Craig Buhler: Creepin'

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.

June 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Joe Gilman: Contusion

I somehow missed the boat on Stevie Wonder back in his day. The explanation? Rock snobbery. Stevie Wonder did not sound like Black Sabbath and Bachman Turner Overdrive. It seems almost impossible that my youthful ears would not have enjoyed the shifting chord sequences and winding melodies that spill out of "Contusion," but I never gave it a chance. Lucky for us that pianist Joe Gilman has never been so narrow-minded. Gilman's swift runs linking the chords together bring out the hidden charms latent in Wonder's original construct. The trio blisters through Stevie's musical contours with an infectious enthusiasm that makes me Wonder how I could have ever been so obstinate.

August 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Jacky Terrasson: Isn't She Lovely

Mixing Stevie Wonder's easy-listening classic "Isn't She Lovely" with a drum 'n' bass beat would be a difficult task for even the most talented DJ, let alone a piano trio. Though Terrasson and crew should be applauded for their efforts, the results suggest that maybe it shouldn't have been attempted in the first place. Even the most essential components seem disconnected—melody from harmony, drums from bass. Bassist Vignolo has trouble as the sole provider of chord structure; his note selections make the changes hard to follow, his time is suspect, and his electric bass is a bit too slippery. Terrasson's outstanding technique saves an otherwise forgettable track, using an impressive and unusual two-handed approach that adds a half-step dissonance to each note in his solo. The pianist is remarkable, and he alone makes this sub-par track worth a listen.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments


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