Trumpeter Bob Lark's "friends," on his fourth album for Jazzed Media Records, include alto saxophonist Phil Woods (two tracks), pianist Jim McNeely and bassist Rufus Reid (four apiece). There's a six-member string section on three numbers, on which Lark's flugelhorn is the only horn, while the selections with McNeely and Reid are scored for trio with Lark on flugel for three, and muted trumpet on "Green Dolphin Street," a conspicuous salute to Miles Davis on which Lark briefly bends the melody, something that really isn't necessary when the melody is among the loveliest ever written. But that's a scant reproach in an ocean of pleasurable music.
Lark opens with the string section (led by former Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Samuel Magad) on Irving Berlin's auspicious "Blue Skies," and the sky remains, for the most part, blue and unclouded through the rest of the program, which includes a "Tango Caliente," a samba ("My Shining Hour," again with strings), a bossa (Woods' enticing "Rava Nova") and an ethereal ballad ("Goodbye, Mr Evans," another composition by Woods). Completing the program are Cole Porter's "All of You" (trio) and a pair of graceful themes by Lark, "Winter's Touch" (trio) and "Cathy's Song" (strings).
Make no mistake, this is by no means "call the neighborsthe barn's on fire!" music; it is for the most part burnished and mellow, but nonetheless persuasive in its own way. Lark's using the flugelhorn on all but one track should offer an unambiguous clue about its purpose, which is not to besiege but to seduce. That it does, and does well. Lark is a sure and underrated soloist, while his friends, especially McNeely, Reid and Woods, are, as everyone should know by now, superb, as are Chicagoans Mark Colby (tenor sax) and drummer Bob Rummage. It's a pity that Colby, who's in the lineup on two tracks, was given no solo space, but one can't have everything. High marks all around for Lark and his friends, who entertain without bluster or pretense.
Track Listing: Blue Skies; Tango Caliente; On Green Dolphin Street; Goodbye, Mr. Evans; My Shining Hour; Winter's Touch; Rava Nova; All of You; Cathy's Song.
Personnel: Bob Lark: flugelhorn (1, 2, 4-9), muted trumpet (3); Ron Perillo: piano (1, 4, 5, 7, 9); Eric Hochberg: bass (1, 4, 5, 7, 9); Bob Rummage: drums (1, 4, 5, 7, 9); Samuel Magad: violin (1, 5, 9); Elizabeth Coffman: violin (1, 5, 9); Roxana Pavel: violin (1, 5, 9); Elizabeth Choi: violin (1, 5, 9); Elias Goldstein: violin (1, 5, 9); Stephen Balderston: cello (1, 5, 9); Tom Matta: conductor (1, 5, 9); Jim McNeely: piano (2, 3, 6, 8); Rufus Reid: bass (2, 3, 6, 8); Phil Woods: alto sax (4, 7); Nick Mazzarella: alto sax (4, 7); Mark Colby: tenor sax (4, 7); Ted Hogarth: baritone sax (4, 7); Tom Matta: trombone (4, 7).