Cd Set Offers Classically First-Rate Mancini

The first LP record I ever bought some 35 years ago, plucked from a bin at a Radio Shack for $2.95 - was “The Music From Peter Gunn.”

Never mind that the sole phonograph in our home was a frail RCA number that played only 45s. The neighbors upstairs, Lennie and Sally, had a tabletop record player that would accommodate a 12-inch platter of vinyl, and they usually relented to my daily pleas to “borrow” it.

How I loved the “Peter Gunn” theme, with its locomotive guitar-and-piano-driven riff. And “Fallout,” the way the mighty brass “decayed” at the big finish. And there was “Dreamsville,” and Shelly Manne’s exquisite drum work; Manne was only one of the terrific session men Henry Mancini loved to employ (and one of the musicians who loved Mancini) throughout his career.

So there are decades of bias - and no apologies - behind this review of Mancini’s “The Days of Wine and Roses,” a three-CD boxed set.

The catalog of Mancini’s work is one of those compendiums that, just on paper, could bowl over the casual listener, and you don’t need to know that he was nominated for 70 Grammys and won 20, plus four Oscars. Disregard “Peter Gunn” and “Mr. Lucky” and “Moon River,” “The Second Time Around” and “The Pink Panther Theme” and “Charade,” and there remains a bunch of remarkable melodies.

“We’ve Loved Before,” a theme composed for “Arabesque” in 1966, was not a chart-buster, nor was the haunting main title music for Ralph Nelson’s 1964 gem starring Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason, “Soldier in the Rain.” Yet this is all quality stuff.

With well over three hours of music available on this set, my CD player has been programmed to skip some of the more gooey ballads - the chorus singing “Dear Heart” isn’t among the best of Henry Mancini. Yet there’s always room for “Moon River,” one of the many fruits of Mancini’s long relationship with filmmaker Blake Edwards.

Gene Lees, who co-authored an autobiography with Mancini, writes an entertaining short-form bio packaged with the discs.

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