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Jazz has always loved the music of Henry Mancini and, lately, quite a few albums have been released in tribute to the late film composer. But this one makes sense: a film composer with a vivid imagination and a deep respect for jazz gets interpreted by a jazz player who himself has scored many films over the last 30 years. Grusin, in his third of recent tribute discs (Duke Ellington and George Gershwin were the others), is very well suited to this music. He sticks to piano throughout, and much of the disc has such a relaxed, quiet feel album that it feels like a late-night piano-trio session. The highlights here are all ballads and serve to illustrate how melodically gifted and accessible Henry Mancini's music is. What's more noticeable, though, is how sensitive Grusin is to this music. He clearly loves it, and the beauty and lightness of his touch which may have sounded a little too studied in the past is appropriate here.
The trio, ideally configured with John Patittucci on bass and Harvey Mason on drums, waxes eloquent on the disc's best track, "Mr. Lucky" and a terrific version of "Days of Wine and Roses." Strings are added to good effect for "Moment by Moment" (a nice surprise), "Hatari" (with good tom work from Mason) and "Two for the Road." A small horn section weighs in to funk up the unnecessary up-tempo numbers, "Peter Gunn" and "Baby Elephant Walk." Interestingly, Grusin approaches these tunes on his own terms, as if he wrote them for one of his own films. Vocalist Diana Krall is added for "Dreamsville" and "Soldier in the Rain" and though she sounds fine (in a sweet, overproduced way), vocals seems very intrusive here especially on "Dreamsville," one of Mancini's most beautiful compositions and distract from the beauty of Grusin's performance. "Whistling in the Dark," from Darling Lili, is another after-hours mood piece ideally perfected by Grusin and featuring Tollack Ollestad on harmonica.
Discs like this are often made because there's a built-in audience for the music. That's true here too. Fans of both Henry Mancini and Dave Grusin will enjoy Two for the Road. Piano jazz listeners, however, will also hear some choice playing from an unusually introspective Grusin here too.