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In manufacturing, it's nearly impossible to work with substandard raw materials and wind up with a high quality finished product. While the same tenet often holds true in music, pianist Randy Hoexter is out to prove that the manner of presentation can overcome the matter itself.
On the aptly titled Fromage, Hoexter rearranges a selection of disposable, "cheesy" pop pieces, breathing new life into songs that may or may not have deserved it. The majority of the material serves as a reminder that quality control wasn't always working well in radio stations and record companies during the '70s, but Hoexter proves up to the challenge of making these songs safe for consumption again.
Hoexter's arrangements are highly polished works of art. Clarity is of the utmost importance here, as evident in Hoexter's playing and the tight, clean corners that can be found at every turn. The session comes across like an L.A. studio date, with never-miss musicians coming together to punch out some tricky charts with ease and style. Rhythmic cross currents, odd-meters, finely crafted horn harmonies and in-and-out riffs are everywhere, helping Hoexter to buck the odds and keep things interesting. While the repeated use of fade-out endings is a bit puzzling, since so much attention to detail can be found in these charts, that's a small issue in a great sea of music.
The Atlanta-based leader enlisted the services of some top-drawer players from his neck of the woods and he chose wisely. Woodwind wonder Sam Skelton covers a tremendous amount of ground, serving as a one-man reed section in some places and tearing it up as a soloist, with saxophone in hand elsewhere. He immediately establishes himself, trading barbs with Hoexter on "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves," and he continues to be an indispensable ingredient in the mix. Cirque Du Soleil percussionist Kit Chatham makes his mark when the music goes in a Latin-fusion direction, as on the 7/4 rewrite of "Muskrat Love," and drummer Tom Knight brings his crisp drumming to bear on the majority of the album.
Yellowjackets' bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Dave Weckl, who only appears on three tracks, are the out-of-towners here, but they make themselves right at home. Haslip holds down the fort with his bubbly lines and delivers solo fireworks on occasion ("I've Never Been To Me"), while Weckl works his magic with slickness ("Escape (The Pina Colada Song)") and subtlety ("Yummy, Yummy, Yummy").
Hoexter may not be able to turn water into wine, but this album proves that he can transform junk into gold. Fromage makes it easy to forget where these songs came from and appreciate where they've ended up.
Track Listing: Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves; You Light Up My Life; Delta Dawn; Muskrat Love; Escape (The Pina Colada Song); I've Never Been To Me; Seasons In The Sun; Yummy, Yummy, Yummy; Honey/Dies Irae; Billy, Don't Be A Hero; Canon.
Personnel: Randy Hoexter: piano, hand claps; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Trey Wright: guitar; Tom Knight: drums (1-3, 6-9, 10, 11); Dave Weckl: drums (4, 5, 8); Sam Skelton: saxophones, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet; Mike Barry: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 11); Gordon Vernick: trumpet (3, 7, 8); Eric Alexander: trombone; Angie Driscoll: vocals (2, 9); Kit Chathan: congas, djembe, cajon; Eric Sanders: triangle, shaker.