In the 21st century, there are plenty of straight-ahead bop artists who are content to play the same old Tin Pan Alley warhorses over and over. In some cases, it is narrow-mindedness; they refuse to believe that anything worthwhile can come out of rock or R&B. And in other cases, it is laziness -- why bother to find the jazz potential in a Billy Joel gem if you can crank out yet another predictable version of "I Got Rhythm"? But neither narrow-mindedness nor laziness are a problem for Harry Whitaker, whose The Sound of Harry Whitaker is a fairly interesting hard bop/post-bop outing. This CD, which finds the pianist forming an acoustic trio with bassist Pat O'Leary and drummer Craig Wuepper, isn't innovative, but it isn't without some surprises either. Much to his credit, Whitaker isn't afraid to make some choices that are unlikely for a straight-ahead jazz date -- he successfully interprets everything from Ruby & the Romantics' "Our Day Will Come" to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Whitaker even tackles the theme from the Andy Griffith Show, and he shows us what that affable melody might have sounded like if it had been written by Thelonious Monk instead of Earle Hagen. This Spanish release isn't devoid of warhorses; "Moonlight in Vermont," for example, has been recorded countless times. But Whitaker doesn't inundate listeners with them. Besides, no one is saying that 21st century jazz artists should avoid '20s, '30s, and '40s warhorses altogether -- calling "Moonlight in Vermont" a warhorse isn't saying that it isn't a great song. But it is nice to hear a bop/post-bop album that isn't so limited when it comes to picking popular music. The Sound of Harry Whitaker demonstrates that straight-ahead jazz can still offer some surprises.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson