FOR GENTLE PEOPLE
Steve Allen and the Gentle Players
featuring Gabor Szabo and Hal Blaine
Probably Los Angeles, California: probably mid-1967
Steve Allen (p,harpsichord); Hal Blaine (perc) plus unidentified g, b, per, d, vib, marimba, organ, strings, vcl.
Steve Allen (p,harpsichord); Gabor Szabo (g); Hal Blaine (perc) plus unidentified g, b, per, d, vib, marimba, organ, strings, vcl.
Steve Allen (p,harpsichord); Gabor Szabo (g); Hal Blaine (per) + (prob. Jimmy Stewart (g) and Louis Kabok (b)); plus unidentified g, b, per, d,vib, marimba, organ, strings,vcl.
Here, producer Bob Thiele concocted, perhaps, the least successful of his musical alliances. Thiele's inspired pairings already included Ellington with Armstrong and Ellington with Coltrane. He also arranged (around the same time) for Johnny Hodges to record with Lawrence Welk and would soon, more successfully, unite Allen with arranger Oliver Nelson. But Allen's cocktail piano pop style stirred with Gabor Szabo's edgier "in" sound seems like a miscalculation even in theory. Commercial intentions were no doubt considered, especially given many of the titles present and the brief running time of each.
SONGS FOR GENTLE PEOPLE fails, primarily, because Thiele shows his hand. There are at least two recordings here -- a partially complete Steve Allen album and several outstanding Szabo leftovers. Thiele has the guitarist drop in some doodles here and there over a series of Allen's 'summer of love' recordings ("Here Comes Sgt. Pepper," "So Nice," "San Francisco," "Something Stupid," "Groovin'" and "59th Street Bridge"). Despite pedestrian arrangements and Allen's often cloying harpsichord, the guitarist seems game and shows how economically he can embellish a theme. As Szabo's jagged sound waxes melodic, it becomes much missed when absent from such forgettable themes as "Here Comes Sgt. Pepper," " Something Stupid," and "Green."
Likewise, Allen seems dubbed on top of Szabo's three utterly distinctive -- and worthwhile -- originals and, as a result, seems reduced to merely comping. At such stylistic odds with the rest of the material, these songs undoubtedly employ an alternative rhythm section (featuring Jimmy Stewart). They certainly engage the listener in the way they open spaces for improvisation and hints of interaction lacking elsewhere on the record. "Fox" is an infectious melody built on a rhythmic electric-bass ostinato. Allen surprises with a riveting harpsichord solo (suspended on well-used block chords). Szabo then spins a rousing, rolling cadenza into one of his hypnotic frenzies. (Allen added lyrics to this song, which produced a vocal version titled "Are You There" on Szabo's WIND, SKY AND DIAMONDS album.). "Flowers and Love," though merely a vamp, is significant not only in spotlighting Gabor's first recorded use of feedback, but Jimmy Stewart's introduction provides what became the foundation for Szabo's future presentations of his significant composition, "Mizrab." The 12-bar blues of "Flower Revolution" (Szabo probably had little to do with the "flower power" theme of these titles) lets the guitarist just have a good time and play. Even at tempos like this, Szabo's melodicism is apparent. His playing has a singing, almost story-like quality to it which becomes evident upon repeated listens. Allen's support on piano is more aggressive and engaging here; yet his squeaky-clean approach is a bit forced.
A multitude of misjudgments will eradicate SONGS FOR GENTLE PEOPLE from ever achieving any sort of acknowledgment (not even producer Bob Thiele remembered it in 1995). While both Steve Allen and Gabor Szabo have shown, elsewhere, talents history may endure, neither is considered significant enough in the final analysis to rate the resurrection of such doomed material. As a result, rewarding Szabo performances like "Fox," "Flowers and Love" and "Flower Revolution" endure a fate that keeps them unheard by many of Szabo's admirers.