In 1992, Charlie Haden's Quartet West released a remarkable jazz album. It was called Haunted Heart and it featured the bass player’s quartet with Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Alan Broadbent on piano and Larance Marable on drums. The album was a soundtrack to Los Angeles, without the pictures, although it portrayed L.A. in a cinematic way. The album opens with the Warner Brothers fanfare composed by Max Steiner and segues into a composition called "Hello My Lovely" played by the quartet. Even better was the use of period recordings from the 1940s. Songs by Jo Stafford, Jeri Southern and Billie Holiday were brilliantly woven into the texture and tone creating a moving picture in the mind.
Two years later, Quartet West released a follow-up album called Always Say Goodbye featuring a thematic presentation based on The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. This time the quartet was featured playing period recordings by sax great, Coleman Hawkins, Jo Stafford, Chet Baker and the Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring Ray Nance on violin. A musical excerpt from the Warner Brothers movie, The Big Sleep, including dialogue between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, concluded the album. This album also created an interesting concept rarely tried in jazz: the mash up.
This new release, Sophisticated Ladies, further re-interprets the past, but this time featuring the contemporary voices of Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Renee Fleming and Ruth Cameron, Haden's wife. Of course, with this much talent crowding the room, the results are uneven. But it's still remarkable what some singers, if they're prepared, can bring to a song. Therefore, the successful tracks on Sophisticated Ladies are by the better singers. Namely, Wilson, Krall and Fleming. The other three fail to dazzle my ears and perhaps it's because the material isn't suitable to the vocalist. For instance, Norah Jones does her best with "Ill Wind," one of the best torch ballads in the American Songbook, but I'm not convinced the wind is blowing her "no good." As for Melody Gardot, on "If I'm Lucky," a rarely recorded song by Edgar De Lange, she seems to be getting bad vocal coaching. Her vibrato styling on this song spoils the purity of the melody.