind, the world's best record shop). It's a lovely mono copy, in nice shape, on heavy vinyl, a black label RCA issue with the electro-flash 'A' on the logo. I was initially a bit sniffy because it's not a deep groove pressing, but it plays beautifully. Mr Lucky was a 1950s TV show from Blake Edwards, who also created Peter Gunn. Like Peter Gunn, it featured music by the magnificent Henry Mancini and, like Peter Gunn, it was popular enough for two albums to be released. To be honest I didn't have high hopes for this album musically — I'm not a huge fan of the original Mr Lucky LP, which wasn't really in the same league as Peter Gunn, and I thought this sequel would be a light weight, south of the border novelty excursion cash-in. So I bought it as much for the terrific cover art as anything else. The illustration is by Don Peters who also did the classic art for the original Mr Lucky album. Retro crime jazz plus cats. Who could ask for more? But the album is much more than just a pretty cover. It turns out to be a real gem, one of the best from Mancini in this period, and it certainly seems superior to the original Mr Lucky. The cheesy cha-cha tracks that dominated the first album are balanced by some outstanding compositions here. Highlights emerging from early listening include the slinky, smoky, sexy Blue Mantilla which features some judicious use of Hammond organ, restrained and subtle strings and canny percussion; meanwhile, Lujon reminds me of Les Baxter's classic exotica pieces with great percussion and tasty guitar; and best of all is The Dancing Cat — and not just because of the title, but thanks to some amazing little electronic beeps (possibly coaxed out of the Hammond) which sound like an old fashioned telephone busy signal. They push the album towards the avant-garde. There isn't a huge amount of information in the liner notes but, as with most Mancini albums, certain outstanding musicians are name checked. Players on the album include Laurindo Almeida, Jimmy Rowles, Larry Bunker, Milt Holland and Shelly Manne. Wonderful stuff. If you get a chance to pick it up, particularly on vinyl, don't hesitate.

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