Michael Wolff-Kenny Rankin: Round Midnight
Portraiture, The Blues Period (Fuel 2000 Records 1004)
Composed by Thelonious Monk, Charles “Cootie” Williams, and Bernard Hanighen.
Recorded: Hollywood, CA, 1997
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
Kenny Rankin, who died this past June at the age of 69, was generally thought of as a pop or soft-rock singer, but he always had a way with standards as well. His 1994 album, Professional Dreamer, proved without a doubt his ability to interpret standards in the manner of a jazz singer. Rankin made a guest appearance on pianist Michael Wolff's 1997 release Portraiture, The Blue Period, singing "Round Midnight." The common denominator for the collaboration seems to be Roy McCurdy, who was the drummer when Wolff played with Cannonball Adderley in the mid-70's and who also performed on Rankin's Professional Dreamer. The bassist on this track, John B. Williams, was in the band that Wolff led in the '80's for "The Arsenio Hall Show," and has been his regular bassist ever since.
Wolff plays the familiar theme unaccompanied prior to Rankin's entrance. The pianist's original voicings show off his keen harmonic sense, and his chord choices, grace notes, and clarion touch make his exploration sound fresh and personal. Rankin's high, supple voice sings the lyrics with a freedom of phrasing and rhythm that is unpredictable but appropriate, and successfully realized. Only when Wolff and Rankin have firmly established their delicately insightful interaction do Williams and McCurdy join in to complement and enhance the duo's artistry. Rankin's pure tonality, varied inflections, interval leaps, and overall questing mindset make this indisputably a jazz vocal rendition. The singer never scats, but he's constantly improvising in ways either subtle or blatant. The surprise ending leaves you hanging, but wanting to hear more.
Reviewer: Scott Albin