Thrift Store Gold – Al Hirt’s Latin In The Horn

al-hirt

 

They say that vinyl is the future of music, but there was a time when vinyl was the only music. These original recordings have now found their way to thrift stores, and that’s where I go to find my gold records. For “work” I listen to, and write about, brand-new artists and to relax, and to educate myself on the history of music, I go thrifting for lost and forgotten masterpieces. As DJ Slack I take these decades-old albums and play them – scratches and all – at my gigs and I mostly focus on lounge music from the 50’s and 60’s.

The sweet spot for me is the ultra-lounge music that was the epitome of un-cool as soon as hippies and disco hit the town, artists like Lawrence Welk, The Living Brass, Lenny Dee, Herb Alpert, Martin Denny and oddball movie soundtracks like Casino Royale and anything from the Ranwood label. 50 years later, this type of music has been mostly forgotten, even for the people that lived it. So now, it’s like people are hearing these timeless jewels for the first time. Honestly, the reaction I have gotten from people has been astounding. Just enough time has passed that this is now strange and bizarre music from a forgotten time and I get baffled people staring at the turntables and asking to see the jackets whenever I break out them out.

One of the factors in the music that I see is the geographic region I am in – north Georgia – and what shows up at the thrift stores are time capsules of people’s lives and the majority of records are from rural, conservative folks. One of the artists that I have become aware of through my forensic thriftology is Al Hirt. I see his albums again and again almost everywhere I look. The reason fo this is that Al Hirt was a huge star in his time. A Grammy-winning trumpeteer and band leader, his records went gold and he appeared on the popular variety television shows of the time hosted by people like Ernie Kovacs. He packed houses and was popular for decades.

Several months ago I came upon a copy of Latin In The Horn, originally released in 1966, and arranged and conducted by Hollywood legend Lalo Schifrin, responsible for sountracks for Enter The Dragon and Dirty Harry. This album is a departure from Al Hirt’s usual style, often called Cotton Candy, and it showcases a very different overall mood and feel. In my personal opinion it is Al Hirt’s best album by far, and just a few days ago I found another copy in excellent condition. I was so happy to find two of these rare jewels that I wanted to document it and encourage other people to take a listen.

A technical master and excellent band leader, what makes Latin In The Horn different and special is the expansive vision of Lalo Shifrin. Perhaps you could say that Al Hirt has a very specific and focused technique whereas Lalo Schifrin has a broader perspective and a longer range of vision. As leader of your own band, you can do anything you want, which can sometimes limit overall songs into being mostly support for the soloist. Putting the two personalities together brought out the best of both here.

Latin In The Horn is an amazing album. It’s worth talking about – literally – 50 years later. Al Hirt is slowed down a little from his usual fast attack and subjected to the pacing of Lalo Schifrin versus having the ability to drive the band as fast as he can play – which is really, really fast. And the album is less about showcasing the trumpet specifically as it is about making a great themed album featuring the trumpet. It’s a smoother mixture, and much less speed-driven than the other Al Hirt albums I have come across. It’s also several years before Lalo Schifrin was to pen his great works, so retrospectivly this album is a unique window on his though process and the development of his style.

The subtleties beneath the surface – courtesy of Lalo Schifrin – are what really define this album. The songs are mysterious, and there’s a definite feeling of unease. The music transports you to a tropical land, but not the bright beaches and cocktail bars, but to lost, lonely paths with darkness falling and danger lurking. There is just enough bending of the time scale and notes that the traditional structure of the songs are eroded and seem in danger of collapsing. It’s like falling into a dream, when the concrete things that make up your logical world become loose and fluid. It’s complex, with deep, heavy movements swelling up while the high notes almost seem to be fleeing and evading the impending, enveloping threat.

The Hirt-Schifrin combination on Latin In The Horn is nothing less than a Lounge Super Group and I’m writing this article in the hopes that people will seek this album out and experience it for themselves. Of course I recommend heading out to your local second-hand shop and starting your own journey of discovery, but vinyl copies of this album are available online at reasonable prices. Latin In The Horn gives you a window through time and what you see are two of the best musical geniuses of their time united in a unique, dark and complex project.

 

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