LOOKS LIKE 1990 is going to be the year of Shirley Horn: With all the activity, the world at large will finally hear the news about Washington's secret jazz treasure. Horn just finished the sessions for a forthcoming Verve album with stellar guests Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Stan Getz and Toots Thielemans; she has a role in the upcoming movie "Tune in Tomorrow"; she's flying back and forth in a flurry of international concert dates. And now comes a chance to hear where it all started, as Mercury has reissued a single CD with Horn's fine 1963 albums "Loads of Love" and "Shirley Horn With Horns."
As she sings on "Loads of Love," they're better the second time around.
Today, of course, Horn accompanies herself on piano with her clairvoyant bass player and drummer, but it's great fun to hear that pearly voice couched in these velvety orchestral settings. "Loads of Love" gets spare, sophisticated settings by producer John Levy, featuring ace sidemen Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell and Milt Hinton, and a serene shimmer of strings. Quincy Jones oversaw the relatively lavish "Shirley Horn With Horns," which finds her more playful and relaxed as she assays a dozen standards and show tunes, all recreated in her own image. Essential to the success of this package are the extraordinarily candid liner notes by Horn's friend and manager Joel Siegel, who sat down with the singer as she listened with a critical ear to her early efforts.
The vocal similarities to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and her idol Peggy Lee are evident in these early renditions, but at 27, Horn was a fully formed artist. She already had the voice of experience -- all she needed was time. In fact, Horn's hushed, whispered-in-your-ear boudoir tone was at times too intense for the record company. For instance, Mercury execs insisted she do "Do It Again" again -- and at a faster tempo, to dispel some of the track's insinuating erotic haze. Several of these songs remain in her act today -- but longer, of course, and much, much more languorous.