Brilliance can be a blessing or a curse. Some musicians make excellence seem so easy that hardly anyone is surprised by another superlative performance, simply accepting it as a matter of course. As Exhibit A, there’s trumpeter Bobby Shew, who has been around for years, paid his dues in groups both large and small, has a lovely sound, remarkable technique, and seems incapable of fashioning a less-than-rewarding musical experience. In other words, he’s good, so good that his artistry is more often taken for granted than appreciated.
Chances are you won’t be reading Shew’s name in any of the annual jazz “popularity polls,” but it’s equally true that you’ll seldom hear the trumpet (or flugelhorn) played with greater command or intelligence than it is on I Can’t Say No or any of his other recent albums. Having performed with Kjell Öhman on the Sandviken Big Band’s 30th anniversary album (FLC 167), Bobby was eager to record again with the Swedish organ / piano master, this time in a small-group setting.
Öhman chose the compatible sidemen (bassist Hans Beckenroth, drummer Joakim Ekberg) and the quartet entered the studio last June 30. The result of their collaboration is a marvelous album on which Shew and Öhman are in typically impressive form while Beckenroth and Ekberg make sure there are no lapses down in the boiler room.
Although trumpet and organ are paired on half of the eight selections, Shew varies the makeup by playing flugel on Harold Arlen’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and Ivan Lins’ sensuous “Love Dance,” muted trumpet on his charming tribute to Bobby Hackett, “Providence,” while Öhman moves from Hammond to piano on “Paper Moon,” “Providence” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The quartet opens with Wes Montgomery’s funky “West Coast Blues” and also gets down on Shew’s equally greasy “I Can’t Say No.” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” taken at an agreeably bright tempo, underlines imposing solos by Shew and Öhman, as does the slower-paced finale, Ann Ronnell’s “Willow Weep for Me,” whose bluesy lineage is prominently showcased. Beckenroth solos first on “Paper Moon” and adds weighty comments on “I Can’t Say No” and “Skylark.”
Shew’s placid “Providence” evokes memories of the standard “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me,” but as songs often remind me of others, one shouldn’t place too much stock in that observation. Of far greater import is the opinion that Shew, Öhman and their companions have produced a wholly commendable album of post-bop jazz with enough character and charisma to please almost anyone.
By the way, this is an “enhanced” CD that includes a three-and-one-half-minute video interview with Bobby, which I’ve not seen.
Contact: Four Leaf Clover Records, Box 1231, S–1722 24 Sundbyberg, Sweden (e–mail email@example.com; web site, www.flc.se).