Harry Connick, Jr.

Occasion: Connick on Piano, Vol. 2

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Harry Connick, Jr.'s Occasion: Connick on Piano, Vol.2, the follow-up to 2003's Other Hours: Connick on Piano, Vol. 1, finds the jazz pianist in an intimate duo setting with saxophonist and Marsalis Music label owner Branford Marsalis. While well known as a jazz vocalist, Connick's intention on these volumes is to focus solely on his abilities as both an instrumentalist and composer. As such, Occasion is a cerebral, intimate, and heartfelt recording with Connick and Marsalis holding musical "conversations" with each other on original songs. In fact, as with Other Hours, which featured songs culled from Connick's 2001 Tony-nominated musical Thou Shalt Not, many of the songs here play as instrumental readings of new American popular songs. Which is to say that Connick has a deft knack for sweet and gorgeous melody. Couple that with Marsalis' and Connick's superb improvisational chops and you get a supremely listenable "occasion" with both musicians feeding off each other's ideas with sensitivity and joy. To these ends, the sprightly and urbane title track written by Marsalis finds the duo swinging '30s style, while "I Like Love More" is a Broadway-worthy ballad evoking a romantic melancholia reminiscent of the best George Gershwin standards. Similarly, the classical-sounding "Steve Lacy" -- also written by Marsalis -- finds the reedman in impressionistic mood on the soprano sax, and "Remember the Tarpon" is a bluesy and darkly humorous off-kilter creeper featuring a Earl Hines-esque ending passage from Connick.

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