The music business holds claim to more than its share of selfish, self-promoting, greedy individuals who built their fortunes on the backs of others but, within its ranks also exist a certain class of individual that truly looks out for the best interests of the music and the people who make it. Helen Keane, by all accounts, was one of the good ones.
Keane, who started out as an A&R scout for CBS and MCA, was best known as the guiding light that directed pianist Bill Evans
' career from 1963 until his untimely passing in 1980. Her work in support of this now-iconic figure would have been enough to establish her as an important behind-the-scenes presence in the music arena, but her efforts didn't stop there. When she wasn't helping to shape the Evans legacy, during his lifetime and beyond, she produced records for artists like trumpeter Art Farmer
, reed man Paquito D'Rivera
and singer Chris Connor
. She was also a champion for unsung women in jazz and she inspired many-a-musician to branch out into different stylistic realms; pianist Roger Davidson is one such artist. Keane's encouragement led to Davidson's first jazz recordingTen To Twelve
(Soundbrush, 2006)which she happily produced. While she sadly passed before the record ever saw the light of day, Keane can be credited for lighting an eternal jazz flame in the heart of its creator.
Now, twenty years after Davidson and Keane teamed up, the pianist pilots an outing that honors Keane's memory. Davidson enlisted longtime bass companion David Finck
, who played on the Keane-produced session, and classy drumming exemplar Lewis Nash
to help him craft a tribute to Keane and, by default, Evans. Davidson gives Evans his due by performing material associated with ("Yesterdays"), or written by ("Waltz For Debby") this master, but he doesn't play à la Evans. Davidson has a more straightforward, this-is-me approach to the piano trio that runs counter to Evans' introspection and organic flow.
Swing serves as the main course during this fifteen track feast, but the side dishes add some flavor variety. "All The Things You Are" comes with Brazilian backing, the title track provides a taste of melancholy packaged in faux-spiritual fashion, a bluesy 12/8 feel underscores "Soul Search," and a New Orleans snare drum groove enlivens "Joshua Fought The Battle Of Jericho." "How Deep Is The Ocean" is capped off with a rhapsodic but controlled ending that takes it beyond the pedestrian, and "Dance Of Faith" comes off like music from a high-spirited prayer meeting.
Davidson hasn't created anything new or radical here, but he's lovingly crafted a program of well-performed material that highlights his piano handy work and heartfelt appreciation for Helen Keane. We Remember Helen
is a highly agreeable, in-bounds trio affair that serves as a fitting tribute to a woman who championed jazz and the individuals who created it.