Kenny Dorham – ‘This is the Moment! Kenny Dorham Sings and Plays’ – rec. 1958 – London Jazz News

Kenny Dorham — This is the Moment! Kenny Dorham Sings and Plays
(New Land NewLand008. Album review by Bruce Lindsay)

“This is the moment!” the album cover declares, the emphasis suggesting that the music lovers of 1958 wanted nothing more than to hear Kenny Dorham, jazz trumpeter, exercise his vocal talents. Sixty years later, it seems like this excitement was somewhat misplaced, if it ever really existed, although the undoubted instrumental talents of Dorham and his bandmates are plentifully displayed. This beautifully crafted vinyl re-release, mastered from the 1958 mono analogue tapes by Kevin Gray and produced by James Batsford, offers a prime opportunity to re-assess the album and Dorham’s place in the pantheon of jazz vocalists while also providing the chance to hear two jazz greats at the start of their careers.

By the time he recorded This is the Moment!, Dorham was a well-established recording and performing artist whose fifteen-year career included work with Charlie Parker and Max Roach as well as time spent leading his own combos. According to the notes to the original release, written by producer Orrin Keepnews, Dorham first sang with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in the mid-1940s, making a brief appearance centre-stage each night to sing a blues, but soon abandoned this role to concentrate on playing trumpet. A dozen years later, following lessons in phrasing, breath control and similar skills, Dorham felt confident enough to suggest the idea of a vocal album to Keepnews, who listened to him “[sing] his way lightly through a couple of numbers” and was immediately “convinced [by this] new, different and wonderfully swinging jazz singer …”

Dorham recorded with a top-quality band: 25-year-old Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton (making his recording debut) on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Charlie Persip on drums (replaced on three tracks by G.T. Hogan). Dorham and Fuller play muted instruments throughout, the resulting sounds are tonally suited to Dorham’s voice, complementing rather than competing with the vocals. Instrumentally, these musicians ensure that this album has much to offer fans of late-50s small-band jazz, whether it’s the full-on, raucous, swing of “From This Moment On,” featuring G.T. Hogan, the blues of “Since I Fell for You” or the seductive “Angel Eyes.”

Which leaves one notable element of the sound for consideration — Dorham’s singing. Keepnews’ somewhat hyperbolic description, with its references to “light staccato swing,” “easy grace” and “subtle twists of phrasing” give the singer much to live up to and set the highest of expectations for the listener. Dorham’s voice makes for pleasant listening, mostly characterised by warmth, sometimes reminiscent of Chet Baker. On “Since I Fell for You” he displays a talent for blues in the laid-back style of Mose Allison rather than the more raucous blues shouters. On “Angel Eyes” he demonstrates a romantic approach. Occasional attempts to instil some drama, such as at the end of “Golden Earrings,” are less successful, but few in number. Maybe Keepnews’ description of Dorham’s voice as “highly individual” is the most accurate of them all. Such a description covers a multitude of possibilities of course, from Billie Holiday to Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits: Dorham’s individuality is warm, welcoming and heartfelt, it just never quite lives up to his producer’s hype. This is the Moment! Kenny Dorham Sings and Plays didn’t announce the arrival of a great new jazz vocalist, but there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be found here.

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LINK: New Land Records / Facebook (album available in limited quantities)

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