A Handful of Stars is a startlingly mature and impressively confident debut album from 19-year-old jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, a young man who plays with a felicitous combination of Stuff Smith's earthy, powerful attack and Stéphane Grappelli's elegant sophistication. Accompanied by a shifting complement of sidemen that includes, at various times, guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and John Pizzarelli, saxophonist Houston Person, bassist Nicki Parrott, and drummer Joe Ascione, he's at his best and most confident on such traditional swing fare as "If Dreams Come True," "Swingtime in the Rockies" (in a very fun arrangement featuring multi-tracked violins), and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes." He's just as good on the ballads as on the up-tempo numbers -- his sweet and tender rendition, with just a quiet guitar accompaniment, of "Pennies from Heaven" is one of the album's highlights -- but his feel for Brazilian rhythms is a bit less sure. On "Samba de Orfeu" he sounds just a bit tentative -- skillful and melodically insightful, but less confident and breezy than on the more ebullient swing selections. Still, if the worst that can be said of him is that he's a bit less fun on the sambas than he is on the other material, then that's high praise indeed. Strongly recommended.
A Handful of Stars Review
by Rick Anderson