Where to Begin?
. In late 1997, Naxos, the innovative budget classical label, branched out into the jazz marketplace with the release of six compact discs. In keeping with their classical recording practice, Naxos Jazz approached lesser exposed working jazz musicians and studio players to record as leaders and sidemen. Twenty-seven releases later, the talent springs from the typical venues (NYC) to atypical (New Zealand) locales. The brands of jazz are all over the map: Bebop, Hard Bop, Post Bop, and Mainstream. Group size is all over the same map: solo, trio, quartet, quintet, on up to big band.
Within this growth, Naxos Jazz has developed and nurtured a core of musicians that hearken back to the great Blue Note house musicians of the '50s and '60s, providing a solid base for further artistic growth for themselves and support for newer talent. Speaking of this newer talent, Gail Wynters' Naxos recording debut, My Shining Hour, marks the first Naxos Jazz vocal collection and further realizes the profit and necessity of maintaining a well-seasoned group of "house" musicians. Ms. Wynters is joined by artists who have previously recorded for Naxos Jazz both as leaders and side performers.
Elements. With a unique mixture of the phrasing elasticity of Betty Carter, the pacing of Sarah Vaughan, and the at tempo scatting of Ella Fitzgerald, Gail Wynters is at once fresh and familiar. She is joined by tenorist Gordon Brisker, who broke the champagne bottle on Naxos Jazz with The Gift (Naxos Jazz 86001-2) and pianist Bill Cunliffe, who provided the label with the superb Bud Powell tribute, Bill Plays Bud (Naxos Jazz 86024-2). But that neglects the rock steady underpinning. Brisker and Cunliffe are joined by an adept group of sidemen. Bassist Ed Howard is most closely associated with legendary drummer Roy Haynes, but also travels to the other end of the jazz spectrum by waxing with Miles alum Bob Berg. Drummer Danny D'Imperio has led a quintet on VSOP and made time with Woody Herman and Anita O'Day. Joe Puma, guitarist par excellence has been on the street recording with everyone from Oscar Pettiford to Herbie Mann.
The Songbook. The songs Ms. Wynters' chose for her Naxos debut is like her singing, powerfully unique yet familiar. As a rule, she and her band goose the tempo of ballads usually heard at a more leisurely pace. The effect is stunning. Wynters' "I Love You" is a soulful torch that burns, "The Very Thought of You" a Latinesque jog, and "I Remember You" Betty Carteresque phrasing exercise. "Come Rain or Come Shine" is just rollicking and fun. Two of the first four songs are sure fire set enders. "Since I Fell for You", perhaps the finest song of the disc, simmers just below climax, Wynters' vocals at once musing and brash and Gordon Brisker's tenor muscular and insistent. A potently sensual display of chops for all involved. "My Shining Hour" is another sure closer; the perfect disc title. Ed Howard and Danny D'Imperio and Wynters' facile scatting propel the Arlen/Mercer chestnut into eclipse. Cunliffe provides impressive accompaniment and soloing.
Other highlights are Brisker's flute on "The Very Thought of You" and "I'm Glad there is You". Bill Cunliffe provides sensitive and empathic comping behind "We'll be Together Again" (one of the slower ballads on the disc) and the rarely heard "Sweet Pumpkin" (check out that left hand). Joe Puma provides his highly professional touch on "I Love You" and "I'm Glad there is You". Wynters' opening duet with Ed Howard on "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me" is percussively cool, the rest of the song humid and fast like a thunderstorm.
Buy This Disc. For the modest price that Naxos Jazz asks for a compact disc, there is no reason why not to track this disc down. I would not define Gail Wynters as a pleasant surprise. After all she has been around for quite some time. No, she is more like that certain lover, not forward exactly, but sure of what she wants. And what she wants is for this music to be heard.
Personnel: Gail Wynters: Vocals; Gordon Brisker: Tenor Saxophone and Flute; Bill Cunliffe: Piano; Ed Howard: Bass; Joe Puma: Guitar; Danny D'Imperio: Drums.