Sleeve notes say: While you easily pinpoint the directions from which the many sounds emanate, you will be sure to note with pleasure how richly wide-spread the strings are handled; they stretch across both speakers a lustrous curtain of sound. Always on the left is a chorus of women whose high-registered singing blends with the violins to give a brilliant edge to the sound.
It would be rude not to try some early Werner Muller given his magnificent gift to the world of the big band madness tune that is Bodybuilding.
In his youth Werner was a proper musical whizzkid, proficient enough on violin to play Mozart concertos
at the age of ten. He could tickle the ivories for Germany too.
In the 40s good and bad luck combined fortuitiously when German military school introduced him to the trombone and Helmut Zacharias whilst later on his American army captors introduced him to swing. Result!
Before the age of thirty he was leading the hottest swing with strings dance band in Berlin and working with the likes of clarinetist Rolf Kuhn.
On this lp Werner mines that strange, early 60s exotica seam that was a hybrid blend of strings and high-pitched female harmonies. Think David Rose - Holiday For Strings meets The Three Suns.
Running with the standouts, Werner sets his stall out
right from the start with a great version of South Of The Border. It's lite-Latin guitar, strings, tremolo organ and high scatting all blend together to sound like there’s a theremin present.
Top picks on Side Two are Calcutta and Istanbul. Both tracks switch between deep baritone sax growls and that classic exotica trick of mixing high-pitched strings and vocals.
There's nothing here to match the very best or wildest exotica; no arrangements as inventive as those of Tak Shindo, Walter Shumann or Dean Elliot but if you see it cheap pick it up.
The quality of the production is top notch and if you're whacking together an exotica-flavoured comp for a Tiki night in you'll find some great tracks here to keep it flowing.
Sleeve notes say: Mr Heath’s idea for this album was to render the traditional spiritual with a touch of swing, surely an element built into the original mood. For there is no music more conducive to such treatment as the music of the American Negro. The moods, the rhythms, the easy accents, the syncopation is in the fabric itself – a tapestry which, however devotional and non-secular it may be at the tap roots, has all the ingredients for a swing ensemble to extend and expand.
This may seem an unusual choice for one of our ten but we liked the notion of it, the cover, the mention of David Lindup and Derek Warne as arrangers and the fact we’d not seen it before.
There’s also the small matter of the Ted Heath - The Big Ones lp and it’s reputation as a premier slice of big band funk and widespread international acknowledgement that Ted Heath and His Music were the best swing band Britain ever produced.
A lot of top UK session players played in theTed Heath Band.. The drum seat alone was occupied at various points by Jack Parnell, Ronnie Verrell, Basil Kirchin and Bobby Orr. After Ted Heath’s death in 1969 top trombonist Don Lusher lead the band until it folded in 2000.
Despite our introductory fanfare there’s no denying this lp is a disappointing listen. Maybe we were anticipating a little too much? We were definitely optimistic for a little more inventiveness in the arrangements department and a lot less straightforward swing.
It’s an interesting listen if you like the textures and feel of the 40s big band sound and Lindup occasionally mixes it up a bit with some genuinely ethereal passages on slower tracks like Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child and Hold On.
In non-studio portraits when caught naturally and off guard Ted Heath, like Edmundo Ros, is usually laughing or grinning. Running a big band must've been a blast and maybe the downbeat and often maudlin nature of spirituals didn't quite match the cut of his or his bands jibs.
After several plays to ensure there were no sleepers we can only state with sadness this is not a keeper unless you’re a fan of spirituals played by a big band.
Big. Band. Spirituals. The clue to the content of this was in the title all along.
The extremely camera-shy Roland Edgar Shaw was an in-house arranger for Decca working for Ted Heath, Mantovani and others but really made his name by rearranging James Bond and thriller film and TV themes for full orchestra.
This lp is a high watermark in his thriller themes output and the legendary Phase 4 studio sound quality ensures many of these covers sound better than the originals.
At the starting gate The Man From U.N.C.L.E Theme blasts fast and furiously out of the traps and after that it hardly lets up. It’s followed by the loudest, most
powerfully sultry version of Mr. Kiss, Kiss Bang-Bang you’ll ever hear.
Shaw nails a seriously funky march band rhythm for Goldfinger and it’s a sonic treat. The orchestra slides deliriously around the tune whilst the hook is fanfared loud, crystal clear and rasping with menace. It's the best instrumental version of Goldfinger committed to vinyl ever.
Thunderball repeats the trick with an arrangement must have had the recording console’s peak meters tripping out. It's huge-sounding.
He sensibly keeps The Avengers Theme faithful to the original but once again makes it brassier and punchier by utilising the driving force of his horn section.
In Like Flint is also a revelation with a persistent hammering of cowbells to satiate even the most demanding Christopher Walken.
This whole lp is a brilliant, bright and powerful listen from start to finish with not a duff track in earshot.
The back cover is a bonus too. It's a bizarre cut and paste collage of selected spy thillers from TV and film and you can have a minor three minutes of fun working out which ones have themes featured on the lp and which ones don't.
Buy this and blast cobwebs from your woofers and tweeters. His name is Shaw....Roland Shaw and he must have been a modest chap because it was a trawl and a half to find a photo of him on the net.
10 out of 10 for this or 007 out of 007....whatever...
A Trinidadian by birthplace, Ros’ mother was Afro-Venezualan and his father was Scottish.
During an extraordinarily successful career he owned a nightclub, a dance school, a record company and an artistes agency. He also designed and built his own London home called Edritt House in Mill Hill, London, named after his first wife Britt and himself.
Searching the internet for portraits of Edmundo it soon becomes apparent that with or without maracas in his hand and a band behind him he was one very happy fella.
Surface research reveals a fascinating and eventful
life and we may well be returning to Edmundo at some point in the future for an article.
His Rumba band performed exclusively in London nightclubs throughout the 40s and he was broadly embraced by London high society after a young Princess Elizabeth danced to his music.
He built on this success by opening his own nightclub in the fifties with high society etiquette high on its agenda. He was also a Mason.
Edmundo Ros arrangements invariably emanate an intense brightness of sound. The percussion is always crisp and full-sounding with precise marimba rolls thunder cracking across the speakers over a pulse of rippling bongos and clacking claves.
In person Edmundo was reputedly as charismatic,
bright and engaging as his orchestra, a fact borne out by tributes from former employees after his death in 2011, two months shy of his 101st birthday.
The superb cover illustration screams Exotica but in reality this lp is 100% Edmundo; all cha-cha-cha and rhumba-flavoured rhythms for dancing.
Stand out tracks on Side One are In A Little Spanish Town, The Laughing Samba and Oye Negra. The tracks are percussion masterclasses with blasting brass recorded using the best Phase 4 technology available.
On Edmundo’s version of From Russia With Love an accordion leads the melody over the stodgiest of plucked bass rhythms before the whole thing suddenly explodes into a balalaika frenzy. It's a very curious thing but well worth hearing.
Sleeve notes say: Hit songs are normally very ephemeral things. Enjoying their place on the charts for a relatively short period of time and then passing on into the recesses of our minds to be recalled only vaguely and with effort. But this inevitable fading is becoming less and less the case as so called 'popular' music becomes more and more engaged with the reality of our personal lives and emotions, able to evoke a FEELIN' of intensity and meaning in almost everyone...
Vincent Biondi is the writer of these obtuse sleeve notes and he had a tough job on his hands. Clutching at straws is always a tricky task and a strong aroma of desperation is writ large with every
generalisation he makes.
With groovy discotheque-flavoured imagery and cover notes that strive to suggest emotional depth to the music contained within this appears to be a winner but unfortunately it's not.
Despite its young and groovy 60s presentation the music has a lumpen 50s feel without imagination, spark or fire.
If you're a fan of singers lps like Collage, Singers Unlimited, the Novi Singers and so forth then this lp is not for you. The harmonies are uninspired with arrangements too close to those of a very average church or village hall choir.
If you're a fan of great orchestral arrangements this lp is not for you either.
The orchestra play together en masse on most tracks against a backdrop of leaden drumming.
At various points where the orchestra lightens up and the voices take a stronger lead it's fairly close in flavour to the work of the Mike Sammes Singers but is far less accomplished.
Some may enjoy the syrupy harmonies on the Raymonde composed Fly Away and the 'best' track on the lp is at the end of Side Two where the sunshine pop and tempo changes of Sonny Bono's You'd Better Sit Down Kids just about wakes the orchestra from slumber.
Overall though this lp is an arduous listen and the cover really is the best thing about it. Lest we forget though, Ivor Raymonde some sterling work with a certain Joe Meek. This was an off day.
As synonymous with Phase 4 stereo lps as Edmundo Ros, Roland Shaw and Frank Chacksfield, there are no fewer than 14 lps by Aldrich with large 4s on and a further 19 without.
Sedate is probably the most apt word to describe the majority of his output but lurking here and there he throws in curveballs which are a just a little groovier.
In the 40s he lead the RAF band The Squadronaires. After the war they had regular six nights a week engagements at the Palace Ballroom on the Isle Of Man. When they disbanded in 1964, he moved to Decca and worked on his own Phase 4 lps and just about everyone else's.
In the 70s he was appointed as musical director for Thames Television which lead to minor fame as musical director for The Benny Hill Show.
It’s Happening Now contains many familiar instrumental cover version staples from the late 60s canon. Hey Jude, Light My Fire, Scarborough Fair, Both Sides Now, Soulful Strut and Little Green Apples are all present and correct.
Forget words like happening, now, funky or similar adjectives and replace with the phrase gently groovy. This lp is probably best described irony-free as a very pleasant listen.
Arrangements for lead piano and orchestra can easily be dull but this lp is anything but. There’s enough inventive and enjoyable music arrangements on here to warrant exploring other Aldrich lps.
In thoughtful arrangements Aldrich uses a variety of textures, tones and pace to uplift some very mediocre tunes into a pleasurable and relaxing hour of calm.
To paraphrase a post-lounge band sales pitch, this is gentle music for gentle people.
Kick back, slipper up and listen down before filing this either on your Kitsch Sunday Morning Chill-Out shelf or the shelf dedicated to lps for pulling out when elderly relatives are visiting.
Alternatively whack the cover on the wall of your bachelor pad because the sweetly smiling cover girl completely rocks that 70s orange blouse, lemon skirt and brown boots combo.
An Aldrich keeper for us to play occasionally or to stick on the wall.
Being as popular as he was Edmundo could do anything he wanted to do. Here he picks up songs from one of the most popular 60s musicals, slaps his rhumba and cha-cha rhythms on and then decides to sing on a few of them.
A disaster waiting to happen? Far from it. With Roland Shaw in the arrangers seat again it's an easy listening festival of an lp that's chock full of inventive ideas.
The popularity of Hair and the strong songs from the songwriting team of Ragni, Rado and McDermott proved to be an opportunity too enticing for the enterprising and energetic Edmundo to ignore.
With Roland Shaw in charge Edmundo's own tendency to whack over-the-top percussion on everything is by-passed and each song is handled differently.
It's more apparent on the quieter numbers like Where Do I Go? where he showcases the melody carefully with a sensitive arrangement that does not rely on a battery of percussion for effect.
Hare Krishna (Be In) is crazy good on this. Starting gently it quickly settles into a quirky Latin groove with Edmundo taking on the limited vocal responsibility.. Flute and piano flutter all over it and there's a well-timed and kicking percussion break before Edmundo Hare's the song to a close.
Side Two opens with the Hair main theme strutted out peacock-like over a staccato Rhumba rhythm.
Taking the mood down from the fanfare and rhumba feast of Hair both Easy To Be Hard and Frank Mills are quieter numbers that Edmundo may not have managed to pull off so well had he arranged them himself.
Edmundo's percussion sensibilites are given free reign again on the two closing tracks Let The Sunshine In and Donna.
You may recall we set ourselves the challenge of reviewing the ten Phase 4 'Large 4' lps that had the most interesting looking covers.
Choosing an lp with an un-retouched photograph of three pantless models looking chilly in a blue studio wearing only ponchos was a no-brainer.
it's good to confirm that this lp is as fun as it looks.
In a very similar vein to It's Happening Now, Ronnie once again tinkles the ivories with the London Festival Orchestra providing a backdrop of orchestral arrangements to a selection of hits from the day.
Recording with the London Festival Orchestra couldn't have been cheap. Ronnie did this so many times on so many Phase 4 releases it can only be assumed that these lps were very popular.
This is an Easy Listening lp through and through with little room for jarring noises or production quirks to ripple the smoothness of its glassy surface. There are a few short sonic surprises though.
As with It's Happening Now , there is a lightness of touch about the production and more than enough variation in the arrangements to keep any Easy Listening fan happy on a quiet Sunday morning.
Given that there's little that can be done to affect the sound of a piano as a lead instrument, it's a major achievement.
A chill-out version of My Cherie Amour opens proceedings at a stately pace with high-pitched strings echoing the main melody. Aquarius following immediately afterwards opens bizarrely with some pacey fuzz guitar. It's a real shame Ronnie didn't keep it higher in the mix for the remainder of the song as it would have made for one of the funkiest Aquarius cover versions ever.
Over on Side Two, after a slightly lame Baby I Love
You, Ronnie delivers what he does best with a shimmeringly lovely version of Windmills Of Your Mind. It's incredibly smooth but the orchestral arrangement built around it is ethereal sounding.
Arranged in a similar way, Aldrich's own beautiful composition Theme From In The Dark could sit comfortably on any high quality easy listening orchestral compliation.
If calm orchestral music for a quiet afternoon is your guilty listening pleasure and you can find this for cheap in a charity shop it's worth gripping.
Fair warning though, this may not be everyones cup of latte and a croissant.
Sleeve notes say: From the beginning phase 4 stereo has had the honor and the pleasure of bringing to you, its listening audience, many artists of great talent and versatility. But few artists on our, or any other lable can rival the multiple accomplishment of composer, arranger, vocalist and orchestra leader Les Reed.
The Raymonde Singers Etcetera was fair warning to us that Phase 4 lps are occasionally over-dressed or in the very least dressed inappropriately relative to their content.
Given our disappointment with Ivor we approached Les Reed's Love Is All with some trepidation, wary
that a pretty girl in a lemon bikini illuminated by a colourful revolving light projector might not be as quiveringly naughty, acid-laced and exciting as she's undressed down to be.
The bad news is that it's nowhere near as druggy and psychedelic as the sleeve suggests. This is definitely no Astro Sounds In The Year 2000.
The so-so news is that it's not quite as bad as the Raymonde Singers. It's fairly safe to say at this point that we're definitely not recommending anyone to buy this for anything more than one pound from a charity shop.
Despite some absolute stinkers there are a few tracks on here that are worth a listen. Adroitly side-stepping the dire Something In The Air that opens Side One Good Morning Starshine is as breezy and
happy clappy as it should be with high pitched violins whistling like kite strings over a suitably cheerful choir. It's got a feint trace of sunshine pop about it.
Spinning Wheel is all thumpy beats and fanfares and starts to groove a little bit at the end.
There's a pleasantly hippy take on Crystal Blue Persuasion with jangly Spanish guitars, wibbling Hammond and chanted harmonies. It's like an instant camp fire sing-a-long.
Reed's self-composed Sugar Pie is a real oddball affair which tries to be a huge annoying hit from the sixties which was as irritating as it was catchy.
On second thoughts it may be better to save a pound coin for something else though the sleeve could sit nicely on the wall next to It's Happening Now.
A very well-known lp to crate-diggers and forum lurkers, here is a big band lp superbly produced with complementary dashes of bongos, Hammond organ, electric guitar and flute sprinkled amongst the brass.
It may not be as completely wigged out as the cover suggests but it's definitely another notch on the band post of Roland Shaw who was responsible for the excellent arrangements.
The cover screams hippie psychedelia and you can smell incense and Whacky Baccy just by reading the tracklist which includes Light My Fire, Nights In White Satin and A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Spinning Wheel opens proceedings in a fairly stately fashion but some thumping staccato drum breaks and an electric guitar solo signal this is not going to be a straightforward listen.
Light My Fire is very cool indeed. The intro is a simple sax line played over a swelling bed of bongos and vibes before the full orchestra begins to swell and some intricate Hammond threads in and out. A similar slow-building technique is used on (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.
Side Two opens with a cracking version of In The Year 2525 where Shaw's mastery for arranging powerful sounding horns is proven yet again but he main reason why people purchase this lp is for the magnificent Don't Cha Hear Me Calling To Ya.
It's neither super fast nor super funky but a rolling
round of a song with beautiful call-and-response horns over a solid beat and ringing vibes.
Starting gently and building gradually over repeated choruses it somehow manages to be groovy and stridently powerful at the same time. It really gets under the skin and ends superbly with a strange squall of improvised clarinet played over the pounding horns.
That's our selected ten Phase 4 Large 4s by cover alone. If you know any great ones we've missed let us know on the forum. We may cover more at a later date but right now we're knee-deep in those fascinating fish-eye lens Mercury Super Stereo Sound lps...
Keep an eye on the Art section for a wall of them arriving shortly with selected reviews to follow.