Nino Tempo: Purveyor of Balladry: The Best Of Nino Tempo On Atlantic (Omnivore)

Jazz saxophonist Nino Tempo has had a long and varied career. As a child he was a moderately successful actor and he quickly discovered his talents on saxophone, leading him to a  career as a side man with many notable musicians.  His most successful work came as collaborator with his sister, vocalist April Stevens. In the early 1960s, they had numerous hits, most notably with the 1963 offering,, “Deep Purple.” When not performing with his sister, Tempo would work as a studio musician on his own or with the famed Los Angeles group The Wrecking Crew, while throughout the following decade, he fronted his own jazz band, the Fifth Avenue Sax. Surprisingly, he never really established himself as a solo act, until a chance encounter in the late 1980s led him to Atlantic records. Purveyor of Balladry: The Best Of Nino Tempo On Atlantic compiles the cream of the crop from his two studio albums for the label.

in 1989, Tempo was invited to perform add an all-star gala tribute to the recently departed Nesuhi Ertegun, a friend who happened to have been one of the mastermind behind the Atlantic Records’  jazz department.  That night, he chose to perform a moving solo version of jazz standard “Darn That Dream,” a recording of which kicks off this compilation. Ertegun’s younger brother Ahmet was so moved by performance that he offered  Tempo a record deal the following day. The deal would result in three albums over the next five years, 1990s Tenor Saxophone, 1993s Nino, and a live album, 1995s Live at Cicada.  (This collection focuses solely on his studio albums; thus, the live album is not represented here.)

If there is one word to describe the music on Purveyor of Balladry, it is cool. The thirteen tracks found here offer gentle, mellow, light fare, bordering on easy listening. That’s not a complaint; Tempo is extremely masterful at setting the mood, and his takes on such classics as “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “Stella By Starlight” retain all of the lyrical magic in a strictly instrumental form. Roberta Flackjoins him on ”You Are So Beautiful,” and their take is so ethereal, one might not recognize the pop classic on first listen. Furthermore, ballads such as “Brazil” and “’Round Midnight” delight with romantic sensuality.

Surprisingly, Tempo has yet to release a new studio album since 1993. That’s something of a shame, as he is a terribly underrated musician and a master of performing cool, easy on the ears jazz. While it’s unlikely we may see a new album anytime soon, Purveyor of Balladry: The Best Of Nino Tempo On Atlantic is a fine collection that serves that purpose quite well.

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