The release of another all-Gershwin record might not be necessary, but when played as lovingly as David Leonhardt surely is welcome. Leonhardt, a veteran of David ‘Fathead’ Newman’s band, has worked with, among others Jon Hendricks, Herbie Mann and Ron Carter. This release, his fifth as leader, remains close to the Gershwin compositions. And why not? Gershwin’s tunes (popular music of their day) were/are perfectly formed melodies. They conjure memories of Broadway shows and great performances. How can one not think about Gershwin music performed by Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Gil Evans? I mention those jazz giant just for starters.
Leonhardt’s choice of music opens himself to the obvious comparisons, that, I believe is why he takes on this music in such a straight-forward manner, giving it all the respect it’s due. Leonhardt mixes the music between a trio and quartet, adding vocalist Nancy Reed on half the tracks. Ms. Reed plays it straight too, delivering the familiar with her conversant manner. She scats out the “beat-a-lee bop” to Leonhardt’s dancing piano fingers on “I Got Rhythm,” before tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama takes a solo straight out of the Blue Note catalog. Did I mention Lalama is on this date? He is perhaps the perennial ‘talent deserving wider recognition’ award recipient. His recording Music For Grown-Ups (Criss Cross 1999) is a favorite around these parts. His work with the Village Vanguard Orchestra and as a sideman has earned him the title of a musician’s musician.
Leonhardt utilizes Lalama as a side dish, as he does Reed and his own piano. The main course here is the Gershwin compositions. Whether they take “Our Love Is here To Stay” at a slow pace or up-tempo “Summertime,” the band stays true to the compositions.