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Bachelor pad kitsch

The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
By Paul Desmond

RCA Victor: 1997

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This review first appeared in the December 13, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

Much as with Herb Alpert and Stan Getz, Paul Desmond spent the early '60s putting out bachelor pad albums – what was packaged to men of the time as smart and sophisticated and guaranteed to attract the chicks but which in retrospect just seems dumb, kind of like wearing Playboy bunny cuff links. The album covers tended to feature a sultry, scantifly clad young woman on her back, just waiting for her hipster man to put the right music on the hi-fi, profer a vodka martini and seduce her with fancy talk of Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.

It was music for cocktailers who found Sinatra and Basie too heavy, who thought Dean Martin wasn't quite mellow enough, who were too hip for Ray Conniff – but just barely. In other words, this was the soundtrack for folks who wanted their apartment to look like the set of "That Girl" and who basically thought "jazz" was an accessory you bought in the home furnishing department at Sears.

Thank God that nightmare is over. Although, should you miss it or, like Henry Kissinger, actually remember it fondly, a new boxed set of Desmond will take you right back.

The five LPs reissued in CD format on "The Complete Paul Desmond RCA Victor Recordings Featuring Jim Hall" are like a time capsule from 35 years ago: mostly inconsequential music, cover art that's a scream.

To be fair, in many ways Desmond was closer to Getz than Alpert in having a serious jazz side that got caught up in a silly fad, a fad soon swept away by lava lamps and bell-bottom jeans. Desmond was a decent alto saxophonist capable of writing intricate, interesting songs that might have proven to be more worthwhile if given a fair chance. And Jim Hall, featured sideman throughout, is an outstanding jazz guitarist with a reputation alongside that of players such as Joe Pass and Barney Kessell.

But unless you actually think Hugh Hefner is anything more than a curiosity, you won't find much on this set either.