Take 6: Someone to Watch Over Me

Some things have changed with Take 6 since the vocal group's debut CD back in 1988. Instead of a cappella gospel music, we now hear a conventional rhythm section in the background and a repertoire featuring a big dose of pop and love songs. But some things don't change. This group still shows off its flawless execution, great intonation, and very smooth blending of voices. Even with guest Shelea Fraizer handling lead vocals, I find myself zeroing in on the impressive backup work of the six singing stars who make up Take 6. Jazz fans take note: although Roy Hargrove is on this track, don't expect to hear much of the trumpeter. Even so, this is a jazzy release, and Take 6 fans will want to own it. But those who haven't heard this group before may want to start with the earlier a cappella releases—timeless projects that still stand out as masterpieces of the genre.

October 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Keith Jarrett: Someone to Watch Over Me

This is a very nuanced performance, and one almost senses that Jarrett is playing the Gershwin standard for himself, not for an audience. The setting (this track was recorded at his home) and circumstances (the artist was recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome) no doubt reinforce this atmosphere of an artist who has retreated from the world to converse with his own private muse. No flashy passages, no theatrical moments, distract us from his gentle development of the melodic line.

I especially like how Jarrett handles the harmonic movement of this song. As I have noted elsewhere, Jarrett displays a surprisingly respectful attitude toward the old standards, and rarely engages in radical reharmonization, unlike most Gen X and Gen Y jazz pianists, who cannot resist twisting these songs into peculiar new structures. Yet this song, with its simple diatonic melody – it's one of Gershwin's most old-fashioned sounding tunes – almost requires a jazz artist to do something dramatic to give it some edge. Even so, Jarrett refuses to undertake a surgical reconstruction of the original. He makes small and subtle adjustments here and there to the chords, but remains absolutely faithful to the song's original essence. It testifies to Jarrett's artistry that he can achieve so much with such delicacy and restraint.

I am even tempted to use the word "modesty"—not a term typically thrown at Mr. Jarrett—in describing this performance. Perhaps it is an unusual word to apply to any jazz outing, given the heroic traditions of jazz, a genre which always seems most at home when it reaches for the excessive and intense. Nonetheless, modesty is not a bad way of describing the maturity with which our pianist allows this Gershwin song to emerge under his sensitive fingertips.

May 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: Someone to Watch Over Me

It's hard for me to pick between this studio version of the Gershwin standard and the live recording Tatum made of the same song a few weeks earlier at the Shrine Auditorium. The bottom line: both are dramatic, pull-out-all-the-stops performances. Just shy of his 40th birthday, this pianist was playing as well as at any stage in his career. His speed and clarity are the benchmarks by which future jazz keyboard virtuosos will be measured. The opening rubato intro is so crammed full of pyrotechnics that you can hardly imagine what Tatum will do to top it. But at the 1-minute mark he settles into a medium tempo Harlem stride that looks back to his own musical roots and shows that, in the Age of Bop, you could still top the youngsters with some old-school pianism. No wonder that the composer of this song, George Gershwin himself, counted himself among Tatum's admirers.

May 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Ella Fitzgerald: Someone to Watch Over Me

In truth, any of the eight selections produced by Milt Gabler for the 10-inch Decca album Ella Sings Gershwin would deserve a place in a list of this vocalist's finest performances. Here Ella’s great talent is seriously and conscientiously employed on material with which she was in total sympathy. She sings with confidence and a total lack of artifice, without flights of virtuosity or exercises in complexity. She does not attempt to impose an emotional dimension on what she sings, yet the success of this number lies in the way in which she sounds detached but at the same time intimate. It is achieved though a combination of impeccable diction (in which she took great pride), the clarity and purity of her voice, and precise intonation. But equally important is the creative duality between singer and accompanist. While Ella shapes the song with inch-perfect precision, Ellis Larkin’s accompaniment frames her talent to perfection, so that from wherever this song is heard, it sounds its best.

February 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Turrentine: Someone to Watch Over Me

Nowhere is nonpareil audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s renowned "Blue Note sound" more distinctive than on ballads. Besides its fundamental tone, every musical pitch resonates higher sounds called overtones. When you hear the aura of overtones crisply radiating around Stanley Turrentine's tenor, you understand what made Van Gelder unique. No non-musician played a greater role in birthing so many stellar jazz recordings. That said, Turrentine's tenor is still the star. It's just that Stanley's star shone brightest among Van Gelder's galaxy in far, far away New Jersey.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


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