Monday, August 21, 2006

Oh, Julie!

Robert Hughes has a term for a particular iconography of American popular culture: Deco and Fins. It stretches from the Jazz Age to the Edsel, and is also beautifully satirised in the Onion headline "American Swellness at an All-Time High". Few musicians embody this complacent and - some might say - pinchbeck luxury than Julie London. Without question for this writer the finest white female jazz singer ever, her delivery connotes as much languour and lubricity as material paradigms of consumerism; radiograms, chrome, prosperity. The lavalamp swirl of the strings on her magnificent Love On The Rocks collection (1963) is so incandescent it sounds as if the recording was buffed up by a frowning manservant. Makes Nelson Riddle sound like The Ramones - only Mantovani got more divisi and portamento than this. One album trumpets that it was recorded in 'Spectrasonic' sound or somesuch (I wonder when it was that the ideas boys at Capitol made that name up). Phrases like 'jet age' are not far away...
Best known for her stunning recording of Cry Me A River - Jim Hall on guitar (hi, Jim!) - Julie, in a series of albums with part-Playboy, part-Vega sleeves with embonpoint and lipgloss everywhere, dutifully turned out vampy lounge standards in an ever-breathier stylee, to the point whereby she couldn't only do it in her sleep, she probably often did. Monica Vitti, wasted on booze in How To Murder Your Wife is probably the closest fiction has ever come to Julie's recording persona. But holy socks, could that girl hit and hold a note, gilding even the most faded lily of a song. How Did He Look, Guess Who I Saw Today, Where Did The Gentleman Go; none of them true greats, except when Julie sang them. Few, if any, singers, dissolve my insides and reduce me to the status of a little girl crying as often as this genius.
If she'd only been around to record with the likes of Hall, Shorter and Petrucciani... and an ork, natch.

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