Why oh why did Betty Roché not record more prolifically in her lifetime? This truly excellent selection of albums dating from 1955 through 1961 hints at what a marvellous talent she was. Born in Washington in 1920, Roché scored early success in her twenties as part of the Savoy Sultans in 1941-1942, plus enjoyed two separate tenures with the Duke Ellington orchestra in 1943. However, a recording strike at the time kept all bands off record and thus we have nothing to judge her performances of that specific period with.
Betty Roché began her solo recording career on the outstanding independent Bethlehem label, the vinyl album of which is much sought after among collectors, but was briefly re-issued in that format in Europe during the 1990s. A classic set of standards, it features some top name musicians including Conte Candoli on trumpet and Eddie Costa on vibes. This writer warmed immediately to the stunning take on, ‘In a mellow tone’. here treated at a slightly different pace which works beautifully, and at siginficantly more vibrant tempo. Other numbers of note include a reworking of, ‘Route 66’, which Nat King Cole had immortalised, while her collaboration with the Duke is remembered on a creditable interpretation of, ‘Take the ‘A’ train’.
Two early 1960s albums on the Prestige label (7000 series for those in the know) capture Roché in scintillating form and accompanied by the cream of jazz musicians from that era. The first of these, ‘Singin’ and Swingin’ date from 1960 and features a stunning line-up of Jack McDuff on hammond organ, Bill Jennings on guitar and Roy Haynes on drums. A percussive rendition of, ‘Billie’s bounce’, stands out along with an inventive take on, ‘A foggy day’, a song that Billie Holiday made her own. The second, ‘Lightly and politely’, repeats the standards format, with the welcome addition of guitarist Wally Richardson, who would go on to later record a cult psychedelic jazz album of some standing among acid jazz fans. Of the tasty selections, ‘Polka dots and moonbeams’, is a long time favourite of vocalists and Roché adds her own personal touch to the standard. Ellington’s songbook is further explored with, ‘I got it bad (and that ain’t good)’ impressing, as does Gerry Mulligan’s, ‘Someone to watch over me’.
Rounding off matters on the second CD is a separate album showcasing the vocal talents of Marilyn Moore, accompanied by the Don Abney Orchestra, with the leader doubling up on piano. Quite an array of talented instrumentalists includes Al Cohn on bass and tenor clarinet, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Milton Hinton on the bass and Osie Johnson on drums. The great American songbook is once again the fertile terrain for fresh readings and of these, Duke Ellington’s, ‘I’m just a lucky so and so’ and, ‘You’re driving me crazy’, stand out among what is in general a strong set. As a bonus on the second CD, Gershwin’s evergreen, ‘Summertime’, the most interpreted song of all the standard repertoire, is heard in three separate versions. As ever with Avid re-issues, value for money timing on this budget price series, with the full original back cover details are squeezed in and the original notes are crammed with discographical details.