In 2010, jazz vocal specialists Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler began a collaboration that resulted in a live show entitled West Coast Cool that they presented at different venues on the West Coast and beyond. Summit Records commits this show to digital with an album of the same title that is something special. While programming a recording is always a major production responsibility, that responsibility is lessened when the recital is one well practiced and part of a previously conceived show. Such is West Coast Cool, and this collection is the better for it.
Mark Winkler has been a West Coast fixture for the past thirty years, releasing eleven recordings and composing dozens of songs recorded by himself and the likes of Liza Minnelli, Randy Crawford, David Basse, Jackie Ryan and Dianne Reeves. Winkler's most recent recording, The Laura Nyro Project (Cafe Pacific Records, 2013) was well received in critical corners. Together, the pair have rekindled the fire of cool circa the Eisenhower '50s, when the songwriting was exceptionally smart and stylistically razor sharp, martinis were cold and cigarettes filterless.
Some very sharp programming is employed in pairing songs in audio diptychs. The recording opens with a mash up of Paul Desmond's and Iola Brubeck's "Take 5" and Winkler's wonderfully off-kilter "Drinks On The Patio." The piece(s) are introduced with a straight salvo from pianist Rich Eames and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard. Then the groove changes decidedly into the 5/4 time made famous by Dave Brubeck and his quartet in 1959. The piece transforms into Winkler's aural photograph of hipsters listening to jazz while mixing martinis, smooth ones if we judge by the precise admixture of Bentyne's and Winkler's pipes.
This same programming intelligence brought together "Talk Of The Town" and "Girl Talk" from the respective Bentyne and Winkler songbooks: drawing from Bentyne's Talk Of the Town (Telarc, 2003) and Winkler's Sings Bobby Troup (Rhombus Records, 2003). Bentyne displays her exquisite treatment of ballads juxtaposed against Winkler's perfect presentation of 1950s too cool. The two are sexy beyond belief.
The vocal pair demonstrate their potent vocal styles on the Nat King Cole medley of "Route 66/Alright, Okay, You Win/Straighten Up And Fly Right." Bentyne and Winkler weave these three classics together into a finely wrought cloth. Bentyne's smooth, perfectly balanced soprano mixes with Winkler's friendly, approachable and playful voice like cream stirs into coffee, rich and aromatic. The two skillfully slide song lyrics over one another, juxtaposing melodies until the music is ataxic with the shared joy of being sung by these voices. The duet highlight of the collection is the semi-original "West Coast Cool." Winkler shows off his lyrical wares by penning words to Neal Hefti's classic "Lil' Darlin.'" The pair pay homage to a who's who of West Coast Jazzers while their accompanying quartet lay down the Hefti silk beneath their words.
Each singer also gets solo space. Bentyne purrs on the infrequently heard "An Occasional Man" where she dances with Sheppard's slippery tenor. Bentyne brings together "All About Ronnie" and "Trouble With A Man" in a jaded lament of love lost, while drawing the sensual humidity from Horace Silver's "Senor Blues." Winkler recalls two more Troup pieces in "Lemon Twist" and "Hungry Man." He updates these pieces with his trademark user-friendly delivery, sense of humor, and exemplary musicianship. Pianist Jon Mayer kills on "Hungry Man" while organist Joel Bragg and guitarist Anthony Wilson lay out an organ jazz red carpet.
West Coast Cool is artistry that is beyond words. Wow. Just Wow.
Take 5/Drinks On The Patio; The Occasional Man; Let’s Get Lost; Talk
Of The Town/Girl Talk; West Coast Cool; Something Cool; Route
66/Alright, Okay, You Win/Straighten Up And Fly Right; Senor Blues;
Lemon Twist; This Could Be The Start Of Something Big; Hungry Man; All
About Ronnie/Trouble Is A Man; In A Lonely Place; Cool.
Cheryl Bentyne: vocals; Mark Winkler: vocals; Rich Eames: piano (1, 2,
4-8, 10); Tim Emmons: bass (1, 2, 4-8, 10); Dave Tull: drums (1, 2, 4-
8, 10); Bob Sheppard: saxophones, flute (1, 2, 4-8, 10, 11); Nolan
Shahead: trumpet (3); Anthony Wilson: guitar (9); Joe Bragg: Hammond
B3 organ (9); Mark Ferber: drums (9); John Mayer: piano (11); Kevin
Axt: bass (11); Ron McCurdy: drums (11); Eli Brueggeman: piano: (14);
George Koller: bass (14); Mark Kelso: drums (14).