Eldee Young & Marshall Vente: Step Up To The Mic
Lasting partnerships are as hard to come by in jazz as they are to explain. The clash of egos and economic considerations tend to prohibit them, and even as one scans the sweep of jazz history, few come to mind: Brubeck and Desmond; Bird and Diz; Stephane and Django; Thad and Mel, et al. One such partnership has flourished in Chicago jazz for over 15 years in Young and Vente, and this new CD is their best display to date.
As a follow up to their first CD of two years ago, The Long and Short of Jazz, Step Up To The Mic serves a sumptuous diet of Young's warm, sincere vocals and Vente's arranging chops and swinging piano. Unlike the previous CD which focused on vocals and arrangements, the new recording gives us a more complete picture of Vente's piano artistry—his rhythmic diversity, sparkling right hand lines, and adept comping that underscores each ensemble. Young's on-the-money bass and attractive voice blend easily into Vente's many and varied settings—everything from big band to trio to Tropicale. Included in Vente's full arsenal of talent are Brazilian masters Paulinho Garcia and Luiz Ewerling; NYC alto Jeff Newell and Grammy-winner Howard Levy. (Quincy Jones wishes he could call upon such talent!) Thanks to the impeccable sound engineering of tenorist Jim Massoth and Crystal Studios, journeyman Isi Perez is heard in all his nuanced glory——a Vente drummer since 1975!
Vente's radical recasting of the standard Just In Time is worth the price of admission, with Young's surprise entrance with the lyrics coming six minutes into the chart (a clever device, it is both startling and welcomed). Veteran alto player Rich Corpolongo dazzles us again with a solo that skates the boundary between "outside" and "in," with all the florid thrust of a bebop master. His piccolo lead playing is also an essential element of the Vente orchestral palette. There is even an arrangement of Work Song that manages to make the tune sound fresh—not an easy feat in itself.
Horace Silver fans will have their ears pricked by the metamorphosis Song For My Father undergoes, from major key to minor. Here, as in most instances, Vente's resourceful use of percussion makes the musical event all the more satisfying. To satisfy the fans of Vente's Latin side there are lovely and stirring versions of If You Never Come To Me, Wave, and an exhilarating Voce E Eu.
Young's fans from five decades will not be let down, as the new CD features his authentic brand of grit, guile and good humor on the bluesy selections C.C. Rider and Centerpiece. Like all of the best blues singers, Young is a master storyteller, and his distinct persona transforms the ancient C.C. Rider into a modern fable—and the best monkey tune since Nat Cole's Straighten Up and Fly Right.
Step Up To the Mic stands out in the crowd of jazz releases as a concept album of merit. The CD begins with a comedy rap and concludes with an original poetry recitation to the accompaniment of Young's probing bass. Much care has also been put into the art design of the CD, to insure that the visual aspects of the recording reflect the vibrancy of the music. These are elements too often absent from even the best in regionally produced jazz recordings.
Listening to the music created by these two skillful musicians and their cohorts reminds me of something Dizzy Gillespie often said but is too often forgotten in jazz, "I don't see why I can't make good music and have a good time doing it."-Peter Coppock
Available on Middle Coast Records.