|Cheryl Bentyne And Mark Winkler
“West Coast Cool”
(Summit DCD 615)
Street Date September 10, 2013The female/male vocal duo is a common element in all forms of music; but in jazz, it’s something of a rarity. The art of jazz vocalizing is such a personal statement that combining forces often demands a certain compromise that undermines that expression. It takes a rare combination of mutual artistic respect and conceptual freedom to achieve that proper level of expressiveness and cohesion. Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler have clearly conquered that challenge with their outstanding new CD, West Coast Cool on Summit Records.
The much acclaimed vocalist/lyricist Winkler and the multi-Grammy winning Manhattan Transfer member Bentyne first began to collaborate in 2010. This CD is the music-only version of their live show of the same name. They are perfectly attuned to each other, blending their voices in a manner that is totally complementary in tone, rhythm and emotional weight. The vocalizing is brilliantly arranged – sometimes call and response, sometimes in harmonic unison, sometimes interwoven in sparkling patterns. They thrust and parry, punctuating, emphasizing, enhancing and occasionally even completing an idea launched by the other. If this were dance, it could be a Jerome Robbins piece, incorporating side-by-side patterns, melding into a most alluring pas de deux. Their vocal styles are ideally complementary. Mark’s dulcet tones of liquid velvet are set in a masterful rhythmic style, with a teasing, tantalizing sense of syncopation. Cheryl’s rich and vibrant voice effortlessly moves from sinuous breathiness to explosively dynamic in an eyeblink.
The ensemble that is present on eleven of the fourteen tracks – pianist Rick Eames (who also arranged ten of the pieces), bassist Tim Emmons, drummer Dave Tull and Bob Sheppard on saxophones and flute – offer exemplary support, thoroughly maintaining the fine balance of vivid jazz expression within a context of totally sympathetic support.
The repertoire – 18 songs on 14 tracks – is a wonderful blend of compositions. It’s also deftly programmed, with a nice balance of solo pieces and duets. There are also three medleys that are so beautifully integrated that the listener may not even realize that a new song has been introduced.
One of these medleys opens the album, ideally setting the tone for the album with Paul Desmond’s Take 5 (with Iola Brubeck’s lyrics) crossed with a Winkler/Eames originalDrinks on the Patio. With a rubato intro featuring a Coltrane-esque Sheppard on tenor leading into the familiar piano vamp, the duet sparkles, punching out the piece, trading, weaving and scatting in jubilant fashion.
Talk of the Town (Symes, Newburg and Livingston) is paired with the Neal Hefti/Bobby Troup classic Girl Talk. On the former Cheryl displays her lovely ballad stylings and Mark gives the latter a deeply grooved bluesy feel marked by inventive slow drag drums from Tull – all melding seamlessly into a concluding duet. A triple-header closes out the medleys with both vocalists swirling together like jitterbug dancers on the relentlessly swinging medley of Troup’s Route 66; Alright, Okay, You Win (Watts & Wychs); and the Nat Cole/Irving Mills classic Straighten Up and Fly Right, all stoked by Sheppard’s punctuation and gutty solo.
Two Bobby Troup songs are delivered in solo excursions by Winkler (both featuring different rhythm sections). Lemon Twist, a smoky organ combo groover features guitarist Anthony Wilson (who also arranged and solos), Joe Bagg on the B3 and drummer Mark Ferber, with Winkler evoking Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure. Hungry Man (arranged by Tamir Handelman) is a most expressive rendition, retaining the appropriate whimsy and swinging mightily with wailing Sheppard, a driving piano solo by Jon Mayer, sprightly walking bass by Kevin Axt and the emphatic drumming of Cannonball Adderley-veteran Roy McCurdy.
There are two more solo features for Winkler. Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh’s Let’s Get Lost is jaunty and exuberantly bouncy, brightly demonstrating Mark’s rhythmic mastery. Nolan Shaheed’s trumpet adds delicious punctuation and an outstanding solo. Mark wrote the lyrics to Marilyn Harris’ exquisite ballad In a Lonely Place. The rich warmth of his beautiful voice is highly compelling and touching, displaying the full scope of his balladic genius.
Cheryl gets the solo spotlight on three tracks. On An Occasional Man (Martin & Blaine) she glides smoothly on its vertical structure, teasing with deliciously bent notes and interweaving nicely with Sheppard’s tenor. On Billy Barnes’ Something Cool, she offers homage to one of her personal heroes, the great June Christy. In rubato throughout, Cheryl offers a moody, dramatic and heart-wrenching version that displays her full musical and emotive range while Sheppard’s soprano sax further adds to the tender mood. Joe Greene’s All About Ronnie begins as a filigreed ballad until a slow Afro-Cuban style unison vamp by Eames and Emmons eases it into a bolero style – a great showcase for Cheryl’s balladry. Another angle on the Latin groove takes a hard bop flavor with Horace Silver’s Señor Blues. Built on a powerful, deeply wooded ostinato bass groove, Cheryl shows off her strong improvisational skills, swinging mightily and exchanging ideas with Sheppard’s flute, closing with a wicked unison statement.
Hard swinging is the key on Steve Allen’s signature song This Could Be the Start of Something Big (another Hendelman arrangement). A joyous up-tempo romp with an explosive piano solo and strutting bass, both vocalists tear it up in rocking jump mode. A totally different – but no less swinging – style is set in the title track, Neal Hefti’s West Coast Cool (with lyrics by Winkler). Also known in its instrumental form as Lil’ Darlin’ – an immensely popular piece by Count Basie’s Orchestra – this features a deep bluesy feel built on a slow walking bass line that is so deliberate it swaggers.
The album closes with a taste of the live show, another Harris/Winkler item, Cool. Arranged by Jamieson Trotter, and featuring Eli Brueggman, George Koller and Mark Kelso on piano, bass and drums, this energetic, stylish, deeply syncopated piece offers a palpable sense of the live performance with its immediacy and flair. A most fitting conclusion to a remarkable album.