Phillip DeGreg

Whirl Away

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In the late '90s and early 2000s, J Curve was establishing itself as the Cincinnati equivalent of Boston's Brownstone or Chicago's Delmark and Southport labels -- that is, a local jazz indie that makes a point of spotlighting local talent. Such labels are quite valuable because, as jazz critic Chuck Berg asserts in Whirl Away's liner notes, "not everything happens in New York." Phil DeGreg, one of the Cincinnati residents J Curve has documented, is a warm post-bop/hard bop pianist whose influences range from Bill Evans and Chick Corea to McCoy Tyner. DeGreg isn't the least bit innovative, but he does have his own sound. This 1999 session finds the Midwesterner embracing everything from overdone standards to lesser-known pearls to original songs. His version of "Love for Sale" is decent but quite conventional -- in 1999, did the jazz world really need to hear yet another predictable version of a warhorse that had long since been done to death? However, DeGreg is more interesting on "Everything I Have Is Yours"; this standard was often heard as a lush, ultra-sentimental ballad in the 1940s, but DeGreg's version is fast, unsentimental, exuberant, and hard swinging. Thankfully, Whirl Away isn't just an album of standards. DeGreg fares well on some less obvious choices (including Jim Hall's "Waltz Now" and George Cables' "I Told You So"), and his talents as a composer are put to use on originals that include the melancholy, Brazilian-flavored "Away and Alone," the vibrant "Hustle and Bustle," and the somewhat Corea-ish "Gusting." Whirl Away isn't earth shattering, but it's a likable, if derivative, example of the sort of talent that Cincinnati has to offer.

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