Steve Wilkerson & Andrea Baker

Back to New Orleans

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An album like this one is a refreshing reminder of how much fun and how enjoyable straight-ahead jazz can be, especially when placed in the hands of artists like Steve Wilkerson and Andrea Baker along with the strong cast of musicians who have joined them. Don't be misled by the title. This is not traditional jazz as most think of it these days, like "When the Saints Come Marching In"-type stuff. While there are upbeat numbers here, the New Orleans tradition of eloquent, slower-paced music is also recalled with such tunes as "Skylark." Although Baker gets equal billing, this album is devoted principally to showcasing Wilkerson's acumen with the clarinet. Usually on a baritone sax, he has moved to the difficult-to-play long black stick with facility. The tone is clear and mellow, with a touch of New Orleans woodiness. There's imagination as Wilkerson interpolates fragments of the clarinet opening from George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on "Lover Man." The last note on this piece recalls Artie Shaw's ending on "Concerto for Clarinet." Baker has a pleasant voice, sounding a bit like a young Peggy Lee; although not all that powerful and with limited range, she's no slouch when it comes to showing a sensitivity to and awareness of the lyrics for each song she sings. On "Mood Indigo," her voice is a horn, complementing the introspective Wilkerson clarinet. Their rendition of the Ellington classic is outstanding. "Sweet Georgia Brown," an appropriate coda to a "New Orleans" album, has Baker and Wilkerson engaging in a scatting/clarinet exchange emulating another accomplished husband-and-wife vocal-and-reed team, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. Baker and Wilkerson must share significant credit for the success of this CD with their support. The inestimable Frank Capp drives the proceedings with his A-1 drum support. Veteran bass player Don Bagley shows up for a couple of tracks. The scant 35-minute playing time is unjustifiably parsimonious for a compact disc. Also, Llew Matthews' piano sounds a bit tinny on a couple of cuts, and the artificially created strings cluttering up some of the tracks are unnecessary. These distractions notwithstanding, this album is recommended.

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