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Mark Winkler: The Company I Keep

Dan Bilawsky By

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The Beatles had it right when they noted that we get by with a little help from our friends. It's a fact that vocalist Mark Winkler can surely testify to. In the wake of losing his husband, Winkler found the comfort and strength he needed through the company he keeps and in the music that feeds his soul. That's the beautiful story behind this jazz soirée.

The company of which the title of this record speaks is an impressive list of jazz heavies that feature prominently in Winkler's professional rolodex and/or social life. There's a handful of vocal giants, some heavy-duty pianists, a number of rhythm superheroes, and a few mighty horns. Mix it all together and you have a jazz star-studded affair that's smartly produced, easy on the ears, and hard to forget.

The Company I Keep provides a bountiful harvest of fine music. Some of the songs are heavily arranged—Winkler's duet with vocalist Jackie Ryan on Donald Fagen's "Walk Between The Raindrops" and his dip into Mark Murphy's bag on a song and dance with Claire Martin through Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" are both tightly choreographed—but most tend to speak to a more casual approach. Those pieces with breathing room are the ones where Winkler's gifts shine brightest. There's "That Afternoon In Harlem," a performance which finds trombonist Bob McChesney delivering some wonderful obbligato weaved around Winkler's vocals; a balladic gem in the form of "Love Comes Quietly," pairing Winkler with a top-shelf trio comprised of pianist Eric Reed, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton; a bossa-tinged "Rainproof" that brings vocal treasure Sara Gazarek in to help lay out a realistic but optimistic picture about love; a "Lucky To Be Me" that moves from the cabaret to the quiet after-hours session with some help from pianist David Benoit and multi-reedist Bob Sheppard (on clarinet); and a tear-inducing "Here's To Life" for two, with pianist Rich Eames expertly mirroring the complexity and depth of meaning in the song and in Winkler's delivery.

While the aforementioned numbers make up the essential highlight reel on The Company I Keep, absolutely nothing is disposable on this date. All twelve tunes carry life's rich meaning in their expression, painting a complete picture of Mark Winkler's vocal artistry while shining a light on his work as a lyricist in the process. With musical talent and spirit like this, and with friends like these, it's clear that Winkler's going to be just fine.

Track Listing: Walk Between The Raindrops; Strollin'; Midnight In Paris; But It Still Ain't So; That Afternoon In Harlem; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Stolen Moments; Love Comes Quietly; Rainproof; The Sum; Lucky To Be Me; Here's To Life.

Personnel: Mark Winkler: vocals; Jackie Ryan: vocals (1); Jamieson Trotter: piano (1, 2, 4, 6, 7), Hammond B-3 (4); Lyman Medeiros: bass (1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 11); Mike Shapiro: drums (1, 2, 6, 10); Bob McChesney: trombone (1, 5, 7); Ron Blake: trumpet (1, 7); Brian Swartz: trumpet (1, 7); Bob Sheppard: saxophone (1, 4, 7, 9, 10), clarinet (11); Cheryl Bentyne: vocals (2); Larry Koonse: guitar (2, 3); Rich Eames: piano (3, 12); John Clayton: bass (3, 7-9); Jeff Hamilton: drums (3, 5, 7-9); Don Shelton: clarinet (3); Paul Cartwright: violin (3); Bob Mann: guitars (4); Kevin Winard: drums (4), percussion (10); Eric Reed: piano (5, 8); John Beasley: piano (10); David Benoit: piano (11).

Title: The Company I Keep | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Cafe Pacific Records

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