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Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words

Bruce Lindsay By

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On Jazz And Other Four Letter Words songwriter and vocalist Mark Winkler explores themes of love and romance and also takes time to investigate hipness. Exploration and investigation succeed joyously, resulting in one of the year's finest releases.

Winkler's aided and abetted by some fine musicians— pianist Jamieson Trotter (who also arranged most of the songs) and bassists Dan Lutz and John Clayton prove to be especially sympathetic. The Manhattan Transfer's Cheryl Bentyne duets with Winkler on two songs.

Just how hip must a hipster be if a hipster wants to be hip? Well, it can't do any harm to cover songs by some seriously hip songwriters. Winkler wisely covers Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough's hilarious "I'm Hip" (with Bentyne) and lyricist Fran Landesman's "In A New York Minute" (with music by Simon Wallace).

What makes those writers—and Winkler himself—so endearingly cool is that they know better than to take themselves too seriously. "I'm Hip" hits the nail on the head—everything you need to know about hipness, albeit from the perspective of 1965. The band's in great form—Trotter, Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton swinging on brushes.

Winkler's own lyrics—on the title track and, especially, the 5/4 "Your Cat Plays Piano" written with Bill Cantos—are succinct, tongue-in-cheek, subtly irreverent but never too cruel. The titular cat (possibly in a none- too-healthy relationship with his incense-burning, wannabe poet, owner) plays mostly the black keys, obviously a jazzer because "he never plays the melodies" but with a hint of Charles Ives (which gives Winkler a great rhyme for "nine lives"). Bob Sheppard's tenor sax, with its hints of Paul Desmond, is a superb accompaniment.

Winkler's ability to sing a romantic song as well as a humorous one is crucial to the success of Jazz And Other Four Letter Words. Hipness, that most transient of human conditions, gives way to the eternal nature of love. Winkler's sweet, almost fragile, vocal on Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's "I Never Went Away"—arranged by Rich Eames as a gentle bossa—capture's the lyric's emotion perfectly. The Gershwins' "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is laid back and cool, Winkler delivering the lyric with a relaxed smoothness, matched by Pat Kelley's guitar solo.

"I Chose The Moon"—another Winkler/Cantos song—is dedicated to Richard Del Belso, Winkler's partner of over 30 years. It's obviously a very personal song, but the sentiments are universal and beautifully expressed. It's the most romantic and the hippest thing on the album. Jazz is a four-letter word. So are five and star.

Track Listing: My Idea of a Good Time; I’m Hip (with Cheryl Bentyne); Nice Work if You Can Get It; Your Cat Plays Piano; I chose the Moon; Have A Good Time; I wish I Were in Love Again (with Cheryl Bentyne); Jazz and Other Four Letter Words; I Never Went Away; In a New York Minute/Great City/Autumn in New York; Stay Hip.

Personnel: Mark Winkler: vocalist and lyricist; Cheryl Bentyne: vocals; Jamieson Trotter: piano; John Clayton, Dan Lutz: bass; Jeff Hamilton, Mike Shapiro: drums; Larry Koonse, Pat Kelley: guitar; Bob Sheppard, Kirsten Edkins: saxophones; Walter Fowler: trumpet; Bob McChesney: trombone.

Title: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Cafe Pacific Records

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