Mark Winkler: Easy the Hard Way
P>Long a fixture on the West Coast smooth jazz scene, Mark Winkler for his 6th album moves closer to contemporary adult pop seasoned with a large dash of straight ahead jazz, with a style which combines the hip Mark Murphy, the irony of Dave Frishberg with the respect for melody of Tony Bennett. Accompanied by sympathetic musicians, Winkler story tells his way through a play list of twelve tunes, seven of which he wrote. And a prolific composer is Mr. Winkler, having penned more than 350 tunes. This number is more than a mere statistic as they have been recorded by the likes of Liza Minelli, Nancy Wilson and Randy Crawford. Winkler has also written for the currently stage musical Naked Boys Singing! and for a son to open musical Too Old for the Chorus.
There's a lot of good stuff on this album. One of the fun tracks is the Winkler duet with premier English vocalist, Claire Martin, on Frank Loesser's "Baby It's Cold Outside". Although hippier than the classic Dinah Shore/Buddy Clark and Margaret Whiting/Johnny Mercer versions of the 1940's, with the much more liberal attitude toward sex these days, the situation in the song is less titillating than in the straightlaced 1940's.
Winkler's songs fall on the side of melancholy, reciting tales of unrequited love, failed affairs, loneliness and desolation. But the lyrics manage to avoid being cloying or maudlin. "Another Night" describes how "the radio is turned down low, with the sax playing something softly in the dark", a scenario begging for romance, instead there's the nothingness solitude brings." Easy the Hard Way" is a modern adult contemporary approach to Frank Sinatra's My Way. It swings and bounces as the Winkler lyrics relate the misfortunes of a "bad reputation" and other human failings with the protagonist assuming a "I don't care" attitude. Winkler also visits tunes written by others which match his droll, off hand vocal style. "Like Young" is done with just the gutsy guitar of Anthony Wilson. Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman" gets a thoughtful interpretation by Winkler with Billy Childs' introspective piano providing the main backing, enhanced by Greg Hutchinson's riffling cymbals providing the appropriate accents.
Winkler gets yeoman support throughout this session. Bob Sheppard's Plas Johnson sounding tenor saxophone is present on three tunes bring a bit of soul to the proceedings. Although he shows up for just one tune, veteran Bobby Shew's muted trumpet work on "Ellen's Song" is a delight. The various rhythm sections all do their job a level above mere competence. Mr. Winkler may have hit the jackpot with this album which is recommended. Visit Mark at his web site at http://www.markwinklermusic.com.
Tracks:Trio; Easy the Hard Way$; Like Young#; Lonely Woman; Baby, It's Cold Outside*; Toys in the Attic; Ellen's Song@; Kelly's Moods#; Empty Bed; Another Night$; Like Jazz$; Quiet Fire
Personnel: Mark Winkler - Vocal; Billy Childs, Gareth Williams* - Piano; Bob Hurst, Arnie Somogyi*, Bob Maize - Bass; Greg Hutchinson - Drums; Jon Mayer - Piano/B3 Hammond Organ; Greg Hutchinson, Roy McCurdy, Ralph Salmins - Drums; Claire Martin* - Vocals; Anthony Wilson - Guitar#; Bob Sheppard - Saxophone$; Bobby Shew@ - Trumpet; Geoff Gillette$ - Fingersnaps