While Henry Mancini (1924-1994) borrowed plenty from jazz, he returned in kind by contributing a large body of fine, memorable music worthy of the melodic jazz tradition. Much of Mancini's best film musicparticularly those scores from the early 1960ssprang from the "cool jazz" of the 1950s West Coast Scene and featured some of the era's best players. Aside from insanely catchy music, Mancini brilliantly fused instrumental colors and devised some of the cleverest musical patterns imaginable. Oddly, though, Mancini never inspired the great wealth of jazz tributes that composers such as Gershwin, Jobim or Ellington motivated over the last several decades. Of the few that have surfaced over the last few years, none were as inspired as the music being honored.
Ted Nash's exquisite The Mancini Project is a most pleasurable exception. This fine tribute finds the reed player exploring 14 of Mancini's compositions, including at least two of the composer's very best ("Lujon" and "Dreamsville") and several surprising and satisfying choices ("Theme From Night Visitor" and "Cheryl's Theme"). Nash is joined by three like-minded partners of the highest order, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Matt Wilson. Together, and not always at once, they breathe beautiful life into Maestro Mancini's music.
Nash, who has become well known for his considerable contributions to Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra as well as the Jazz Composers Collective, charts a path that's very much his own. He's more inspired here than ever before. This is due, perhaps, to his special connection to the music. Both his father and uncle were part of the Mancini aggregates which recorded the original versions of songs heard here. Indeed, "Something For Nash," featured in Blake Edwards' 1987 film Blind Date and covered here, was written by Mancini for Ted's father.
Nash sounds lush throughout, primarily but not exclusively on tenor sax. The Kimbrough/Reid/Wilson triumvirate responds in kind with some marvelously melodic and truly creative complicity. This is especially evident on the moodiest pieces, notably "Night Visitor," "Lujon" and "Experiment in Terror." The trio's take on "Breakfast At Tiffany's" moves beyond mood toward pure inspiration, where Nash bravely hints at the motions and emotions David Murray has expertly explored.
The remarkably funky "The Party," elsewhere an odd rock-ish number highlighting an odd Peter Sellers film, is given great resonance by Kimbrough's strong-as-church gospel foundation. Nash finds a niche on soprano for the lovely, swinging "A Quiet Happening" and "Two For The Road" and finesses the flute on the equally enchanting "Something For Nash," "Soldier In The Rain" and "Baby Elephant Walk."
Surprisingly, Nash gives several of the more familiar titles ("Shot In The Dark," "Baby Elephant Walk") a refreshing sprite, but disallows any sort of improvisation and keeps them well below the two-minute mark. But it's hard to fault this collectionwhich could easily stretch into multiple volumesfor its attempt at a most beautiful tribute. Nash and company give this timeless music the sense of essential it most surely deserves.
Theme From Night Visitor; Dreamsville; Something For Nash; Shot In The Dark; Lujon; Breakfast At Tiffany's; Cheryl's Theme; Mr. Yunioshi; Soldier In The Rain; The Party; A Quiet Happening; Two For The Road; Experiment In Terror; Baby Elephant Walk.
Ted Nash: tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, alto flute, piccolo; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.