Marilyn Harris with the LA Jazz All-Stars Big Band | Wrightwood Records (2006)
By Michael P. Gladstone
Marilyn Harris is that rare musical commodity who can write funny and clever songs in the tradition of Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough (who appears on this album) and Mose Allison, among others. She also writes "serious" songs that tell a story (eg. "That Afternoon in Harlem," which specifically relates to a jazz environment, or "Letting Go," which does not). Round Trip is the third release from the West Coast jazz singer/songwriter; her 2004 album Future Street was one of the best vocal releases of the year.
For this occasion, Harris delivers a variety of material, all played splendidly by the top-flight LA Jazz All-Stars Big Band, which includes such jazz players as Pete Christlieb, Bill Watrous, Dan Higgins, Don Shelton, Warren Luening and Andy Martin. With the exception of two songs, Harris provides all new originals, either written by herself or co-written with musical collaborators Mark Winkler, Sally Champlain, Hank Levy and Ryzard Szwek. Winkler recorded a few good albums during the mid 1980s in a Kenny Rankin-type setting. The striking arrangements by Mark Wolfram sometimes reminded me of the riffs of the Supersax organization from several decades ago.
Harris displays her jazz chops on "Bebop High," an uptempo tribute to the bebop era, and "The Wisdom of Sam Kinison," which is about as unusual a subject as one could imagine in a jazz tune. (The late comedian's advice to all is to "follow the food.") Harris' wit is in fine form on "They're Gonna Love Me," a tart series of comments on how the death of a jazzman will ensure his legacy. The liner notes suggest that this song is crying out for a Mose Allison version, and I couldn't have worded it any better.
Guest Bob Dorough (who wrote the very hip liner notes for the 2004 album) steps on board for a duet on "Cool," and Mark Wolfram provides the male vocal on the duet for "Way Out Here In The Country." Harris gives a bravura performance of the Jerry Herman show tune "If He Walked Into My Life" (from Mame), which was a big hit for Eydie Gorme, and she also provides the vocal for the Marian McPartland/Johnny Mercer piece "Twilight World."
The performances by these musicians indeed deserve mention, among them several tenor sax solos from Pete Christlieb. In addition, similar work from Bill Watrous, Andy Martin, Dan Higgins, Jim Fox, Warren Luening and Don Shelton are also highlights. The final question remains as to whether or not Round Trip measures up to Future Street. The entire 2004 effort was virtually a home run, while on the new work, there are a flurry of extra-base hits on many of the tracks. This should remain a minor distinction to both fans and first-time Marilyn Harris listeners in the measurement of this successful work.
Track listing: Round Trip; The Cards Keep Comin'; I Don't Gamble; Bebop High; If He Walked Into My Life; Way Out Here In The Country; That Afternoon in Harlem; Cool; Letting Go; The Wisdom of Sam Kinison; Twilight World; They're Gonna Love Me.
Personnel: Marilyn Harris: vocals, piano; Mark Wolfram: arranger/producer; Bill Watrous, Andy Martin, Charlie Loper, Bruce Otto, Charlie Morillas: trombones; Rick Baptist, Wayne Bergeron, Larry Lunetta, Warren Luening: trumpet, flugelhorn; Pete Christlieb, Bill Liston, John Yoakum, Don Shelton, Greg Huckins, Dan Higgins: reeds; Jim Fox: guitar; Chuck Berghofer: bass; Peter Erskine, Ralph Humphrey: drums; Bob Dorough: vocals (8) Mark Wolfram: vocals (6).