Skip Heller

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Fakebook Review

by Sean Westergaard

Reconvening about two months after their first gig together, Skip Heller and DOSE add reed player Robert Drasnin for Heller's debut on Joel Dorn's Hyena label. Fakebook is a throwback to the great organ/guitar albums of the '60s; covering pop tunes and standards in an easy, swinging fashion. In fact, things get off to a strong start with a Grant Green/Big John Patton tune called "The Yodel," which features some fantastic clarinet work from Drasnin. Les Baxter's "Sophisticated Savage" is a chance for Heller to show off his arranging skills, as well as a great vehicle for Joe Doria on organ. Drasnin moves to alto and highlights a smokey version of "Chinatown" and Ellington's "(Just) Squeeze Me." Actually, Drasnin is something of a revelation on this album, with crisp, coherent soloing, fabulous phrasing and a bright, clear tone on both alto and clarinet. Joe Doria is ultra-attentive on organ, with interesting solos, great comping and wicked basslines (check the pedal work on Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time"). John Wicks' playing is also excellent, supporting the songs while spurring on the soloists. And what of guitarist/band leader, Skip Heller? It's his show, but he doesn't set himself up as the star; this is a band. His soloing is concise and to the point, never losing sight of the melody. And like all great band leaders, Heller knows the strengths of his players, and chooses material that plays to those strengths. Overall, the song selection is excellent. Many of these tunes, especially "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Sometimes It Snows in April," remind us that great songs are anchored in great melodies, and that's a special craft in itself (just try getting those tunes out of your head after hearing them). Only the last tune breaks the flow, where it's just Skip on guitar with Stan Ridgeway on harmonica and vocals, covering a Bob Dylan tune. It's not bad at all, it just seems as though it belongs on a different album. Fakebook is neither earth-shattering or ground-breaking. It is, however, a wonderful celebration of great songs and great musicians, and in these days of pro-tooled recordings and manufactured images, that's refreshing in itself.

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