Nancie Banks

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From the introductory outcry of eight-year-old Jaclyn Barrero on "Bird Lives!" to the last notes of "Tolliver's Travels," Banks and her big band deliver anything but cotton candy for your aural senses. Nothing sugarcoated here, just good bop-flavored music played by 18 New York-area musicians who unite for a common goal via arranger/sometime vocalist and lyricist Banks. The leader also incorporates arrangements other than hers, and a solo spotlight here and there makes you sit up and take notice. Her most poignant arrangement is that of Walter Bishop, Jr.'s "Waltz for Zweetie," which is soulful, laid-back, and slightly sad, with a Phil Woods-y alto solo from Alexander McCabe. A bright, hopeful chart of "Allison's Flower" is for Allison Krause, one of the slain students in the Kent State masscre, and a high school chum of Banks in Pittsburgh. Upper-end flutes and brass illuminate the chart, followed by a string of five solos. The 1:11 ditty "Anthropology/Surviving on a Riff" has Banks singing her lyrics, pushing her smallish voice through the interval leaps and slower, even-paced scat inflections, encouraging us to "take the good with the bad." In the middle is her chart on "Jordu," easy swing with solid unison melody from the front line horns and a lilting solo from trumpeter James Zollar. There's a typical calypso, high-end horn, Eric Dixon-arranged take on the Sonny Rollins evergreen "St. Thomas," while the serene "Nancy With the Laughing Face," with a chart by Bob Ojeda, has husband Clarence Banks on trombone taking the lead, musically spelling out his wife's loquacious features. The round-toned alto sax of Enrique Fernandez circulates the melody of the ballad-to-swing-and-back "You've Changed," and Banks gymnastically gyrates on the ballad-to-head-nodding-groove of "Oblivion/Oblivious," urging us to "wake up that higher power of the spirit," because "you've got the power." She really sounds like a cross between Blossom Dearie and Sheila Jordan. The band saves the best for last on "Tolliver's Travels," assumedly for trumpeter Charles Tolliver. A kinetic, forward-moving, progressive chart with multiple layers, trumpets leading and the rest following, is loaded with counterpoint and interplay amongst the individual horn sections. This is the third CD for Banks as a leader. The other two, Waves of Peace and Bert's Blues, are quite comparable in their stance, consistency, and degree of polished, professional musicianship. All come easily recommended.

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