Carolyn Leonhart and Wayne Escoffery: If Dreams Come True (2008)
The combination of jazz vocalist Carolyn Leonhart and saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is an unusual and exciting one. Leonhart, the daughter of jazz bassist Jay Leonhart, has recorded in the past for Sunnyside RecordsSteal The Moon (2000) and New 8th Day (2005). She also has provided harmony vocal work for Steely Dan over an eleven-year period. Escoffery was a member of the exciting Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Jazz Septet, with Memories of T (Concord, 2006) being critically well-received. Escoffery released his own album last year, Veneration (Savant, 2007).
Leonhart and Escoffery met in 2004 and were married two years later. If Dreams Come True is their first joint musical venture. Leonhart begins the album with a refreshing take on the Benny Goodman/Edgar Sampson Swing Era tune, "If Dreams Come True." She swings the song in a similar manner to Dominque Eade by bringing an edginess to the lyrics that are matched by Escoffery's tenor solo.
Leonhart's vocals on the rest of the album are decidedly lower-key. On the original ballad, "Nothing Left To Say," Escoffery takes up the soprano sax for lyrical support of her vocal. Benny Carter's "Key Largo," a tune that time seems to have unfairly forgotten, is rendered like the smoky ballad that it is. Another original, "Earth Calling," is a fast-paced charger that closes out the album. On most of the other tracks, Leonhart is heard in a supporting role via her vocalese. The rhythm section of pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Hans Glawisching and either Jason Brown or Carl Allen on drums is a hot one, and their interaction with Escoffery is undoubtedly an exciting one to catch in live performance.
Escoffery's solo work proves gutsy and hard blowing, and likewise supportive and reflective for the slower tunes. Ideally, if there had been more of Leonhart's worded vocals, it would have raised the level of this album, but the effort, as is, remains a diverting project. The album also represents a change of pace for the label, Nagel-Heyer, which specializes in postwar swing and easygoing mainstream artists.
Track Listing: If Dreams Come True; Nothing Left to Say; Never Too Soon; Not Without You; Angel Face; Key Largo; Free to Love; Desert Moonlight; Earth Calling.
Personnel: Carolyn Leonhart: vocals; Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano sax; Toru Dodo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Jason Brown: drums (1, 2, 4, 9); Carl Allen: drums (3, 5, 6, 8).