Listening to a tune like "Chega de Saudade," the ninth tune on trumpeter Randy Sandke's Unconventional Wisdom, there's the feeling that this quartet session is from a recorded concert: the honest, joyous drive of the rhythm section, the trumpet singing Jobim's melody and the guitar supporting it with clear harmonies that are rhythmically in sync. Yet, this turns out to be a well thought-out program of tunes that benefits from the pristine sound quality obtained in a studio environment.
Diverse yet focused, the 14 tracks of Unconventional Wisdom display not only a great trumpet player, an interesting composer and strong leader but also the expansive talents of his band mates, the most dramatic example being that of Nicki Parrott, a solid, swinging bassist who also sings. Moving from a smokin' up-tempo version of Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things" to Parrott's vocals on "Django" (a Sandke original based on Debussy's "Reverie"), the effect is of a band that sounds bigger than just its four musicians.
With "Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye," Cole Porter's beautiful ballad melody is rendered first with trumpet in Eb and then modulates to G for Parrott's breathy voice, Howard Alden's guitar accompaniment and John Riley's brush work in perfect balance with the featured instruments. To say that Bill Evans' compositional work was overshadowed by his piano playing would be quite an understatement, yet "Funkallero" does pop up from time to time. Here the quartet plays the 16-bar tune with a medium-slow Latin grove with wonderful solos by Alden and Sandke, but it's Parrott's solo with deep and honest blues inflections that makes this track a must hear.
Unconventional Wisdom presents five varied Sandke originals complemented by tunes from Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin and Marty Napoleon. Besides the aforementioned "Django," "Nicki's Journey" is reminiscent of early George Russell and "December Down" portrays a bittersweet month with double-edged harmony. Don't try to force Randy Sandke into a simple category of jazz: he has a lot to offer to the open-minded listener.
Just One of Those Things; Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye; Meta Blue; New Orleans; The Best Thing For You; Nicki's Journey; Django's Dream; Little Bix; Chega de Saudade; December Down; For All We Know; We're in Love; Funkarello; Toyland.
Randy Sandke: trumpet: flugelhorn; Howard Alden: guitar; Nicki Parrott: bass: vocals; John Riley: drums.
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