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Mark Winkler: Sweet Spot

Bruce Lindsay By

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Over a three-decade career, singer/songwriter Mark Winkler has released more than a dozen albums, and written songs performed by top vocalists including Randy Crawford, Dianne Reeves and Liza Minnelli. On Sweet Spot he brings together all of that experience, plus some superb musicians, to create a collection of songs perfect for a late night club performance—or for anytime listening anywhere else, come to think of it.

Winkler has name-checked Mark Murphy as a particular influence. On Sweet Spot, he doesn't quite have Murphy's hipster cool or vocal power, but he does have a talent for storytelling, for interpreting a lyric with flair. He treats the standards with respect, but he's also happy to explore their less usual elements. On the Gershwins' "But Not For Me," which swings beautifully thanks to the superb bass and drums of Tim Emmons and Steve Barnes, Winkler sings the opening verse, something many other singers leave out, and adds a vocalese part written by Georgie Fame.

Bobby Troup is one of Winkler's favorite songwriters, as his 2003 album Sings Bobby Troup (Rhombus Records) testifies. Troup is represented here by "Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring," a melancholy love song with lyrics that could easily descend into self-parody. Winkler, accompanied solely by Anthony Wilson's sparse and empathic guitar, avoids the pitfall, investing the tale with real pathos.

Winkler's own songs are a delight—often funny, occasionally melancholy but always displaying a sharp way with a lyric, and some wry observation. "Sweet Spot," co-written with Geoffrey Leigh Tozer, is a late night, slightly risqué, blues enlivened by a honking saxophone solo from Bob Sheppard and the funky vocals of Barbara Morrison.

"Somewhere In Brazil (West Coast)" and its close cousin "Somewhere In Brazil (East Coast)" are beautifully observed and humorous stories, sung by Winkler in the role of a cynical and somewhat deluded bar singer. Sheppard's flute adds atmosphere and pianist Eli Brueggmann, credited with "disgruntled guest vocal," cranks up the satire as the weary and even more cynical keyboard player. And anyone who has the effrontery to rhyme "What a square though" with "Astrud Gilberto" deserves praise.

Winkler's more tender and romantic side comes to the fore on "This Side Of Loving," with Nolan Shaheed's considered and emotive muted trumpet perfectly matching the mood of the song. It's Winkler's ability to move between moods, from romance to up-tempo swing to dry humor and back again, that make Sweet Spot such an engaging collection.

Track Listing: Like Young; Catch Me if You Can; But Not For Me; Sweet Spot; This Side Of Loving; Somewhere In Brazil (West Coast); After Hours; On Broadway; Jazz is a Special Taste; Some Other Sunset; Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring; Somewhere In Brazil (East Coast).

Personnel: Mark Winkler: vocals; Eli Brueggemann: piano; Tim Emmons: bass; Steve Barnes: drums; Bob Sheppard: sax; Kim Richmond: sax; Grant Geissman: guitar; Billy Childs: piano; Greg Hutchinson: drums; Anthony Wilson; guitar; Nolan Shaheed: trumpet; Robert Hurst: bass; Luis Conte: percussion.

Title: Sweet Spot | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Cafe Pacific Records


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