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Pamela Hines Trio: The Music of Richard Whiting

Dan McClenaghan By

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The first thirty seconds of a listening experience sets the tone. The disc spins, and music emerges. It's Richard Whiting's "Sleepy Time Gal." And it just might be the loveliest thing pianist Pamela Hines has ever recorded, languid and syrupy, with the trio that includes bassist John Lockwood and drummer Miki Matsuki. Her trio mates are as locked into the tune's concept—and Hines' concept—as they can be.

The Music of Richard Whiting is Hines' album-long tribute to the Great American Songbook master whose Broadway film scoring career happened in the 1920s and 30s. With music from that earlier end of Songbook spectrum, a danger of over-quaintness presents itself. It is difficult to imagine a song like Whiting's "On The Good Ship Lollipop"—the tune Shirley Temple sang for the 1934 movie Bright Eyes—getting a credible jazz treatment. And Hines and her trio don't go there. What they do undertake are reinventions of eight of Whitings' finest works, with re-harmonizations and modern chord voicings, and a deep affection for the melodies.

This is a highlight-packed outing: "My Ideal" is played with a relaxed gorgeousness; "Guilty," a Bing Crosby ballad, turns playful and full of life here, with a Hines displaying a crisp, zingy piano touch. "Beyond The Blue Horizon" gets a languid Latin tinge; and "She's Funny That Way"—a Billie Holiday favorite—comes straight at you in the opening, leading into some marvelous introspective improvisation by Hines.

"Too Marvelous For Words" is probably Whiting's most popular song. The trio soups it up, gives it a nudge toward the modern direction. Again, Hines is spirited and inspired. So are her trio mates.

An important component of the success here is the sound. The drums and bass are a bit up in the mix, so everything they are doing comes through, and what they are doing keeps things on a sharp edge, with a muscular and enlivened approach that cranks things up into the top notch. John Lockwood and Miki Matsuki aren't soft-brushing subtle backdrops; they are agitating, splashing bright colors around.

Doing a recording that sticks with the music of one songwriter adds a thematic cohesion to the affair, though that approach seems to be out of fashion. That wasn't always the case. Hines' celebration of Richard Whitings' artistry brings to mind the two separate series of albums that Oscar Peterson put out in the 1950s on Verve Records, each album celebrating a separate songwriter (George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, etc.), available now as Oscar Peterson Plays (2017) and Oscar Peterson: The Songbooks (2018). Hines and this trio could do that, very successfully, says The Music of Richard Whiting.

And that first thirty seconds of enchantment—it never lets up.

Track Listing: Sleepy Time Gal; My Ideal; Guilty; Beyond the Blue Horizon; She's Funny That Way; Too Marvelous For Words; Ain't We Got Fun; When Did You Leave Heaven?

Personnel: Pamela Hines: pianist/arranger; John Lockwood: bass; Miki Matsuki: drums.

Title: The Music of Richard Whiting | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Katya Records

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