Peter Appleyard: Sophisticated Ladies (2012)
Peter Appleyard seems to have a way with the ladies. The octogenarian vibraphonist brings his virile mallet work to bear while escorting a dozen lovely songbirds through some smartly arranged standards on this, his second release the span of a few months. Appleyard started off the year by looking toward the past, issuing a previously unreleased all-star jam session from 1974, but his gaze is firmly on the present throughout Sophisticated Ladies. He hobnobs with some of the finest vocalists operating north of the 49th parallel today and a sense of mutual respect for the music and one another comes through in the music.
While astute jazz vocal fans are probably aware that bassist Charlie Haden beat Appleyard to the conceptual punch, releasing his own Sophisticated Ladies (Emarcy, 2011) a year ahead of Appleyard, the basic format and album title are the only thing that these two releases share. Haden's album mixed instrumental pieces and vocal numbers, favoring slow material containing string sweetening and came off as a mostly-manicured set of music with mellow appeal. Appleyard, on the other hand, shares the stage with a singer on every song, covering a wider range of emotions.
The playlist has no surprises, but Rick Wilkins' arrangements have their fair share. Tempo changes, funk-to-swing shifts ("Love For Sale"), double-time adjustments, Brazilian-tinged turns and intimate introductions ("Smile") keep things interesting. Each singer brings something different to the table and Appleyard responds in kind by shaping his solos around the specific songs and singers. Emilie-Claire Barlow shows great range on the slow-to-fast "After You've Gone," Elizabeth Shepherd engages Appleyard in a scat-vibraphone solo trading session, Jackie Richardson's deeply resonant voice takes center stage on a soulful "Georgia On My Mind," Diana Panton turns the lights down low for "Smile" and Sophie Milman takes her time fleshing out the emotional ideals of "If You Could See Me Now." Molly Johnson, who interprets the title track with her smoky and dusky pipes, proves to be the only singer who seems ill-suited to her number.
The female musicians on this album will probably get the lion's share of attention, but Appleyard has top billing for a reason. His vibraphone soloing enlivens and enhances the music. Guitarist Reg Schwager's comping is a key ingredient in the mix, as pianist John Sherwood takes the right tack on every tune, drummer Terry Clarke expertly navigates the through each number and bassist Neil Swainson keeps everything in check.
Appleyard may be 84 now, but his playing doesn't betray that fact. He's clearly young at heart and Sophisticated Ladies is the evidence that proves this case.
Track Listing: After You've Gone; It's Only A Paper Moon; Love For Sale; Georgia On My Mind; If You Could See Me Now; Sophisticated Lady; Night And Day; Satin Doll; Mood Indigo; Smile.
Personnel: Peter Appleyard: vibraphone; John Sherwood: piano; Reg Schwager: guitar; Neil Swainson: bass; Terry Clarke: drums; Emilie-Claire Barlow: vocals (1); Elizabeth Shepherd: vocals (2); Jill Barber: vocals (3); Jackie Richardson: vocals (4); Sophie Milman: vocals (5); Molly Johnson: vocals (6); Carol Welsman: vocals (7), piano (7); Barbara Lica: vocals (8); Carol McCartney: vocals (9); Diana Panton: vocals (10).
Record Label: Linus Entertainment