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November 2001

Bruce Abbott and the North Star Jazz Ensemble
Romancing the Sax
North Star Music

With an ambitious slate of classics to take on, from "Misty" to "I've Got You Under My Skin," Romancing the Sax (North Star NS147; 48:44) immediately sets itself up for impossible comparisons to well-loved interpreters. Bruce Abbott and the North Star Jazz Ensemble take on this unenviable task, delivering old-fashioned arrangements designed to take listeners back to more romantic times.

The ensemble is game for the effort, dishing brushed club-jazz for "When I Fall in Love," sweeping strings for "Misty" and hushed dramatics on "My Funny Valentine." The problem lies with the workmanlike approach of bandleader Abbott, whose note-for-note, on-the-beat reads are as straightforward as those you might hear at a wedding. His sax work on "I've Got You Under My Skin," for example, is serviceable rather than interpretive or emotional, even in the context of North Star's dreamy 1950s-styled string arrangement. Abbott is slightly more at ease on uptempo pieces like "Let's Fall in Love," but the note-for-note character of the melody still comes across as a little square and inhibited. Without the Sax highlight of the title, others in the ensemble may have been able to deliver more interpretive solos; pianist Ron Fournier's work would have naturally highlighted "As Time Goes By," for example.

What this album will inspire is a longing for a great song stylist: Sinatra, Garland, Armstrong and their musical descendents. These timeless voices prove that interpretation and emotional resonance are critical to supporting a classic melody.

Originally published in November 2001
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