Shirley Horn: Memories of You

The two Washington, D.C., natives, Shirley Horn and Buck Hill, had a special rapport, as evident on tracks featuring them both on several of Horn's Verve CDs, which helped launch her "comeback" and led to wider recognition of her singular vocal and piano skills. Hill's profile was also on the rise in the '80s as a top mainstream saxophonist, so that their recorded interactions couldn't have been better timed.

Horn and Hill linger over "Memories of You" for a full, mesmerizing seven minutes. Few singers have the talent or courage to take such an old warhorse at such a snail's pace. Horn's deliberate, understated recital of the lyrics phrase by separated phrase revitalizes them, as Hill plays sensuous obbligatos in flawless support, and Horn accompanies herself with softly accentuating chords. Hill's absorbing solo is more extroverted, but with a controlled passion. Horn continues her tastefully appropriate comping right up to the saxophonist's well-conceived and gracefully executed resolution. The singer concludes with one more hesitant, thoughtful and ultimately heartbreakingly intimate journey through the familiar words and melody of Razaf and Blake. The composers wrote the song as a feature for the three-octave vocal range of Minto Cato in the Broadway musical revue Blackbirds of 1930. Horn brings it down to earth utilizing limited vocal resources, yet with sensitivity and artistry second to none.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck: Memories of You

Listening to the first eight bars of this performance, you may think that Dave Brubeck has mellowed with the passing years. He plays the old Eubie Blake standard like a throwback to the Harlem stride school. Has our arch-modernist become a sentimental traditionalist? But by the second eight bars, Brubeck is already playing his harmonic tricks. The passing chords come thick and fast, and by the time we enter the next chorus we are flying over polytonal territory. Passengers, look out your left window and see if you can recognize the changes below. For a moment, Brubeck dips back into his stride bag, but can't keep from tossing out those super-sized chords. Welcome to the world of Dave Brubeck, where even a stark miniature such as this keeps a few Wagnerian reminders hidden in the corners.

December 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Scott Hamilton: Memories of You

When Scott Hamilton arrived in New York in 1976, he stood out as a jazz anachronism, an exponent of 1930s tenor sax stylings lost in a post-Coltrane universe. Nowadays, retro is the rage, and Hamilton hardly seems so out-of-touch. In the meantime, the tenorist has (slightly) modernized his sound, adding layers of "Four Brothers" cool on top of his prewar aesthetic. In other words, his approach to the sax has moved from a 1937 mindset to a more up-to-date 1947-ish attitude. At this rate, Hamilton may embrace Ornette's harmolodics if he lives to be 150.

But what draws me to this artist is not his allegiance (or disavowal) of musical fads and fashions. Hamilton gets my attention by his skill as a soloist. Give him eight choruses, or just eight bars . . . either way, he will fill 'em up with something choice and tasty. He takes this ancient Eubie Blake song, which often collapses into a rickety oom-pah, oom-pah two-beat disaster, and makes it sound sleek and cool. Heck, this tune is even more old fashioned than Hamilton himself. But when you play the songs this well, you can tear up their birth certificates because music like this is timeless.

May 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Benny Goodman: Memories of You

Much is made of Goodman the martinet, the stern taskmaster leveling The Ray to tyrannize his minions. Then there's Benny the eccentric, polishing his world-class clarinet technique by practicing in the nude. Less legendary is Goodman the romantic, the nearsighted nerd with the forced smile who wore his heart on his sleeve. What!? you ask, aghast. Benny Goodman? Romantic? If you can spare 3 minutes, you'll hear what we mean. With Hamp's vibes shimmering in the moonlight, Benny's gentle boat ride across a still lake on an unseasonably mild Thanksgiving eve proves as surprisingly endearing as a valentine in November.

December 03, 2007 · 0 comments


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