Melodic Miner’s Daughter, Abby and Norm Zocher’s second album on their own A to Z label, is smooth jazz in the best sense of the phrase; that is to say, smooth yet substantive. Even though for the most part airy and graceful, it’s designed not so much for radio air-play or popularity charts as for the more scrupulous listener. In other words, the talented husband-and-wife team and their able companions simply play their music, often warmly and gently but without compromise (and sometimes with strength and passion, witness Abby’s tempestuous “Freestyle” and “Melodic Miner’s Daughter”).
The core quartet (Abby, Norm, pianist Bevan Manson, drummer Brooke Sofferman) is enlarged on four tracks by guest saxophonist George Garzone, who sits in occasionally with the group during its weekly gig at Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston (Abby and Norm are associate professors of guitar at the Berklee School of Music). Garzone plays tenor on Norm’s “Miles,” Abby’s “Miner’s Daughter” and his own less-than-enticing “Fox in the Woods,” soprano on Part II of the opening Canadian Suite, Norm’s groovy “CBC at Night.” Garzone also guested on the group’s earlier album, The Book of Norm, which I found more fragmented and less rewarding than this one.
The suite, dedicated to Abby and Norm’s “second home,” Prince Edward Island, makes a delicious entree, starting with Abby’s lovely “Hymn for the Open Country” (featuring her mellow acoustic guitar and Manson’s sparkling piano) and encompassing “CBC at Night,” Abby’s folk-like “Always (Returning)” and “A Place Called Home / Kitchen Party.” Everyone bares his (or her) bang- up chops on the boisterous “Freestyle,” Abby is pensive and dreamy on Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” (nicely scatting her seductive bass line) and sings her own lyric on Manson’s tasty “Caramel.”
While Abby and Norm don’t always score a bulls-eye, they give the music on Miner’s Daughter their best shot, and that’s always refreshing to hear. And when all is said and done, as I wrote when appraising their earlier album, “what is important is the music and A&N’s commitment to it, which seems to be unconditional.”