Alexandra Caselli: Rough Edges (2007)
This is the second CD I've reviewed by pianist Alexandra Caselli, and if there are any Rough Edges I've yet to hear them. As on that earlier albumOut the Aquarium (Moonjumpers 2, 2004)Caselli plays with impeccable style and unerring tastefulness, affirming this writer's previous comparison to another remarkable pianist, the celebrated and seemingly ageless Marian McPartland.
Whereas Aquarium was strictly a trio session, Caselli has chosen to enlarge the group this time, bolstering her core trio (bassist Jennifer Leitham, drummer Randy Drake) with a number of talented gueststrumpeter/vocalist Jonathan Dane, saxophonist Carol Chaikin, flutist Jennifer Hall and guitarist Brad Rabuchin. The trio is heard alone only on Caselli's ethereal ballad, "Butterfly Eyebrows. And unlike Aquarium, which embodied five standards, Caselli has written every tune on Edges, including two with lyrics"Blues for Stevie and "Out of the Blue both sung by Dane. Her compositions are charming if less than memorable, and she opens and closes with the best of them, the sunny "Waiting for Jennifer and New Orleans-inspired "Lift Me Up.
Hall, who is perhaps better known as a baritone saxophonist, is featured on alto flute on "Jennifer, "Colors of the Rain and "Still Time, Chaikin on alto ("Blues for Stevie ) and soprano sax ("If You Loved Me, "Rough Edges ), and Rabuchin on acoustic ("Colors of the Rain ) and electric guitar ("Jennifer, "Field Trip ). Besides singing, Dane solos on trumpet ("Lift Me Up ) and flugelhorn ("Out of the Blue, "Home at Last ). Admirable as her visitors are, I couldn't help wishing there were more Caselli and less company. In other words, if pressed to choose between albums I'd lean toward Aquarium, for that reason, and for the standards which are, to me, always preferable to originals, no matter how bright and agreeable the latter may be.
That's not meant to suggest that Edges is without merit, only that I'd rather hear Caselli in a cozier setting, as she was on Aquarium. If that sounds like lobbying for another threesome, let the chips fall as they may. Rough Edges certainly has its moments, some of the best when Caselli or Jennifer Leitham assumes a leading role. More of that wouldn't have been in any way excessive or displeasing.
Track Listing: Waiting for Jennifer; Blues for Stevie; Colors of the Rain; Field Trip; If You Loved Me as Much a I Can Imagine; Out of the Blue; Butterfly Eyebrows; Home at Last; Rough Edges; Still Time; Lift Me Up.
Personnel: Alexandra Caselli: piano; Jennifer Leitham: bass; Randy Drake: drums; Jennifer Hall (1, 3, 10): alto flute; Carol Chaikin: alto sax (2), soprano sax (5, 9); Brad Rabuchin: electric guitar (1, 4), acoustic guitar (3); Jonathan Dane: vocals (2, 6), flugelhorn (6, 8), trumpet (11).