Whistlers have long been associated with jazz dating back to “Big Noise from Winnetka” by the Bob Crosby band, the work of Toots Thielemans, and the puccolo of Ron McCroby. When you first realize however, that what you are hearing on Joel Brandon’s newest release, Haven’t We All. . . ?
, is Brandon whistling, rather than some synthesized electronic sound, your ears will tell you that it is the most incredibly unique sound you have ever heard. This new Southport release takes the art of jazz whistling to a new level.
Joel Brandon, flautist, composer, vocalist, and master whistler has provided an incredible musical journey that also includes the talents of Willie Pickens, piano; Harrison Bankhead, bass; Kirk Brown, piano; Keith Henderson, Guitar; Morris Jennings, drums; Famoudou Don Moye, percussion, and on three of the eight cuts, Billy Higgins on drums.
The CD opens with the title cut, “Haven’t We All.” This Brandon original also demonstrates his fluid playing and the rhythm section plays with a great groove. Pianist Pickens also contributes a swinging and meaningful jazz solo, and drummer Higgins gets in some great licks of his own on his short feature.
Brandon’s whistle is first featured on cut number two, on a rendition of John Coltrane’s “Countdown”. Brandon produces an ethereal sound demonstrating a virtuoso command over his instrument, not only in terms of tone, range, and pitch control, but also in the inventiveness of his improvised musical ideas. Pianist Brown provides a spare but completely supporting accompaniment to Brandon’s whistle, and also provides some excellent improvised moments.
“Dedication” the third cut on the CD, begins with Brandon giving a verbal dedication to jazz masters of the past as an introduction to the vocal chorus that continues a tribute to the contributions of jazz musicians of yesteryear. Brandon’s singing voice brings to mind the voice of George Benson, and demonstrates a straightforward vocal style with clearly declaimed lyrics.
Brandon’s autobiographical “The Whistler’s Rhyme” is a fun, interesting, and somewhat campy self-description of Brandon’s talents for rhyme and whistling. Although not a particularly deep or profound piece of art, his upbeat and humorous ditty is not devoid of Brandon’s whistling virtuosity and vocal art.
On the fifth cut of the CD, “Seamless,” Brandon returns to the flute. “Seamless,” another original, unfolds over a funky yet swinging groove laid down by the rhythm section demonstrating a command various techniques.
The down tempo ballad, “Lovielee” follows with Brandon again on flute. Brandon’s sweeping, floating sounds are capably backed up with good time and very tasty playing in the rhythm section. Of particular note is the “coloristic” cymbal work applied by drummer Morris Jennings.
The Duke Ellington classic “In A Sentimental Mood” is given the Joel Brandon treatment next in a pared down rendition of the tune that includes only Brandon’s flute and Kirk Brown’s piano. The purity of artistry evidenced in the simplicity of Brandon’s version is not only a testament to his abilities as a musician but also the inherent qualities of Ellington’s composition.
The final cut on this recording “Straight Ahead” is just that, a straight-ahead piece that demonstrates Brandon’s swinging flute playing and the soloing of pianist Willie Pickens. The tune opens with the sound of Famoudo Don Moye’s congas. After the introduction builds an easy-going swinging head featuring Brandon’s flute follows. Pickens’s piano solo demonstrates more than merely competent ability to swing while creating poignant musical statements.
If for no other reason than the novelty of his great jazz whistling, Joel Brandon’s new CD Haven’t We All...? would be a welcome addition to anyone’s jazz collection. Don’t add it however, for only the novelty, add it because it contains some great music.
Personnel: Joel Brandon, flute, whistler, vocals Willie Pickens, piano Harrison Bankhead, bass Billy Higgins, drums Kirk Brown, piano Keith Henderson, guitar Morris Jennings, drums Famoudou Don Moye, percussion