These albums by pianist/composer/singer Walt Harper aren"t new – Be My Guest was recorded in 1991, Gee Baby five years later – but they warrant an appraisal for at least two reasons: (1) good music, especially swinging jazz, is timeless; and (2) owing to the deplorable nature of the music business, Harper still has copies of each album available.
A third reason, at least with respect to Be My Guest, is that Harper's ensemble is strengthened by the presence of two legendary jazz artists who have since passed away, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and bassist Ray Brown. Like Harper, they were nurtured in Pittsburgh's close-knit jazz community and came home to lend their talents to a friend's enterprise and help give his album star power.
Bassist John Clayton, well-known on the West Coast as co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, produced Gee Baby, wrote three of its ten selections and arranged all of them. That album was recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood with a stellar complement of first-call West Coast musicians including drummer Jeff Hamilton, saxophonists Pete Christlieb, Rickey Woodard and Jeff Clayton, trombonists Andy Martin and George Bohannon and trumpeter Conte Candoli with Brown returning as bassist.
Harper's a pretty good writer too, and Be My Guest opens with two of his four attractive compositions, "Nemwood" and "An Island Cliff." "Nemwood," a brisk Basie-style swinger, features angular solos by Turrentine, Harper and Brown. The mood is more relaxed on "Cliff," as it is on Antonio Carlo Jobim's sunny bossa, "O" Morro" (Once I Loved), with Harper's piano setting the pace on both. Harper, whose unassuming voice can best be described as likable, exercises the pipes on "Teach Me Tonight," as he does on "Rio de Janeiro Blue."
His third composition, the frisky "On Your Toes," which showcases Brown's resonant bass and Turrentine's supple tenor, follows Jimmy Smith's funky "I"ll Drink to That" and precedes Barry Mann's ballad "There's No Other Way." Harper plays the Yamaha X-7 synthesizer on "Rio de Janeiro Blue," which leads to guitarist Eric Johnson's showcase, the Gershwins' sultry "Summertime," and the blues-centered finale, Harper's "Just a Taste," featuring down-home solos by Turrentine, Johnson and Harper.
Gee Baby settles into a buoyant groove with Clayton's "Conversations" and & quot;Parking Lot Blues," which are sandwiched around the Andy Razaf/Don Redman title selection, on which Harper sings, as he does on "Taking a Chance on Love," "Until You Come Back to Me& quot; and Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being in Love." Harper's amiable piano is front and center on & quot;Wild Is the Wind" and "Thou Swell," and the ensemble rounds out the good-natured session with Clayton's bass-driven "Sting Ray" and Dizzy Gillespie's boppish "Theme." Candoli is in typically splendid form throughout, as are Christlieb, Martin, Woodard and Jeff Clayton, while the rhythm section, with Brown and Hamilton in charge, is beyond reproach.
Even though neither of these albums was recorded yesterday, both sound as if they could have been. Good music is never out of style, and these bright recordings from some years ago give one a chance to appreciate once more the exceptional artistry of a trio of superlative musicians who are no longer with us – bassist Ray Brown, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and trumpeter Conte Candoli.
Contact: Walt Harper Productions, P.O. Box 5280, Pittsburgh, PA 15208. Phone 412-361- 7417; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org