Craig Buhler: Creepin'




Craig Buhler (saxophones, clarinet)


Skykomish (Discernment Music DJ-007)

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Craig Buhler (saxophones, clarinet),

Lee Thornburg (trumpet, flugelhorn), Dan Barrett (trombone), Brian Atkinson (vibes), Karen Hammack (piano), Jamie Findlay (guitar), Chris Conner (bass), Paul Kreibich (drums, percussion)


Composed by Stevie Wonder


Recorded: Chatsworth, CA


Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

On his CD Skykomish, multi-reedist Craig Buhler sets out to do what Herbie Hancock attempted roughly a dozen years earlier: convert some familiar pop songs into jazz standards. There’s a wide gulf separating the approach of Hancock, who often completely reshuffled the underlying harmonics of the songs, and Buhler, whose makeovers are typically limited to adding a riff or two. His renditions are also much smoother, falling short of landing into “smooth” jazz territory by sticking with all-acoustic instrumentation and licks that are relaxed, not so much forced or trite. Call it “easy listening” jazz, instead.

Regardless, this approach leaves the choice of material pretty much the deciding factor of whether the song works or not. “Creepin’” wasn’t really a hit for Stevie Wonder, but in 1974, even his deep cuts were far above in quality over what other pop artists topped the charts with at the time. Buhler shrewdly targeted his arrangement around Wonder’s smoky ballad, which is a no-lose proposition. The horns supplying the main phrase with Atkinson’s rich vibes handling the haunting counterpoint underneath by itself does the trick. Fans of improvisation have to wait until nearly halfway into this five-an-a-half minute rendition before Atkinson solos, and even then it barely strays from the melody. Buhler’s clarinet does, but it flies low to the ground.

The velvety, mellow approach taken on this song combined with Buhler’s posh production might make this song a candidate to someday appear on an elevator near you. If that happens, just forget any notion about a hot blowing session and enjoy the (elevator) ride.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron

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