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Twelve tunes inspired by or dedicated to the city of New York come together to form Portrait Of New York, only the fourth album by ex-Berklee Professor Dave Frank in a career as a musician and educator that stretches back to the '80s. Why Frank's recorded ouvre should be so brief is something of a mystery, based on the evidence on Portrait Of New York. He may not be pushing the envelope, but this is a quite beautiful album: a fresh approach to some great standards and a bunch of impressive originals, all encapsulated in a performance of great warmth and humor.
An obvious aspect of Frank's playingone that gives it character and distinctivenessis the vital role of his left hand. It gives his lower register playing a rhythmic intensity that goes beyond most players and does much more than simply flesh out the sound or provide a foundation from which the right hand can build: and it does so on the ballads as well as on the up-tempo, boogie-style, tunes.
This distinctive left hand is used to great effect on two of the slower numbers: Frank's own "Lower East Side Shuffle" and "Midtown 9AM." The latter tune is absolutely delightful, the left hand pattern rolling gracefully along as Frank's tinkling, sprightly, right hand conjures up a busy but rather laid back midtown morning. The "Lower East Side Shuffle" is a more syncopated affair, slinkier and sexier, the bass patterns rich and full-sounding.
The covers are inspired. "Full Force NYC" is a Frank original, but it borrows heavilyand at times quite obviouslyfrom Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer
's "Tangerine." He toys playfully with Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz's "You and the Night and the Music," building up its foundations with another solid left-hand rhythm, shifting the tempo, subtly altering the mood with his right hand playing. Richard Rogers' "This Nearly Was Mine" is given a respectfully straight, but beautifully nuanced treatment. Juan Tizol's "Perdido" rushes past in a dazzling display of precise but sparkling playing.
Frank's vocal interjections add yet more distinctiveness to his playing. These are not the random interpolated grunts of a Keith Jarrett
: Frank hums snatches of the melody as he plays. It's an oddly likable quirk, generally adding to the humanity of the performance rather than detracting from its quality. Once or twice it can become intrusive, but it does reflect the humanity that is one of the core qualities of Portrait Of New Yorka refreshingly unpretentious and enchanting record.
Track Listing: Full Force NYC; Broadway Boogie Woogie; This Nearly Was Mine; Midtown 9AM; Perdido; My Man's Gone; Lower East Side Shuffle; McKenna/McCoy; Manhattan by Moonlight; Bowery Blues; You and the Night and the Music; Times Square.