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Gambit Weekly The Gift of Music

By Geraldine Wyckoff

DECEMBER 22, 1997: 

Harry Connick Jr.

To See You (Columbia)

It's a long journey from Harry Connick Jr.'s adventurously strange last album, Star Turtle, to his latest romantic release. Connick this time taps a 60-piece orchestra to provide a soft cloud behind a jazz-structured combo. The core group includes Connick on piano and vocals, bassist Reginald Veal, tenor saxophonist Charles Goold and drummer Arthur "Bam Bam" Latin.

Connick's goal was to produce a disc that would be "the background for the perfect romantic evening." As writer, arranger, orchestrator and vocalist, Connick creates a lush atmosphere with his slow, hushed ballads. While the orchestra pillows the vocals, there are moments that become deliberately empty and quiet. His jazz influence emerges during solos by members of the front-line combo.

The aura that Connick establishes on the opening cut, "Let Me Love Tonight," is one that remains constant throughout the disc. To Connick, love seems to comprise a complex mood of tranquility touched with a hint of melancholy. Without much variance in tempo or tone, Connick's odes to love and romance are peaceful and relaxing, though they tend to lack a sense of passion, urgency, humor and swing -- any of which would distinguish one from another. It's as if Connick is writing the verse of a song -- those almost-spoken introductions used so often in the '40s -- without getting down to the heart of the matter.

The combo works alone on "Heart Beyond Repair," which, with fewer lyrics and the absence of the orchestra, gives us a chance to hear more of Connick's piano prowess. Veal, the only other New Orleans native in the group, is perhaps best known for his work with Wynton Marsalis. He establishes a beautiful tone on this cut -- and throughout the album.

We're glad to snap our fingers on the "swingingest" tune on the disc, "Learn to Love," which Connick introduces with a gospel-flavored piano solo. Guest trumpeter Leroy Jones adds some grit with his high-flying interjections -- the first real tastes of New Orleans on the album, despite Connick's birthright.

To See You is an exquisitely produced with an abundance of talent. Connick fans who were perplexed with his direction during his funk/pop era of She and Star Turtle are certain to rejoice at the return of the suave vocalist they adore. Fans of his keyboard work, however, will once again be left hungry for more.

Roland Guerin

The Winds of the New Land (Turnipseed)

Bassist Roland Guerin has been a workhorse on the New Orleans jazz scene, one of those guys who has played with "everyone." He is also a member of guitarist and Verve recording artist Mark Whitfield's band.

On this, his debut disc as a leader, we have the opportunity to hear Guerin in the driver's seat, not so much as an instrumentalist -- though his bass is certainly swinging throughout -- but as a composer and arranger. He selected the musicians and set the mood on the album, which is full of his own material.

Guerin surrounded himself for this live recording from Snug Harbor with trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Whitfield, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Donald Edwards. These guys have often shared stages and are friends. Their understanding and respect can be heard in the music. Straight-ahead jazz is this group's meat and potatoes whether swinging, burning or swaying on a ballad.

The disc opens with the appropriately named "Slap Happy." Guerin shows off his "slap bass" finesse on this bright, spirited tune, which also features solos by each member of the ensemble. Here and throughout the disc, Guerin generously shares the spotlight with the rest of the group.

Guerin's deep spiritual convictions shine through in his choice of song titles -- "Perfect Will of God," for instance -- and in his descriptions of the tunes. Within the music itself, Guerin's spirituality shows itself in the album's warmth and happiness and in the overwhelming sense of sharing and brotherhood among the players.

The musicians here are so capable and so fluent in the language of jazz that they bring many bright moments to the music. The weavings and workings of trumpeter Payton and guitarist Whitfield are often stunning -- as heard on "From That Moment On" and "I'm Crying Now." The rhythm section of Guerin, pianist Martin and drummer Edwards takes over to swing out on "Happy Days." A particular favorite is the fast-paced "Perfect Will." For the finale, Guerin picks up the bow and finally stands alone on "Vision," a soft, introspective solo number.

Straight-ahead jazz, played by deeply talented and thoughtful musicians, defines The Winds of the New Land. This wind is indeed a fresh breeze, blown from the soul of a rich history.

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