Round Trip would be a great record with the LA Jazz All-Stars Big Band alone. As a bonus, we get a terrific singer/songwriter, Marilyn Harris, who wrote or co-wrote ten of the album's dozen selections and uses her pleasing midrange voice and effervescent personality to amply and enliven every one of them.
From what I can hear (and that's less than I would prefer), Harris writes clever lyrics that call to mind Dave Frishberg, Mose Allison, Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert, Blossom Dearie, Giacomo Gates and Bob Dorough (with whom she duets on one of her compositions, "Cool ). Even though her voice is crystal clear, her intonation solid and her diction flawless, Harris is too often engulfed by the ensemble, a grievance I've had with a number of recent vocal albums. On the poignant "That Day in Harlem, co-written with Mark Winkler, Harris's voice is even upstaged by her own piano (did I mention that she doubles?).
Dorough, by the way, nestles in so snugly on "Cool that one could believe he had written it himself. There's one more engaging duet, with producer/arranger Mark Wolfram, on "Way Out Here in the Country. Elsewhere, Harris is on her own, and throws herself eagerly into every song. As for the over-all sound, she fares best on the ballads, Jerry Herman's "If He Walked Into My Life and her own "Letting Go (even though the latter has a [synthesized?] string section added). The booklet explains that the band was recorded last December and February, Harris's vocals and piano on separate occasions, and therein, as the Bard wrote, may lie the rub. It's difficult to balance the two in a recording studio, and in this case Wolfram's mix too often accentuates the band at the expense of the singer, who should always be in the forefront.
On the flip side, it's a great band, showcasing seasoned pros in every section, precise ensemble work, nice charts and brief but crackling solos by the likes of tenor Pete Christlieb, altos Dan Higgins and Don Shelton, trombonists Andy Martin and Bill Watrous, trumpeter Warren Luening, guitarist Jim Fox and bassist Chuck Berghofer. The songs are consistently clever and refreshing, from the opening "Round Trip to "The Cards Keep Comin', "I Don't Gamble, "Bebop High, "The Wisdom of Sam Kinison and "They're Gonna Love Me, Marian McPartland/Johnny Mercer's tender "Twilight World and the others already noted.
Assuming there's a more equitable balance on your stereo system than on my headphones, this is a splendid and easily recommended album by a wonderful singer and band.
Round Trip; The Cards Keep Comin
Marilyn Harris: vocals, piano; Mark Wolfram: arranger, producer, vocal (6); Wayne
Bergeron, Larry Lunetta, Warren Luening, Rick Baptist: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Higgins:
alto sax, flute; Don Shelton: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Bill Liston: tenor sax; Pete Christlieb:
tenor sax, alto flute; John Yoakum: tenor sax, piccolo, alto flute; Greg Huckins: baritone
sax, bass clarinet; Andy Martin, Bruce Otto, Charlie Loper: trombone; Charlie Morillas: bass
trombone; Jim Fox: guitar; Chuck Berghofer: bass; Ralph Humphrey, Peter Erskine: drums.
Special guests: Bob Dorough: vocal (8); Bill Watrous: trombone (11).
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