Mancini’s work gets an update on ‘Gunn’
The television detective series “Peter Gunn,” which ran from 1958-61, incorporated West Coast jazz not only as background music but also as an integral part of the setting. (Mother’s, Gunn’s hangout, often employed a jazz combo that could be seen and heard in the background.) Henry Mancini, who went on to compose hit songs such as “Moon River,” Days of Wine and Roses” and “The Pink Panther,” left a legacy of West Coast Cool with his scores and recordings from the series. Steven Richman, who directs the 22-piece Harmonie Ensemble/New York, has revived Mancini’s mood-setting detective jazz with “Henry Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn.”
This is not a reconstruction of Mancini’s arrangements. It’s largely faithful to the originals, but, of course, the soloists differ and there is no attempt to mimic Mancini’s soloists. With Harmonie Ensemble players such as saxophonists Lew Tabackin and Ronnie Cuber, trumpeter Lou Soloff, trombonist John Fedchock, pianist Lincoln Mayorga, vibes player Christos Rafalides and guitarist Bob Mann, the solo department is in top-notch shape. Highlights of the album include “Dreamsville,” with French horns mixed coolly among the other brass; “The Brothers Go to Mother’s,” with vibes and block-chorded piano locked in harmony; “Peter Gunn Theme,” with its driving, locomotive-like rhythm and flaring brass section; and “Spook,” a rock ’n’ roll blues with Tabackin soloing in his inimitable, robust way.
Whether listening to the original Peter Gunn albums or the Harmonie Ensemble’s versions, you’ll get a new appreciation for how Mancini added color to the brass section with the use of French horns and flutes; how he voiced vibes, piano and guitar for a palette of sleek harmony and cool melodicism; and how he gives the soloists a mood or an atmospheric setting for improvisation.
Correspondent Owen Cordle