The Four Freshman and Five Trombones

Four Freshman, The

album cover

Harmony So Square It Was Hip

Anything can be hip, anything can be square. Consider, for example, this curiously great document from the Four Freshmen. To one generation, it's nice easy listening. To another, it's a creamed-corn stain on an expensive white linen shirt. One jazzer might think "squaresville," and another might hear these limpid, empathetic vocals as pure quiet sophistication, the gentle and confiding empathy sought by such memorable singers as Chet Baker.

There may never be a cure for rampant hipsterism, but the next time you want to try to tame the arrogant smugness within, put this on and see if you might find something valid in it. There's certainly lots going on: sumptuous vocal blends running the gamut from well-scrubbed unisons to neatly pressed four-part harmonies, conveying tightly drawn and highly specific emotions. On this program of standards and show tunes, the four voices slide and weave, changing the chordal character of the tune as the interior voices resolve. (To hear a particularly agile example, listen to the lively, shape-shifting reharmonization of the oft-neglected "I Remember You.")

This album is one of several the group did with specific themed backing (one CD reissue pairs this with the more blaring Five Trumpets effort). It's the best of them, and one of the great underappreciated records of the transitional period during the middle '50s when pop and rock were on opposite trajectories. Brian Wilson, the songwriter and architect of the Beach Boys' sound, has often acknowledged borrowing ideas for his group's vocal blend from the Freshmen. You don't have to listen closely to pick up that connection, but if you do listen closely, you'll hear dazzlingly choreographed vocals, delivered with a swooning sincerity that seems almost alien in this age of machine-gun brashness. Which, to one way of thinking, might qualify the Frosh as "hip."

Genre: Vocals
Released: 1956, Capitol (Reissued 1998, Collector's Choice)
Key Tracks: "I Remember You," "Angel Eyes," "Speak Low," "Guilty."
Catalog Choice: The Four Freshmen in Person
Next Stop: The Hi-Lo's: And All That Jazz
After That: The Mills Brothers: The Anthology
Book Page: 286

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