by Andrew Clevenger and Lissa Townsend Rodgers
"Pure Imagination" (Impulse!)
music of the Great White Way has been mined so often by jazz musicians that
albums of Broadway standards are often dismissed as throwaway projects,
something an artist does to fill out a contract or to stretch for that crossover
payoff. Such albums, conventional wisdom tells us, find bored musicians
thumping out tired material. After all, people stopped writing good musicals
25 years ago--oh, c'mon, does anyone really want to hear jazz versions of
"Miss Saigon," "Les Miz," or "Rent?"--and some argue that explorations of
songs written a generation or two ago based on traditional chord changes
no longer lead to interesting music. To these skeptics, I offer pianist
Eric Reed's "Pure Imagination"
as an ardent rebuttal.
Reed is blessed with a prodigious technique, an easy sense of swing,
and the dazzling ability to express more than one musical idea at a time.
His chord voicing is colorful without becoming muddy, and his smooth, melodic
right-hand runs recall the work of Oscar Peterson and Red Garland. Like
these predecessors, Reed thrives in a trio setting, with bassist Reginald
Veal and drummer Gregory Hutchinson sparkling alongside the leader. The
combo delves with relish into the fertile ground of Rodgers and Hammerstein
("Hello, Young Lovers," "You'll Never Walk Alone") and the Gershwins ("I
Got Rhythm," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," and the "Porgy and Bess" showstopper
"My Man's Gone Now/Gone, Gone, Gone"). The results are never boring, always
enlightening, and frequently spectacular.
But Reed is not interested in simply revisiting old war-horses.
Under his hands, "42nd Street" becomes an up-tempo romp, while Bernstein
and Sondheim's "Maria" includes a quote from (surprise!) the theme song
to "The Simpsons." I have always hated Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns"--even
when Sinatra sings it--but Reed strips away the sappy melancholy to reveal
the playful core of the song, sounding positively frisky at times.
"Pure Imagination" is affectionately conceived, wonderfully performed,
and immaculately recorded. Producer Tommy LiPuma, whose collaborations
with Diana Krall have produced similarly pleasing results, has beautifully
preserved Reed's crisp, clear attack, and the balance is exquisite, with
all three musicians' voices coming through distinctly throughout.--Andrew
Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars
"Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars" (HMG/Hightone Records)
Why have women never
done rockabilly? One would think the elaborate hair, the posturing, and
the penchant for pink clothing would offer them a fair shake, if not
dominance. But rockabilly chicks, while often seen, are never heard.
Stepping into the gap is Kim Lenz
and Her Jaguars. Lenz is a rodeo queen's redheaded daughter who favors
country n’ western crinolines and dice earrings and sports a perpetual
Elvis lip curl. This girl is not kidding; Lenz wrote every one of the
songs (‘cept the two covers) all by her lonesome, and she’s got a solid
ear for an old-style hook. The Jaguars are a classic lead guitar, standup bass,
and drums combo (Kim plays rhythm guitar) and every guy wears a pompadour
that wouldn’t survive most highway underpasses.
The album cracks open with "Saturday Jump," a rewrite of "Rock Around
the Clock" with a Duane Eddy guitar solo and Lenz whooping "I'm gonna
rock n' roll 'til I rip my dress!" Indeed, all the tunes are about men
and drinking and going out dancing. The lady has the hiccup-and-growl delivery
down, and is unafraid to either go down n’ dirty gutbucket (in "Dang,
That’s Good Stuff") or Swiss-Miss sweet (in the Pasty Cline-esque "Thinkin’
About You"). Her interplay with lead guitarist Mike Lester is particularly
good, his mean twang responds to her singing like another voice.
The strict outlines of the rockabilly genre can lead to sameness, and
while there is a bit of that here, Lenz manages to shake things
up somewhat. "The Swing" is a bluesy slow drag, while "Havin' a Ball"
employs a Latin-tinted shuffle in the classic tradition of listing all
the dances you and your baby can do: waltz, slide, stroll, cha-cha, jitterbug,
bunny hop, rhumba, samba--these people are so old-school they don't even
do the twist or the mashed potato. The live-in-studio recording also keeps
the sound fresh; you decide what holds your attention without following
some producer's pre-designated path, and you’re free to find something
new with each listen. Is there anything on this album that couldn’t have been
done in 1959? No. So what? Shut up, start dancing, and pass that bottle
over here.--Lissa Townsend Rodgers
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