Harry Whitaker Trio: The Sound of Harry Whitaker (2002)
It took him four decades, but pianist Harry Whitaker headlines his debut album as a band leader of his self-titled trio in The Sound of Harry Whitaker, and judging from these results the wait was worth it. Whitaker's playing, as well as his backup, Pat O'Leary on bass and Craig Wuepper on drums, is admirably accomplished, at once comforting and lively. With Sound, Whitaker borrows from other artists and reinterprets their work with the correct balancing of respect and invention; you sometimes miss, for example, Coltrane's saxophone on such numbers as "Equinox," but you're glad to listen to it reincarnated here, with the soul and energy of the piece still in tact.
Whitaker, O'Leary and Wuepper play confidently, and mesh quite well together; in Whitaker's own words, they go together like "pancakes and syrup." And like true professionals, they do a solid job of not overpowering the other man. Whitaker's piano chords stem organically from the rhythmic backbone of bass and drum support. Such well-rounded dexterity is present on tracks like an old favorite, "Strangers in Paradise," wherein the tempo feels appropriately subdued, while Whitaker garnishes it with a lively grace and caps the tune soulfully. Even better is an up-tempo version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Would it be clichéd to say the group hits a homerun? Nope, and it wouldn't quite be lying, either: the tune is respected, yes, but it gives room for the trio to play with brio, zigzag through familiar turf with an energy that makes it feel new.
There's more fine work with "Moonlight in Vermont," featuring a fine drum solo opening the piece, while "Gal in Calico" has a pleasant bass work by O'Leary. "More Than You Know," serves as the album's lush highlight. While it'd be more intriguing (and perhaps result in a stronger album) if more of the work were original, the group tackles the tunes memorably. A final note: "The Fishin' Hole," which television buffs will instantly recognize as the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, but it gets a unique, folksy spin here, Whitaker's piano riffs soliciting chuckles while listeners rekindle their memory with the TV show. Opie rarely had it this good.
Track Listing: Our Day Will Come (5:30) The Fishin' Hole [Theme From Andy Griffith's Show] (7:12) Equinox (5:50) Strangers in Paradise (7:20) Take Me Out to the Ballgame (5:25) Moonlight in Vermont (5:15) Gal in Calico (6:56) More Than You Know (5:10) Wee (4:45)
Personnel: Harry Whitaker (piano) Pat O'Leary (bass) Craig Wuepper (drums)