Blues and Ballads
Brad Mehldau Nonesuch Records
The Brad Mehldau Trio’s Blues and Ballads album is their 1st new release since 2012’s Where Do You Start. Featuring Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums, this recording similarly comprises interpretations of songs by other composers, this time with the focus on blues and ballads implied by the album’s title. The opening and closing tracks Since I Fell For You and My Valentine get down and dirty in the bluesiest style. They are prime examples of what a superb jazz pianist like Mehldau can produce in the 4/5 rhythm style with two sidemen that seem to know exactly when and when not to play and contribute. Cole Porter’s I Concentrate on You receives a classy Latin treatment and an inspired improvisational extension. It might just be the star piece of the whole album and was certainly the track I immediately engaged with amongst a plentitude of other stylish musical treatments. Charlie Parker’s Cheryl is handled extremely well in the blues style but it’s the bands inventive interpretations of Maschwitz and Strachey’s These Foolish Things and Lennon and McCartney’s And I Love Her, with their peerless technique and lavish extensions, that contribute largely to the album’s star status. Think rainy days, late nights, hanging out and this intimate acoustic jazz album immediately provides the elixir for musical satisfaction.
– Barry O’Sullivan
It is only appropriate that Edward Hopper’s famous painting Gas hanging in the Museum of Modern Art In New York City graces the cover for this is not only one of the nest of Ken Peplowski’s albums but also a work of art. But what is amazing is that this 2012 session was recorded in three hours on two- track using a historic 1954 BBC microphone with the musicians, pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Martin Wind, drummer Matt Wilson and Peplowski, arranged in the studio as they would in a jazz club. Peplowski may have described it as a “warts and all” effort but the level of musicianship is extraordinary, not surprising in this reunion of his New York working group. Peplowski described most of the number of “heartbreakers”; their subdued mood showing the beautiful tone of his clarinet: the duets with Wind’s bass on Lennon and McCartney’s For No One and Harry Nillson’s Without Her. Rosenthal proves an accomplished accompanist on the contemplative Romanza from one of the clarinet sonatas by 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc, another highlight. But there are many others as Peplowski unfolds his tenor saxophone on the best instrumental version of the title track I have heard (nothing will equal Tony Bennett’s version with the great Bill Evans) and the tender treatment of Brian Wilson’s Caroline. In contrast he swings easily through Artie Shaw’s Moon Ray and blows lustily on Duke Ellington’s classic 1942 blues Main Stem. Not to be missed.
– Kevin Jones
A Beautiful Friendship
Alexis Cole and Bucky Pizzarelli
Venus VHCD 1154
I have been impressed with Alexis Cole since 1st hearing the smooth, velvet vocals of this refreshing stylist on the 2013 release Close Your Eyes on the Japanese Venus label. Her latest on the label recorded the following year, which pairs her with the octogenarian guitar master Bucky Pizzarelli, is a smorgasbord of delights from The Great American Songbook. Cole is not one to over decorate lyrics and her unforced, and at times sophisticated, delivery allows the listener to savour the results. She swings naturally and some of the tracks have the rhythmic wow of the Hot Club of France, especially when Pizzarelli’s timeless style is coupled with Frank Vignola who takes some Django- inspired solos, most notably on East Of The Sun, and the bass of Nicki Parrott. This is just one of several guitar duo highlights. There is a delightful vocal duet by Cole and Parrott on Blue Moon and Moonglow, the latter’s hushed style a pleasant contrast to the more upbeat Cole. Anat Cohen’s clarinet is featured on four tracks: she plays a dazzling solo on the up tempo Stompin’ At The Savoy and wows easily through Just Friends. After claiming that Warren Vache was the best thing to happen to the jazz cornet since Ruby Braff, it was satisfying to hear his prowess on the trumpet. He brightens If I Were A Bell but is even better on the Ellington classic Mood Indigo where his melancholy muted interludes are a perfect foil to Cole’s enchanting rendition of the lyric.