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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | OWL

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Helen Merrill is backed by one of Europe's finest jazz keyboardists, Gordon Beck, on this duo date from 1984. Switching among piano, electric piano, and electric organ, Beck provides sensitive backing for the gifted singer, who is in fine form throughout. The best tracks feature Merrill with the grand piano, including a haunting but beautiful miniature arrangement of Cole Porter's "I Love Paris," which segues immediately into a solo feature for Beck with his own "I Love Paris Too." They repeat the formula somewhat with Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," followed by Beck's "I Got It Good," though the latter piece is an unsatisfying mix of all three instruments overdubbed together with Merrill providing brief backing vocals. "Poor Butterfly" is all but owned by the late Sarah Vaughan, though Merrill's emotional interpretation is well worth hearing. Beck places some down-home piano in support of her swinging take of the old warhorse "Bye Bye Blackbird." With the demise of Owl, this recommended CD will be somewhat challenging to acquire. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1955 | Verve Reissues

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Jazz - Released July 3, 2019 | RevOla

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1989 | Verve Reissues

Though she eventually came to be known as a "singer's singer," Helen Merrill's 1954 debut is an unmitigated success of mainstream jazz. Besides introducing the uniquely talented young singer, the date also featured small-group arrangements by Quincy Jones and marks the introduction of another future star, trumpeter Clifford Brown. Formidable as his playing is, Brown never overshadows Merrill. She is fully up to the challenge on all fronts and enthusiastically tackles uptempo numbers such as "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Falling in Love with Love" with aplomb. A winning stylistic combination of cool jazz and hard bop, Merrill particularly excels on Mel Tormé's "Born to Be Blue," making the sophisticated tune her own as she revels in Tormé's down-and-out lyric. © Richard Mortifoglio /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released February 25, 2019 | RevOla

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Vocal Jazz - Released February 16, 1985 | Mercury Records

This four-LP box set, whose contents have been partly reissued on CD, has all of singer Helen Merrill's output for Mercury; only two selections for the Roost label in 1953 precede these definitive recordings. Merrill, whose warm voice was always both distinctive and flexible, could hold her own with the best jazz musicians of the era. Best known of her recordings are her classic collaborations with Clifford Brown on seven selections arranged by Quincy Jones (including "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Falling in Love With Love"), but almost as significant was a notable album on which she employed the little-known Gil Evans as arranger, a year before he teamed up with Miles Davis for Miles Ahead. Other Mercury dates include work with the Johnny Richards Orchestra, arranger Hal Mooney, flutist Bobby Jaspar, and pianist Bill Evans. Highlights include "Glad to Be Unhappy," "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year," "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home," "Where Flamingos Fly," and "The Things We Did Last Summer," but all 62 selections are well worth hearing. Highly recommended. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 19, 2019 | RevOla

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | OWL

This is an unusual album, for it features the always flexible singer Helen Merrill and keyboardist Gordon Beck on six trios apiece with either soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy or violinist Stephane Grappelli. Most of the selections are standards (exceptions being Merrill's "Music Makers" and Beck's "And Still She Is With Me"), but all of the songs sound quite fresh, partly due to the unusual instrumentation and also partly because of the players' inventiveness. Highlights include "'Round Midnight" and "When Lights Are Low" (both of which include Lacy) and "A Girl In Calico" and "Lady Be Good" with Grappelli. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released February 26, 2011 | BDMUSIC

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1956 | Verve Reissues

One thing that set Helen Merrill apart from other '50s jazz singers was her acutely dramatic vocal style. Her earnest phrasing, elongated notes, and incandescent tone might even strike the contemporary listener as qualities more appropriate for the Broadway stage than a jazz club. On 1955's Dream of You, though, Merrill found reconciliation, sounding both melodramatic and swinging within Gil Evans' darkly spacious, yet economical arrangements. Suitably, torchy ballads are prominent. On the somewhat grandiose side there's "Where Flamingos Fly" and "I'm a Fool to Want You," which find Merrill in a pensive mood amidst a variety of tempo and timbre shifts. More subdued ground is covered on "I've Never Seen" and "He Was Too Good to Me." Briskly swinging numbers like "People Will Say We're in Love," "By Myself," and "You're Lucky to Me" balance the program and feature the demure, yet fluid delivery Merrill favored on fast numbers. What is most impressive on this date is a group of sultry, medium tempo numbers including "Anyplace I Lay My Hat Is Home," "Just a Lucky So and So," and in particular "A New Town Is a Blue Town." The programmatic quality of Merrill's coyly sensual voice and Evans' slightly askew, bubbling reeds and languid rhythm conjure up dramatic, balmy southern scenes á la Tennessee Williams. In the picturesque arrangements one also hears the seeds of Evans' own future collaborations with Miles Davis. Even though her collaborations with Clifford Brown and others are great recordings, this one with Gil Evans shows off more of Merrill's expressive vocal talents, due in no small part to the sympathetic and urbane arrangements. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 2, 2019 | RevOla

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Jazz - Released July 11, 2019 | RevOla

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1994 | Universal Music Division Decca Records France

40 years after recording a classic album with trumpeter Clifford Brown, singer Helen Merrill paid tribute to the late Brownie, who died tragically in 1956. Utilizing on various tracks trumpeters Tom Harrell, Wallace Roney, Roy Hargrove and Lew Soloff, as well as pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Victor Lewis, Merrill performs a variety of tunes, most of which were associated with Brown. There are plenty of unexpected surprises on the date, including passages where the trumpet ensemble performs parts of Brownie's original solos; also noteworthy are Harrell's unaccompanied flugelhorn version of "Joy Spring," Barron's solo piano rendition of "Memories of You" and touching moments like "I'll Be Seeing You," "I Remember Clifford" and "Gone With the Wind." Producer Torrie Zito sometimes adds some atmospheric and effective synthesizer, and in addition to the standards, Zito contributed a new original, "Brownie." Throughout the often emotional date, Helen Merrill is heard in top form, giving plenty of feeling to the lyrics while leaving room for the guest trumpeters. Recommended. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 18, 2019 | RevOla

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1955 | Verve Reissues

Helen Merrill recorded her well-received, self-titled debut with Clifford Brown for the Emarcy label in 1954. Her second album, 1955's HELEN MERRILL WITH STRINGS, was the Chicago-based label's attempt to enhance her commercial appeal with full-string arrangments, shorter songs, and a highly romantic concept. While Merrill ultimately bucked the commercial orientation, WITH STRINGS is an unmitigated artistic success. The strings are tastefully scored, the songs are classics or soon to be ("Anything Goes," "Wait Till You See Him," "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year"), and Merrill's delivery is by turns emotional, haunting, and highly musical. Highlights are "When I Fall In Love," where she outdoes Doris Day at her own romantic game, and the exotic opener, "Lilac Wine," which competes with Eartha Kitt's as the definitive version. © TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1981 | RCA Victor

Though she had been active since the 1940s -- while still a teenager -- vocalist Helen Merrill finally came to prominence in the 1950s through her recordings for EmArcy. By the end of the decade, she was rightfully known as one of the great American jazz singers. She toured Europe and headlined the Comblain la Tour Jazz Festival in 1960, and lived and worked in Italy for a few years. Composer/arranger Piero Umiliani convinced her to record a television program called Moderato Swing. When she agreed, he assembled a top-flight cast of Italian jazzmen -- some of whom were also composers -- to back her. This set compiles the music from that program. Merrill is backed by either a sextet or quartet. The interplay between her and Umiliani and his bands is instinctive. A fingerpopping reading of "Night and Day" features slippery electric guitar from the great Enzo Grillini, and "Everything Happens to Me" is one of the finest readings she ever recorded -- in no small part due to Umiliani's ethereal arrangement that includes his celeste playing. Her performance of "You Don't Know What Love Is" is startling. Umiliani's arrangement encourages the singer to leave all sentiment out of her delivery. She does so and replaces it with a brooding noir-ish sense of longing so intense that it implies menace. Nino Culasso's lyric muted trumpet solo underscores that tension. Umiliani's reputation for finding the poetic in a melody is on full display in "April in Paris," framed by his celeste and Tonino Ferrelli's expressive bassline supporting the sublimated desire in Merrill's vocal. The darkness in her voice had largely gone unnoticed by American producers to that point, but is highlighted here. The last three performances here, "Solitude," "Willow Weep for Me," and "When Your Lover Has Gone," come from out of the blues to wrap themselves around the words and dig deeply into the grain of the emotions they express. This set is appended by Fernando Cajati reading the lyrics in Italian between each song. Anglo listeners might initially find this a distraction, but upon repeated listening will find it adds holistically to the feel of the set. On Parole e Musica, the collaboration between Merrill and Umiliani is nothing short of sublime, and it also gives rise to a question: What might they have achieved had they worked together longer? © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | Lone Hill Jazz

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Contemporary Jazz - Released October 10, 2018 | RevOla

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Vocal Jazz - Released February 25, 2019 | nagel heyer records

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Jazz - Released March 1, 1958 | Verve Reissues

Alternately breathy and atmospheric or bright and dynamic, Helen Merrill often reaches a bit too far on The Nearness of You, though her distinct style and strong personality may be refreshing to vocal fans tired of the standard versions of standards. Leading two separate sextets -- the rather more famous one, with Bill Evans, Bobby Jaspar, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones, appears on only four tracks -- Merrill breezes over a raft of mid-tempo standards, with several detours through high-drama territory. Her powerful voice occasionally gets her into trouble, breaking from breathy to brash and often occupying a rather awkward middle ground. Still, her ebullient tone and playful way with "Bye, Bye Blackbird," "Let Me Love You," and "All of You" is a treat to hear, and flutist Mike Simpson cuts it up behind her as well. Merrill really shines on the darker material, with just a plucked bass to accompany her on "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," and a similarly spare accompaniment on a long, drawn-out tribute to "Summertime" and "I See Your Face Before Me." © John Bush /TiVo