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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra - Snowfall
With vocals by Maxine Sullivan, Buddy Hughes and Fran Warren
Recorded 1937-47
LIVING ERA CD AJA 5542 [76.54]



1. Snowfall
2. Loch Lomond
3. Doll Dance {from Hollywood Music Bix Revue}
4. O Sole Mio
5. Hungarian Dance No, 5
6. Träumerei (Dreaming) {from Kinderszenen}
7. Portrait of a Guinea Farm
8. Where or When {from Babes in Arms}
9. Autumn Nocturne
10. Buster's Last Stand
11. There's a Small Hotel {from On Your Toes}
12. Under the Willow Tree
13. Arab Dance {from The Nutcracker}
14. I Get the Blues When It Rains
15. Sunday Kind of Love - Claude Thornhill
16. I Knew You When
17. Early Autumn
18. Paloma (Grey Dove)
19. Anthropology
20. Robbins' Nest
21. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
22. Donna Lee
23. Yardbird Suite
24. Let's Call It a Day {from Strike Me Pink}

Thornhill’s pastel-hued and evocative composition that gives this album its title is an attractive one though it’s betrayed by the limitations of its ambitions. A mini tone poem was perhaps the obvious offshoot of his interest in jazzing the classics, as the numerous examples here show, and yet it took an arranger of embryonic greatness – the young Gil Evans – truly to get to grips with Tchaikovsky et al and then to propel the band in a subtly altered direction. With Thornhill you take your pick; bloated novelty arrangements or innovative mood music? Proto-Bop or flash-in-the-pan luck with arrangers?

However you cut your big band mustard we get six years in the life of the band – up until shortly before Thornhill’s enforced early retirement through ill health. The Schumann is a twee relaxer – all simpering clarinets and muted brass, then a fortissimo trumpet blast to let us know we’re still in the Land of Jazz. Much better is his Portrait of a Guinea Farm, though even here the exotica and spice is put on. His Teddy Wilson inspired piano playing gets an outing on Where or When where he’s joined by – must be – Irving Fazola. Powerhouse trumpeter Conrad Gozzo takes a few brassy outings as do a few vocalists and The Snowflakes, a vocal ensemble for whom the instruction Melt would have been in order.

But above all it’s Gil Evans’ arrangements that stand the test of time. Listen to La Poloma and its colouristic subtlety – so much more advanced, creative and forward thinking than Thornhill’s own sweet-but-anodyne Snowfall. The later tracks are enlivened by Lee Konitz and Red Rodney whose solos are a tonic – try Evans’ arrangement of Yardbird Suite.

Copies are good – apart, funnily enough from a rather swishy Loch Lomond (one of his Big Hits for Maxine Sullivan) – and the notes tend to stress Thornhill’s light music credentials at the expense of the later band’s contemporary feel.

Jonathan Woolf

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