Mad Heaven - Peter Eldridge (Palmetto Records) - I've seen composer/vocalist/pianist Eldridge's music referred to as "easy listening." There are moments on his solo records (this is his 4th and first in 6 years) that tag might be applied. To these ears, this is "adult contemporary music" in the best sense. No pandering to youthful tastes or styles, no lyrics about "puppy love" or multiple sexual conquests, and there don't seem to be synthesized beats anywhere. Instead, we hear the leader's handsome tenor wrapped around lyrics that are often touching, sometimes humorous ( "Buffet Philosophy" is a hoot for anyone looking for ideas about dieting) and, on this effort, occasionally in Portuguese. His musical cohorts include guitarist Keith Ganz, saxophonist Joel Frahm, drummer and co-producer Ben Wittman, bassist Tim Lefebvre and percussionist James Shipp. There are background vocals from Lauren Kinhan and Darmon Meader (who work with Eldridge in New York Voices) as well as Kate McGarry, Amy Cervini, Jo Lawry and Rondi Charleston.
Latin rhythms dominate much of the music. There is the beauty and softness of "Betty's Bossa (Chamego)" dedicated to Eldridge's mother, a wordless journey of love and appreciation (the leader creates a vocal chorus through multiple overdubs.) "Voce e Eu" (from the team of Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes) is a sweet samba that floats atop the lovely alto flute work of Aaron Heick with the accordion of Gil Goldstein adding a sweet texture. The title track, with lyrics based on a poem by Antonio Machado (1875-1939), a Spanish writer, features a handsome vocal arrangement for Eldridge, McGarry and Lowry. A gentle samba feel permeates the arrangement of Ray Noble's 1934 classic "The Very Thought of You." Frahm's tenor saxophone lines wrap around the vocal, creating his own spin on the melody. Eldridge's take on Ary Barroso's "Prá Machucar Meu Coração" features only piano, acoustic bass and guitar and quiet drums beneath the silky vocals. There is beauty in the economy of this music, in the intimacy of the relationships created by the voice and musicians and how that touches the listener. Wittman's percussion on both "Charmer" and "Warm December" is impressive in its scope; on the former tune, the piece bounces off his dancing rhythms while on the latter, he supplies the "heat" that pushes Frahm's tenor higher.
Bask in the vocal work, enjoy the fine instrumentalists (who do not overplay but truly support without becoming anonymous) and soak in the emotional warmth of this music. "Mad Heaven" will not only warm your winter nights but will also remind you of summer breezes that relax the mind. However you react, this is good music. For more information, go to www.palmetto-records.com where you can stream the CD and learn more about Peter Eldridge.
Botanic - Tyler Blanton (Ottimo Music) - Vibraphonist and California native Blanton moved to New York City in 2007 and has been steadily making a name for himself as a player and composer. This recording, his debut as a leader, features his "working trio" of bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig plus the excellent saxophone work of Joel Frahm - 2 tracks feature the rhythm section of Aidan Carroll (bass) and Richie Barshay (drums.) Frahm plays soprano on 5 of the 7 tracks on which he appears, a real treat because he has developed an excellent sound on the instrument. "Good Ol' Joel" is a bluesy romp with fine solos from the leader and the saxophonist. Schonig knows when to push the soloists and his interactions with them are impressive. There's more than a hint of "bebop" in the head of "Hemming and Hawing"; the solo section features heated solos from Frahm (soprano again) and Blanton. Frahm is on tenor for the title track, which enters on a rhythm that hints at both reggae and waltz rhythms. There is great swing and humor in Blanton's fine spot and his interactions with the rhythm section are playful.
Barshay and Carroll appear on "Mellow Afternoon", a sweet ballad with a strong melody line, impressive (and melodic) drum work and a forceful soprano sax solo. The same lineup has a fine time on the final cut, "Vestibule", with its quick tempo changes and lightning shifts in intensity. Blanton's bell-like tones suggest the marimba - the sound permeates the background and really shines on his joyful solo. Everyone "hits hard" during Frahm's soaring soprano solo.
Tyler Blanton's debut is fun to listen to, does not demand much of the listener except to pay attention - if one does, he or she will be rewarded with fine performances, solid melodies, and the opportunity to hear musicians who enjoy playing together. For more information, go to www.tylerblanton.net.