"Stereo À La Carte, Vol. 1"
Decca Phase 4 S-16800-P, stereo, German import, 1968
This record, the first installment in a series of no fewer than six volumes, is a Decca/London Phase 4 Stereo sampler from 1968. Like many of the other stereo samplers from the late ’50s and ’60s, this series compiles recordings from a variety of the label’s studio albums (with the Phase 4 name) onto one heavily stereo-ized piece of wax. As many of you could well imagine, and which is also generally typical in the world of vintage stereo samplers, this LP is comprised great, great music — 100-percent. Indeed, "Stereo A La Carte" makes for an incredibly captivating journey through the late sixties Phase 4 catalogue. In my humble opinion, it also delivers a refreshing relief from the American Easy Listening of the same epoch (think Ray Conniff and all those sugary “Now Sounds,” *sigh*).
A predominant feature of "Stereo A La Carte" is that its selection has a rather worldly and sophisticated demeanor. It’s also complex and quirky, and includes tinges of smooth, spaced-out futurism. Taken in as whole, you would probably notice that it covers a lot of territory — not only musically, but also regionally as well. You’ll hear a little bit of Swing, a little bit of Big Band, a show tune here or there, and a variety of other genres sprinkled into the mix. Listening through, you will also hear Spanish (Stanley Black’s Sevillanas), French (Maurice Larcange’s C’est si bon), Hawaiian (Frank Chacksfield’s Sweet Leilani), and New Orleans music (Frank Chacksfield’s Jambalaya), with other locales represented as well. Yeah, this line-up is very diverse. In fact, I might go so far as to say it is a veritable Jet Setter’s acid trip.
Endless Groove did a really good overview of the series’ history and discography, and if you don’t know much about it, or you want to get a very in-depth perspective, I’d direct you there. In my stacks, I’ve managed to amass a decent amount of these records and I like what they brought to the world of lounge music back in the day. They were overall a bit more classical and orchestral, but I like them nonetheless.
Something else that stands out to me about Phase 4 in general, but this record more specifically, is a rather meticulous standard of quality. They had highly skilled engineers working on these records, and, put simply, you can hear it. The stereophonic mixing job sounds and feels very comfortable, with a good separation of the channels. Mixing aside, the equalization, too, works wonderfully, with the highs, lows, and mids in a good harmony. In short, it’s an audiophile’s dream (and I know because I’m one myself).
This is a record that vintage stereo sound and lounge music enthusiasts should give a good thorough chance. It could be a little difficult to track down, but I believe you’d be rewarded if you find it.
Frank Chacksfield - "Sweet Leilani":
Stanley Black - "Zorba's Dance":