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Tom Varner’s “The Window Up Above-American Songs 1770-1998” showcases Varner’s impeccable chops and sharp musical sense as he traces the history of American Song from the Revolutionary War through Bruce Springsteen’s contemporary “With Every Wish”.
The title cut-“The Window Up Above” was composed by famed Country & Western crooner George Jones while “Thirsty” Dave Hansen vocalizes in typical C & W fashion with all the sentiment and heartfelt rendering that one would expect. Here, Violinist Mark Feldman churns out some lazy yet effective Nashville style fiddling which pays dutiful homage to the genre. Varner and company perform Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” in sublime or perhaps pensive fashion. Here, Varner’s French Horn work is emotional and emphatic which in turn, pays due justice to this Ellington classic. The Gospel tune “My God Is Real” by Kenneth Morris is soulful and spiritual augmented by some cool, breezy chord voicings by guitarist Pete McCann. Varner’s phrasing and thematic approach is cunning and makes for an enjoyable listening experience, which of course is evident throughout. The American Civil War classic “Battle Cry of Freedom” is utilized as a vehicle for hard-edged free jazz accented by Pete McCann’s fuzz guitar work. Everyone lets loose here which in hindsight could be a fairly appropriate statement considering the brutality and death toll of this historical armed conflict. The Civil War resurfaces with a magnificent rendition of “All Quiet On The Potomac” as the band summons images of the period signifying an ease of tension or a brief reprieve in hostilities. Hank William’s “Ramblin’ Man” features “Thirsty” Dave Hansen’s twangy C&W banter and Mark Feldman’s whimsical Violin passages. Again, Varner showcases his impeccable control and execution while hitting those high notes in a seemingly effortless manner. Bruce Springsteen’s “With Every Wish” features some fancy brush work by Drummer, George Shuller as Varner’s French Horn phrasing carries the melody while emulating Springsteen’s always passionate and forceful vocalizations. Tom Varner’s lone original composition “The Best Thing” is an ethereal and at times ambient statement that shows lineage to the classic modern day trio of Paul Motian-Joe Lovano-Bill Frisell.
“The Window Up Above” is classy and uplifting yet at times, sentimental. Tom Varner’s approach is steadfast and unique as opposed to being derivative or corny. A simply beautiful recording which should appeal to jazz aficionados, children or anyone who is willing to check out America’s vast musical heritage. Highly Recommended.
Tom Varner; French Horn: Pete McCann; Guitar: George Schuller; Drums: Lindsay Horner; Bass (selected tracks): Mark Feldman; Violin: Dave Ballou: Cornet: Steve Alcott; Bass (selected tracks); Thirsty Dave Hansen; Vocals