Nino Tempo is accurately described as a Purveyor of Balladry on Omnivore Recordings' new compilation dedicated to his Atlantic recordings, but that's just one facet of this all-too-underrated artist. Over a long career, Tempo has served as a writer, producer, arranger, singer, and (as on this set) musician. With his sister April Stevens, Tempo enchanted with the breezy "Deep Purple" and shimmering "You'll Be Needing Me Baby," and out-Righteous Brother'ed the Righteous Brothers on "All Strung Out." A child actor and amateur hour winner, Tempo played with the illustrious "Wrecking Crew" on not only his tenor saxophone, but also piano, guitar and drums when necessary. He was Don Costa's favorite sax player and Phil Spector's close pal and musical confidante. A jazz player and devotee since youth, Tempo was signed to Atlantic (home of his '60s hits like "Deep Purple") to play his tenor saxophone in the early 1990s. His two studio albums there, filled with exquisite longing, are the subject of Purveyor of Balladry: The Best of Nino Tempo on Atlantic.
This collection opens with a previously unreleased performance of Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen's 1939 standard "Darn That Dream," taken from Nesuhi Ertegun's memorial service. No doubt Ertegun would have savored the languid reading himself, showcasing Tempo's warm tone and expressive phrasing. Benny Goodman, with whom Tempo sang as a child, accompanied Mildred Bailey on the hit 1940 recording of the song; in a sense, Tempo's treatment serves as a tribute to the legendary bandleader, too. "The best night of my life, musically," he's quoted in Randy Poe's excellent new liner notes. Tempo's love for Ertegun clearly inspired him to one of his finest hours - and also landed him the Atlantic contract.
"Class" is the word for these 13 recordings, and that's epitomized by the personnel. "Darn That Dream" features Ron Carter on bass along with Barry Miles on piano and Buddy Williams on drums. Other illustrious names proliferate among Tempo's musicians and co-producers including Ray Ellis, Mike Stoller, and Ahmet Ertegun. Three tracks have been culled from his 1990 debut, appropriately entitled Tenor Saxophone. (That album opened with a studio version of "Darn That Dream.") "This Masquerade" has been re-edited to place Tempo front and center; the original version included a vocal from Rachele Cappelli. Tempo pays tribute to his old Wrecking Crew pal Leon Russell with this moody, melodic version of Russell's famous song. The artist's pop and R&B roots also shine in an atmospheric and elongated rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's dramatic "Anyone Who Had a Heart," as well as via this set's only vocal track. Roberta Flack joins Nino for a smoky "You Are So Beautiful," with the singer matching Tempo note for note as they improvise and expand the contours of its melody; in fact, thanks to an unfamiliar introductory verse, the song proper as most know it isn't even addressed until over two minutes into the track.
Three years later, Tempo delivered a belated follow-up, Nino. A full nine tracks (out of the album's eleven) have been culled for this release. Three tracks from Nino pay homage to the enchanting music of Brazil. Ary Barroso and S.K. Russell's standard "Brazil" paints an aural portrait of the country thanks to the mellifluous and romantic sounds from Tempo's horn. Nino's sister, April Stevens, shows up on Dori Caymmi and Paolo Cesar Pinheiro's spellbinding, tropical trip down the "Amazon River." Mike Stoller's original composition "Bahia Manhattan" fuses the sensuality of the bossa nova (occasionally recalling Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave") with Stoller's own urbane New York sophistication. Adorned with lush strings, all three tracks are transporting. Stoller also contributed "A Song for Anna," and with Jerry Leiber, "Suzanne (You Can)," with both ballads sensitively interpreted by Tempo in front of a contemporary backdrop.
Nino's own co-written "Call It Love" is a bright, uptempo slice of what might be deemed smooth jazz, but the sound is no less imbued with emotion. "'Round Midnight" and "Stella by Starlight" are both comforting takes on standards of the bebop repertoire, given a cinematic feel thanks to the orchestration surrounding the core rhythm section led by Tempo. Another classic, Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye," makes a fine closer here with its pensive yet beautiful lead.
Purveyor of Balladry makes a strong case for Nino Tempo as a sax man in the grand tradition of Stan Getz or Paul Desmond, bringing impeccable musicality and a strong accessibility to his recordings. Michael Graves has subtly remastered, and the entire package is handsomely designed by Greg Allen as per Omnivore's usual high standards. The notes by Randy Poe are featured in the 16-page color booklet; all that's missing is a complete accounting of Tempo's fellow musicians on these key tracks.
Nino's varied work with April Stevens has been well-represented on CD on numerous anthologies; Purveyor of Balladry is a wonderful complement to those many releases, training a well-deserved spotlight on another side of the musical renaissance man.
- Darn That Dream (Live)
- This Masquerade (Instrumental-Only Version)
- Anyone Who Had a Heart
- Amazon River (feat. April Stevens)
- You Are So Beautiful (feat. Roberta Flack)
- Bahia Manhattan
- Call It Love
- A Theme for Anna
- 'Round Midnight
- Stella by Starlight
- Suzanne (You Can)
Tracks 1 & 2 previously unreleased
Tracks 3 & 6 from Tenor Saxophone, Atlantic 82142, 1990
Tracks 4-5, 7-13 from Nino, Atlantic 82471, 1993