Pianist Mike Melvoin's new CD, It's Always You reaches the same high standards of his last issue, Oh Baby. Building upon his trio with Steve Gilmore on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums, Melvoin considerably ups the musical ante by including legendary alto saxophonist Phil Woods. The album showcases a nice blend of standards and Melvoin originals. In this age of so- called "lite jazz" pabulum, it's so refreshing to hear musicians who can swing and provide food for thought at the same time.
Oh Baby leads off with a rare instrumental version of "All or Nothing at All." In the liner notes Melvoin describes his harmonic approach to the tune as one of "intense chromaticism." That seems to be the Melvoin style in a nutshell. Like Bill Evans, he can take a tune that we've all already heard a thousand times and make it sound completely fresh just by his chord voicings.
In addition to being a virtuoso pianist, Mike Melvoin is also an extraordinary songwriter. There aren't many contemporary songwriters whose tunes are worthy of being included in the Great American Songbook, but Melvoin is one of the notable exceptions. I was especially impressed with the album's title track, "It's Always You," a poignant ballad that reminded me of another wonderful (but little-known) song, "I Walk a Little Faster." Phil Woods' fiery alto solo illustrates his uncanny ability to gradually build up a ballad to an emotional climax of shattering intensity.
It's hard to believe that Woods and Melvoin had never recorded together before this CD, because their musical communication is so in synch that they sound like the same person playing two instruments. It's worth the price of the album alone just to hear Woods' bluesy clarinet solo on the old standard "I'm Confessin'."
The stylistic range of the music performed on this album is quite broad. Included are two jazz waltzes, "This Is the Place" and "Dawn Dance," both of them Melvoin originals. The latter piece, which has a Marian McPartland feel to it, features a nice bass solo by Steve Gilmore and some tasty brush work by drummer Bill Goodwin.
A humorous side to this CD is seen most notably in the original tune "But I Have To," Melvoin's witty riposte to Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't." You can tell that the musicians are having a blast with the tune, and Woods' solo can be accurately described as "one wild ride."
It's Always You is an extraordinary album with broad appeal to both jazz fans and new jazz listeners. All sorts of jazzfrom blues and swing to Monk and sambacan be found here.
Personnel: Mike Melvoin, piano; Phil Woods, alto sax, clarinet; Steve Gilmore, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums