"Adult songs for and about adults." That is Mike Melvoin's description of this trio album, and all of the prose poems that could be written about the technical brilliance of the performances contained therein would miss the essential truth of those six words. This is music of the highest quality with a seriousness of purpose that dares to suggest that there is more to American culture than the Neanderthal yelpings of hip-hop, the dumbed-down blatherings of teen pop, and the mind-numbing inanities of so-called "smooth jazz. Like a Shakespeare play, a Preston Sturges film, or a painting by Michelangelo, Mike Melvoin and company exhibit qualities we seldom encounter in music today: wit, subtlety, elegance, intelligence, and a range of emotions that extends beyond the boundaries of teenage angst.
The album begins with Jerome Kern's "Long Ago and Far Away, a tune that's so full of adult meaning that the tempo is everythingplayed slowly, it can induce tears from the most cynical listener; an up-tempo rendition cannot help but transform its audience into a spirit of optimism. Melvoin opts for the latter interpretation and sets a high standard for the tunes that follow. Bassist Tony Dumas delivers the first of many outstanding solos, and drummer Ralph Penland gives a graduate level seminar on the use of brushes.
The next tune is the charming samba "Life Is What You Make It, the first of five Melvoin originals on the album. Other originals include "They Sing the Blues in Kansas City, a tribute to Charlie Parker; "Son of the Beach, a tribute to Count Basie; the bossa nova "La Luna Negra ; and "You Know. The deceptively complex title tune starts off almost like Ellington's "I Got It Bad, but then goes down a modulatory path all its own. The chromatic twists of its harmonies are challenging to both performer and listener. Again, Melvoin sticks to his adult theme. This music demands and expects much of both performers and audience, but its rewards are more than worth the effort.
One of Mike Melvoin's best characteristics is his uncanny ability to find a fresh approach to tunes that have been played to death. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his blazingly original version of Coltrane's "Giant Steps. Too many musicians feel that they have to prove their chops by playing it as fast as possible and including twice as many notes as necessary. Melvoin, however, has the confidence and maturity to slow things down to a nice medium tempo. And what he has discovered is that the cracks between the "steps contain "Stompin' at the Savoy. The effect of this performance is revelatory in nature. After hearing Melvoin's interpretation, you'll never be able to listen to "Giant Steps again in the same way, because a new layer of meaning has been added to a tune that was in danger of becoming somewhat ossified in its iconic status.
Almost the entire stylistic history of jazz is explored on You Know, but it is presented in such a refreshing way as to be made new again. Adult songs for and about adults, indeed. And it's nice to see the adults in charge of our popular culture once again.
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Personnel: Mike Melvoin: piano; Tony Dumas: bass; Ralph Penland: drums.