Pianist John Toomey's Refraction is a lesson in economy. Funded by Norfolk's Old Virginia University, where Toomey currently serves as professor of music, and recorded live-to-tape in a Virginia Beach studio on a shoestring budget, it sounds as full, rich and polished as any spare-no-cost production out of New York or L.A. There's also the economy of the Toomey sound: smooth, lean and refreshingly free of self-indulgent flourishes. Working in tandem with drummer Howard Curtis and bass player Jimmy Masters, he tempers the joyous spirit of Vince Guaraldi with a dash of Jamal edginess on a dozen original compositions. As evocative as it is enjoyable, Refraction is a much too hidden treasure.
Crafted in the same space as Refraction, Toomey's markedly different Intersection is an ideal example of an intriguing idea well executed. Expanding his trio to a quartet with the addition of sax virtuoso Eddie Williams, Toomey teams with North Carolina vocalist Laura Martier to lend a jazz twist to 10 folk-rock anthems of the '60s and early '70s. Martier's engaging voice-a provocative mix of sharp turns, soft folds and blunt edges-proves equally suited to the misty romanticism of David Crosby's "Guinevere," the pseudo sunniness of Carly Simon's "Summer's Coming Around Again" and the coy cynicism of Laura Nyro's "Buy and Sell." Her dreamy interpretation of "The Warmth of the Sun" helps remind us that Brian Wilson remains one of the era's most underappreciated poets. Most impressive, though, are a pair of Toomey arrangements that turn Randy Bachman's "Undun" and John Sebastian's "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" inside out. When first recorded by the Guess Who, "Undun" told the tale of a woman's descent into madness at a thundering pace. Here, Toomey and Martier slow things to a crawl and, in doing so, paint a far more powerful portrait of self-destruction. Conversely, "Didn't Want to Have to Do It," originally interpreted by the Lovin' Spoonful as a breezy lover's lament, becomes electrically charged with the subtle masochism of crumbling relationships.