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Charles Ruggiero & Hilary Gardner: Play The Bird And The Bee

Dan Bilawsky By

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If you've encountered drummer Charles Ruggiero's debut, Boom Bang, Boom Bang! (Rondette Jazz, 2014), you might've seen this coming. There, in the penultimate spot on the playlist, is a cover of The Bird and the Bee's "I'm A Broken Heart" featuring vocalist Hilary Gardner. Something of an outlier on the album, it hinted at a great appreciation for the sharp lyrics and artful designs responsible for that indie synth-pop duo's acclaim.

That small seed of possibility, pointing toward the jazz potential in the songs of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, has now bloomed into this beautifully imaginative offering. Ruggiero and Gardner join forces here to deliver smart takes on eight of The Bird and the Bee's compositions. Arresting and imaginative, the music is both in line with its origins and independent in style and spirit.

Teaming up with pianist Jeremy Manasia and bassist Neal Miner, Gardner and Ruggiero get into the zone with a "Meteor" that finds vocals hanging in the stars while the drums maintain an active presence below. It's a performance that's tied to both heaven and earth. Following that kickoff, Gardner blends poise and humor (and a requisite expletive) in signature fashion on a snazzy, snapping-and-swinging "Boyfriend." Both numbers point clearly enough toward the models while also demonstrating their malleability.

If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of placing this material in a jazz context, those opening numbers swiftly dispel it. And the songs that follow continue to make good on the conceptual promise. Manasia serves as a glimmering presence while Ruggiero and Miner create a waltzing flow for Gardner to glide over on "Lovey Dovey." Gardner and Manasia, eyeing the original opening transition and molding it to their liking, introduce "You're A Cad" with a play on the sectional verse setup before Ruggiero brings his "Poinciana" groove spin into the picture. And "Diamond Dave," a billet-doux to David Lee Roth, is painted to perfection in wistful shades.

Ruggiero and Gardner have got something good going on here, occupying a niche that's completely their own. While this classiest and wittiest of reimaginings may turn out to be a one- and-done affair, a second volume would most certainly be welcome.

Track Listing: Meteor; Boyfriend; Lovey Dovey; You're A Cad; Come As You Were; Diamond Dave; The Races; Fourth Of July.

Personnel: Hilary Gardner: vocals; Jeremy Manasia: piano; Neal Miner: bass; Charles Ruggiero: drums.

Title: Play The Bird And The Bee | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: SmallsLIVE

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