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Old, Borrowed and Just a Little Blue

Geno Thackara By

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How many collections of standards does the jazz world really need? The answer, of course, is that there's always room for more as long as the players and listeners can find something relevant and fresh. Every piece on offer in this batch has been around for several decades at least, but these old things never fail to shine in the right hands.

William Evans/Donat Fisch/Banz Oester/Jorge Rossy/Andy Scherrer
Schlitten
QFTF
2017

For every Orrin Keepnews or Teo Macero you've heard of, there are dozens of other advocates and producers who never became well-known names, even though their work behind the console may have been just as important and inventive. Don Schlitten, co-founder of Signal Records, Cobblestone and Xanadu, is one of them. Admirer and jazz journalist Tom Gsteiger aims to help rectify that here with a "producer's album" of his own in tribute—following Schlitten's method by assembling a simpatico cast of players and turning them loose without preparation. The approach was to simply hit the ground (or rather the downbeat) and run.

The resulting recording has a beautifully classic flair, right down to placing a William Evans at the piano bench. 1952's "Bemsha Swing" comes out as the newest piece in this set. The Thelonious Monk tunes are the most quirkily playful, as Andy Scherrer steps in to add an extra sax alongside session lead Donat Fisch. In "Bemsha" and an appealingly sly "Misterioso" the two relish the chance to play games, sometimes ping-ponging the lead line back and forth, sometimes playing Simon-Says by overlapping each other half a measure apart. Evans glides warmly through "Day Dream" and "Sweet Lorraine," and Banz Oester and Jorge Rossy get their own little spots in front while keeping the affair frisky and fun. The parts are impressive and the whole is a treat.

Andreas Dreier Trio
But Not for Me
Losen Records
2017

This time the focus is on a much narrower niche, but still a wonderfully expansive one: Ahmad Jamal's early-'60s trio with Israel Corsby and Vernel Fourier, a relatively short-lived combo that set a gold standard for swinging with exquisite taste. The Andreas Dreier Trio switches up the instrumental tone by replacing piano with guitar, but always remains as snazzy and smart as their subject.

Following on from Poinciana (Losen, 2014), the group again uses Jamal's pop-standards arrangements as a starting point from which to launch a light romp of the classiest kind. Dreier is content to steer from the pocket with his warmly resonant double-bass while Bjørn Vidar Solli's guitar glides through the leads like a colorful fish. Each piece is a well-polished treament with no shortage of spirit, and it adds up to a wonderfully easy-swinging good time.

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie
The Late Set
Anzic Records
2017

The title is self-explanatory as can be, the cover follows suit with impeccable style, and the music lets you practically hear the shaking and stirring of martinis in the background. Hilary Gardner's dulcet Doris-Day-like crooning would already be enough to carry the day (and better yet the wee hours), but in Ehud Asherie's piano she has a foil just as rich and expressive. "[We] believe that standards are our modern-day art songs," she states, and the pair lovingly present some often-obscure Great American Songbook chestnuts with great charm and greater elegance.

It's golden-age stuff—the range here is 1918 to 1960—and yet the duo demonstrate that the songs and themes are not only timeless, but malleable to no end. They relish mining the repertoire in perpetual search of another angle: emotional shadings abound in the likes of "The Shadow Waltz" or "I Never Has Seen Snow," while Rodgers & Hart's "Everything I've Got" is garnished with a set of little-known lyrics and some ebullient stride playing from Asherie's numble fingers. Gardner simply sparkles with joy at the close with "Make Someone Happy," and though it feels over too quickly thanks to the club-style leave-'em-wanting-more set length, it's a great sentiment to sum things up. "If we're not making people happy with our music, why bother?" the singer rhetorically muses in the accompanying blurb. Why indeed, but thankfully we're a long way from finding out.

Tracks and Personnel

Schlitten

Tracks: Jitterbug Waltz; Sweet Lorraine; I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; Day Dream; Misterioso; Bemsha Swing; I Want to Be Happy; Bill.

Personnel: William Evans: piano; Donat Fisch: alto and tenor saxophones; Bänz Oester: bass; Jorge Rossy: drums; Andy Scherrer: tenor sax (5, 6).

But Not for Me

Tracks: I'll Remember April; Ahmad's Blues; All the THings You Are; You Don't Know What Love Is; Moonlight in Vermont; But Not for Me; Gone with the Wind; Raincheck; Moon River; Raincheck (alternate take).

Personnel: Andreas Dreier: double bass; Bjørn Vidar Solli: guitar; Adam Pache: drums.

The Late Set

Tracks: Shadow Waltz; Sweet and Slow; A Ship Without a Sail; After You've Gone; I Never Has Seen Snow; I Used to Be Color Blind; Everything I've Got; Make Someone Happy; Seems Like Old Times.

Personnel: Hilary Gardner: vocals; Ehud Asherie: piano.

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