Ted Rosenthal's My Funny Valentine
finds the pianist joined by bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster in a tribute to singer Helen Merrill. Rosenthal and Mraz have toured extensively with Merrill in Japan and this CD serves up songs from her repertoire. The subtleties of the arrangements combined with intriguing juxtapositions and perfect lyricism make this a stellar session.
The tunes are from the Great American Songbook and, Merrill connection aside, this continues Rosenthal's exploration of the standards. The musicianship does not disappointment and songs that have been recorded literally thousands of times are cleverly reworked by Rosenthal's keen grasp of both the lyric and the sentiment behind the phrase, triggering interesting associations. As an example, the Latin underpinnings of the Sigmund Romberg classic "Softly as In a Morning Sunrise" are exquisitely exposed to set up a paean to exotica that serves as an intro to a swinging interpretation of the melody.
In contrast to the title track that is slowly unwound to accentuate its pathos, the other Richard Rodgers entry, "Falling in Love With Love," has its waltz tempo lightly swung, turning the regret of the lyric somewhat on its head. Several of these tunes do swing hard and such is the case with Gershwin's "S'Wonderful" and a rousing version of "Autumn Leaves." Two ballads associated with Billie Holiday, her own "Don't Explain" and "Lover Man," maintain their bluesy feel while also serving as vehicles for emotive improvising. Rosenthal continues to impress as a pianist who, while ostensibly working in the mainstream, consistently infuses his projects with a fresh creative aesthetic.