Nelson Rangell's squandered most of his career on saccharine smooth jazz only rarely offering insight into his ability, with nearly all of that coming during his early recordings of the late '80s and early '90s. He doesn't completely fulfill that promise on My American Songbook Vol. 1, but it's his best album in perhaps a decade and enough to renew hope the multiinstrumentalist may yet establish himself as an artist of substance.
Those familiar only with Rangell through smooth jazz radio likely have missed commendable contemporary interpretations such as his flute on Stanley Turrentine's "A Little Sweetness, alto sax on Burt Bacharach's "A House Is Not A Home, and whistling to minimal instrumentation on Pat Metheny's "If I Could. My American Songbook Vol. 1 seeks to capture that in one album with twelve standard and classic pop songs. While a fair amount of lite ambiance from recent recordings lingers, it is for once eclipsed by the variety and proficiency demonstrated by Rangell and his stronger than usual supporting cast.
Start by skipping ahead a few songs to Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind and Rangell's typically rapid flute licks deliver an uplifting sincerity with as much comfort as the pianist was known for. It's followed by a surprisingly straight-ahead treatment of "Billy Boy, where Rangell's alto takes on a neo-bop attitude few but his most patient followers probably believe him capable of. And a rare extended whistling performance on Hampton Hawes' "Sonora doesn't hit the heights of "If I Could, but it's a fine showpiece of his mastery of the art.
The weaker moments are on songs like Leonard Bernstein's "America which essentially repackage his recent smooth jazz triflings in a "standards envelope. But this is mostly forgiven by the time he closes the set with Ray Noble's "Cherokee and the original "Don't Forget Those Forgotten (dedicated, like the album, to promoting peace in "a nation polarized and divided ).
My American Songbook Vol. 1 still isn't likely to win over mainstream purists, but those familiar with him will be pleasantly surprised by its depth and it has real potential to win over new contemporary jazz listeners. If he does, hopefully he won't limit them to going into the past for quality work (Truest Heart and Destiny are good starting points) and will make this the beginningnot the destinationof a new journey of discovery.
1. America (Leonard Bernstein); 2. Don't You Worry
Nelson Rangell (vocals, whistling, flute, piccolo, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone,
kalimba); Alex Nekrasov (vocals, keyboards, programming); Anne Beer (violin); Darrien Kramer
(trombone); Russell Ferrante (piano); Kip Kuepper (keyboards, bass guitar); Jimmy Haslip (bass
instrument); Christian Teele (drums, percussion)