I will begin at an oblique angle. One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied. Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34. I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling. So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.
Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to. When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it. True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.
And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:
Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing. The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments. And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.
When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true. Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice. I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee. It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.
What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material! Heavens!” It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music. And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.
It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances. They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics. I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals. And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh. I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.
The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so. And it’s available in all the usual places and ways. (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word. Oh, save me from such filth! How very naughty. But I digress.) Buy it, I suggest.
May your happiness increase!