Valerie Capers

Wagner Takes the "A" Train

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Valerie Capers was a classical pianist before she came to jazz music. But the classical background with its very structured, "non-improvising" setting, has limited neither Capers' credentials nor her skills as a jazz pianist. At the same time, she is not at all reluctant to take advantage of her classical training to enhance her interpretation of jazz music. Thus, Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" is played as a variation on a theme -- in bop, swing, classical sonata, and Latin modes. "Wagner Takes the 'A' Train" is a highlight of the album. The liner notes would have you believe that there is some relationship between Capers' interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's song to the 29 motifs of Wagner's "Ring Cycle." But it comes off far less sophisticated and complicated than that. Rather, this is a hard-driving, swinging set with Al Givens' Ben Webster-like sax leading the way with Capers. This is the Ben Webster from the 1940s Ellington Orchestra, not the breathy Webster of later years. Capers gives Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" a rousing rendering with a touch of blues. Of all the cuts, her own "Organum" is done classical style, complete with some very heavy cello-like bass bowing from John Robinson and more than a few runs and arpeggios from Capers.

In the tradition of Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, Jeri Southern, and Blossom Dearie, among others, Capers sings as well as plays piano. Her deep, heavy voice has a maternal tone about it, making the listener feel very comfortable and at ease with her renditions of "Nature Boy" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me." "Nature Boy" is sung in both French and English to a Latin beat! Capers delivers her own poignant ballad "Always You" with sensitivity and feeling. Givens' tenor is also prominent on this piece. "My One and Only Love" is perfect for Capers' understated, sensitive vocal style. Her voice, with just Mark Martino's guitar behind her, reinvigorates the Guy Wood/Robert Mellin. Another feature which places this album above the ordinary is the outstanding sidemen and the support they give Capers. Sax player Givens has already been mentioned, as has "Martino." John Robinson, who appeared with Capers on her 1995 release Come on Home, has "Mood Indigo" virtually all to himself with some help from Earl Williams' drums. His six-minute plus bass solo is a tour de force. In addition to their blue ribbon soloing, when Capers is "on" the sidemen are supportive, not intrusive. This is a very unique, entertaining album with very good music played by accomplished musicians.

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