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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
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