Chris Keller has a message to deliver but doesn’t let it get in the way of the music on this light–hearted quartet session that glides smoothly along without causing a fuss or ruffling any feathers. That’s not to say it is without interest; Keller is an accomplished player, as are the others in her group — but for the most part they are more efficient than inspired. As the description applies as well to most others playing today, one shouldn’t read into it more than is intended. Keller plays nice straight–ahead piano and receives sturdy support from bassist Donnie West and drummer Ricky Loza. Alto Steve Swan is her sidekick on six numbers, tenor Whit Williams on six others, and both are present and accounted for on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” I don’t know who Swan’s role models are but two of them had to be Bud Shank and Art Pepper, while Whitman is from the Hank Mobley / Lucky Thompson school of hard bop. Swan has more room to stretch, as Whitman backs Keller on the album’s half–dozen vocal tracks and solos only briefly on most of them. Keller’s mid–range voice is clear but not as reliable as one would wish. In other words, she’s not always precisely on–key, a flaw that is magnified by her decision to sing mostly ballads (“The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Here’s to Life,” “Nature Boy” and so on). She also sings Miles Davis’ “Four,” whose lyric (our opinion, of course) isn’t nearly as charming as its melody. Keller’s message, alluded to above, is one of love and unity, admirable sentiments the result of whose consummation on this earth is splendidly articulated in the closing number, “What a Wonderful World.” The world, as we well know, isn’t always such a wonderful place, but music makes it more bearable, and one may reasonably argue that Keller and her associates are doing what they can to advance the cause of brotherhood and understanding among the peoples of the world. Needless to say, the more who are enlisted under that banner the better off everyone will be.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.