Up until he suffered a stroke at age 70 in 1996, singer Mel Tormé continued to improve with age and seemed to have inexhaustible energy. This four-CD set from Rhino does a fine job of covering Tormé's pre-Concord output, although the omission of his Concord work of 1986-1995 is unfortunate for that catalog contains many of Tormé's most exciting recordings. In general, the earlier selections (some of which were with his vocal group the Mel-Tones
) feature Tormé on hip (for the period) swing tunes and ballads. By the time he cut the sessions included on this set from 1954, the singer was quite mature and sounding very much like himself. The small group dates of the 1950s are generally much more rewarding than some of the slower numbers in which Tormé is accompanied by string orchestras and the 1956-1960 collaborations with the Marty Paich Dek-tette
are classic. But once the 1960s hit, Tormé's career (at least on records) started to quickly decline. Although disc four (which covers 1962-1985) does its best to focus on Tormé's better recordings of the period, a few of the tracks (such as "Strangers in the Night," "A Day in the Life of Bonnie and Clyde," and "Yesterday When I Was Young") are pretty sappy. Things greatly improve once the singer reaches the year 1975 and there are enough high points throughout the set to justify its purchase by Tormé's many fans. Three previously unreleased selections (best is "Walkin' Shoes" with Shorty Rogers
in 1962) are a plus and the colorful 84-page booklet is quite definitive.