When musicians as accomplished and well-known as saxophonist Harry Allen and guitarist Dave Blenkhorn play the music of Phil Morrison, a question that naturally arises is: why? Although bassist and composer Morrison is a splendid musician in his own right, he has made his home for many years in Brunswick, Georgia, hardly a mecca for jazz, and a city in which even the finest musicians can languish in near-obscurity. But, on a swing through the south, Allen became aware of Morrison's compositions, liked what he heard, and enlisted the Australian-born Blenkhorn to record some of them with Morrison's trio (Keith Williams, piano; Rudy Manuel, drums).
The resulting collaboration may best be described as tastefully pleasant. Much of Morrison's music is laid-back, some with a gentle Latin touch (Morrison made a number of visits to Brazil with Nat Cole's brother, Freddy), and nudging from time to time the borders of smooth jazz. At least three of the album's eight numbers ("Down in Rio," "Mystique," "Your Eyes") call to mind the bossa nova mania of the mid-1960s. Allen is an ideal interpreter, performing with his usual calm assurance while paying his respects in phrasing and substance to tenor titans Zoot Sims and Stan Getz who were leading figures in the bossa nova movement. Blenkhorn's guitar is also in the pocket, its mellow single-note runs well-suited to the spirit of Morrison's charts.
One unforeseen aspect of the album is that even though only five musicians are listed, six of the eight numbers include overdubbed strings, winds and/or brass. The exceptions are "Your Eyes" and "Fiddlin,'" the last of which is the jazziest item on the menu (and also the briefest at just over three minutes). The other numbers ("April and U," "Summer Rain," Mieke Jade") are, for the most part, even-tempered and string-laden. Morrison certainly has an ear for an engaging melody, while Allen and Blenkhorn form a perfect channel through which to brighten and amplify his music. As noted, no fireworks but pleasurable listening with the accent on elegance.
April and U; Summer Rain; Down in Rio; Mieke Jade; Without You; Fiddlin’; Mystique; Your
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