With a varied program of music by the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and some originals, the George Maurer Group makes its debut recording with Jazz in Black and White
. Maurer and the members of the group are located in the Minneapolis, MN area which can count several good jazz makers among its citizens. While this is the first album as leader of the Group, it is Maurer's 8th album, all but one of them for the Pine Curtain label.
Like the title (Black and White) anticipates, this is an album of contrasts, not only in the types of music being presented, but the format in which the music is played. The performances run the gamut from 1920's jazz to Bop to contemporary music. In between, there's the sweet, Broadway musical stage vocals of Ann Michels matched with and against the more modern Bobby McFerrin manner as practiced by singer Aaron-Keith Stewart. Michels does well when doing those songs in keeping with her musical background, like "The Man I Love". She doesn't come off quite as well on "One Note Samba". Likewise, Stewart's voice is more suited to modern material like Abbey Lincoln's "Not to Worry", but lacks the depth needed to make his interpretation of "Summertime" entirely satisfactory. The contrasts in the vocal stylings of Michels and Stewart are illuminated on their duet on "Our Love Is Here to Stay" - - his the hippier sound, hers, the more romantic. This apparent contradiction in the way the lyrics are addressed makes for one of the more appealing tracks on the album.
All of the musicians are first-rate and extraordinarily flexible when it comes to adjusting to the type of music they are asked to play. Trumpet player Richard Witteman blows a Bix Beidebecke-like horn on "I Got Rhythm" , then pays tribute to the cool jazz of Miles Davis on "Miles to Go". There's even a nod to fugish counterpoint by Maurer's piano in between swing licks on "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got that Swing". This cut also features the happy, upbeat swing guitar and scatting of Muggsy Lauer. "Swing" takes off, with raucous trumpeting by Witteman interpolated around Maurer's driving piano and Lauer's hot guitar licks. Chabot's drums get some shots in on this tune and throughout he sets and keeps time in concert with bassist Jeff Engholm. We are also treated to the John Coltrane influenced soprano sax of Bruce Thornton on two tracks.
Even though more work needs to be done with respect to establishing an identity for the group as well as with the vocals, this album is a good first shot recording and is recommended.
TracksI Got Rhythm; I Was Happier before I Met You; Summertime; One Note Samba; Addey Theme; Our Love Is here to Stay#; In a Sentimental Mood; Miles to Go; The Man I Love; It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing)*; C Jam Blues; Not to Worry#
Personnel: George Maurer - Piano, Leader; Jeff Engholm - Bass; Muggsy Lauer - Guitar, Vocals*; Scott Chabot - Drums; Richard Witteman - Trumpet; Aaron-Keith Stewart, Ann Michels - Vocals; Bruce Thornton# - Soprano Sax
| Record Label: Pine Curtain
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream