Oh, if only Harry Connick Jr. were a less ambitious entertainer. As a singer he's made his name "household." As Hollywood Harry, the chiseled heartthrob has scored oodles of screen time with Sandra Bullock and Cindy Crawford, among other hotties. That's all good for him, but Connick's crooning and acting career has kept us from receiving more gems like Other Hours-instrumental albums where Harry the Pianist proves his name deserves the recognition.
At a time when so many CD runtimes are padded with stale warhorses, finding a disc of swinging straightahead tunes we haven't heard a billion times before is refreshing. Though Connick didn't scribe anything on Other Hours that truly sticks in the skull, he and his quartet create intricacies within these dozen tunes that at least tickle the brain for a moment even if they can't live there for a while. Charles "Ned" Goold's tenor pops in and out playfully with Charlie Rouse-like precision, and Connick's frequent, clustered doodles are funky mind-benders that I had forgotten him capable of performing.
Most impressive, the band makes this music move without taking breakneck tempos. Neal Caine, walking unpredictably on bass, bounces through the changes with a confident stride, but the main mover-shaker on the disc is drummer Arthur Latin II. His deft, dancing brushwork-captured all warm and classiclike by engineer Gregg Rubin-has reminded me that I sometimes do like "wine-and-cheese" jazz.
The album cover's lower-left corner foreshadows more lovely platters like this: Connick on Piano 1, it states. Pass on the next script, Harry, keep yer trap shut and let us hear volume two.