One great composer, two wonderful musicians, ten memorable songs — a fabulous idea on paper, but one in which the ingredients are sometimes tastier than the meal. Not that trombonist Jiggs Whigham and guitarist Gene Bertoncini are a less than charming and accomplished duo; on the contrary, they perform the songs of Hoagy Carmichael with an abundance of “heart and soul” (on that tune and elsewhere). But fifty–eight minutes of trombone and guitar, no matter how well–played, can become wearisome (a rhythm section would have been most welcome). Also, the fact that most of Hoagy’s songs, lovely as they are, are relatively slow–paced ballads — some Jazz–inflected, others not — doesn’t help generate much heat or excitement. Fans of popular music who’ve been around for more than a few years should recognize most of these tunes, from the classic “Stardust” to such durable themes as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Skylark,” ”Lazy River” and “The Nearness of You” — not to mention “Two Sleepy People,” introduced by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the film Thanks for the Memory
; “Small Fry,” first crooned by Bing Crosby in the film Sing You Sinners,
and “I Get Along without You Very Well,” written for the film The Las Vegas Story
and later revitalized by Frank Sinatra on his marvelous album In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.
Perhaps the least known among them is “One Morning in May,” written in 1933 by Carmichael with lyricist Mitchell Parish and played solo by Bertoncini. Whigham’s trombone is muted on “Two Sleepy People” and “Small Fry,” open the rest of the way. While I’m partial to almost everything Hoagy ever wrote, “Skylark” holds a special place in my heart, and I’d rank the Whigham / Bertoncini version about midway or perhaps a notch higher on a scale of one to ten. It’s lovely, as is everything else here, but with compositions by Hoagy Carmichael it could hardly be otherwise. One must be forgiven, however, if he wishes there were more variety, as Whigham and Bertoncini are topnotch musicians but stretched to the limit in endeavoring to sell a program of ballads that are admittedly gorgeous but because of that have been played nearly to death by others in almost every possible framework. It’s a tall order, one that is no more than randomly successful.
Contact: TNC Jazz, 1350 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119. Phone 702–457–3823; fax 702–457–0199. Web site, www.tncmusic.net; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Personnel: Jiggs Whigham, trombone; Gene Bertoncini, guitar.