Gene Ess: A Thousand Summers (2012)
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In a rare departure for Gene Ess, who has always favored original music and instrumentals, the veteran jazz guitarist has partnered with acclaimed vocalist and bassist Nicki Parrott for A Thousand Summers, a refined album of familiar jazz standards and love songs. When Ess began developing the project, he naturally focused on new material. One day he performed with a singer at New York's renowned Blue Note jazz club. As he so aptly puts it, the experience "seemed to have triggered something in my soul... I started to hear a whole new sound." That new sound, in this case, is Parrott's sensuous voice delivering the lyrics of beautiful old love songs to tasteful light instrumentals built around the guitar.
Ess, pianist James Weidman, drummer Gene Jackson and bassist Thomson Kneeland provide their share of solo moments while supporting Parrott. As Ess himself affirms, old habits are hard to break; though this disc may be categorized as a vocals project, Ess and his quartet provide the meat of the music. The Rodgers and Hart standard, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," opens the record with a few light chords from Weidman, setting up Parrott's introduction and the beginning of her lyrical statement. Eventually, she turns it over to the guitarist and the rest of the band for several minutes of instrumental music, a template that is followed throughout the recording.
Kneeland's arrangement of Cole Porter's "So in Love" is certainly one of the feature highlights, containing excellent riffs from the leader along with bright moments from the pianist. The Mancini/Mercer classic, "Charade," is almost unrecognizable at first, but after Parrott's entrance the melody comes into play ever so slightly. "East of the Sun" stays true to course, developing quite nicely on the wings of Ess' lofty chord play. Though the great Frank Sinatra made "All or Nothing at All" one of his most memorable tunes, Parrott and Ess perform it masterfully here, giving the piece the respect it is due.
Weidman takes the spot light with a dazzling solo performance on the Thelonious Monk chart, "Looking Back (Reflections)," with support from Kneeland's strong bass line and the singer's warm approach to the music. "The Old Country," "Goodbye" and Michel Legrand's immortal "I Will Wait for You" round out A Thousand Summers, completing the guitarist's first foray into the realm of jazz standards and vocals. After this delightful experience, Ess may well include something similar in future projects.
Track Listing: I Didn't Know What Time It Was; One Day I'll Fly Away; So in Love; The Old Country; Charade; East of the Sun; Looking Back (Reflections); All or Nothing at All; Goodbye; I Will Wait for You.
Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; James Weidman: piano; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Gene Jackson: drums; Nicki Parrott: vocals.
Record Label: SIMP Records
Style: Modern Jazz