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March 2006

Jim Ridl
Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works
Dreambox Media

Very few jazz pianist/composers were raised on ranches in North Dakota. Jim Ridl's origins on the wind-swept plains may explain why he is able to perceive jazz potential in unlikely rural sources. There are three covers here, two of them unexpected, and they provide the strongest moments on this well-recorded album.

Ridl is a forcefully articulate pianist, and his 11-minute version of "Your Cheatin' Heart" is probably the most in-depth and persuasive jazz investigation of this song on record. Not many jazz musicians have heard what Ridl hears in "Tennessee Waltz"--"a beautiful melody and thoughtful lyric," he writes in the liner notes. He is right. Carried by the bass of Steve Varner, it is poignant, graceful and hip. "Caravan" is a much more conventional choice, but Ridl's take is fresh and caterwauling and free.

But Ridl's three ambitious originals are melodically cloying and fussy, qualities exacerbated by instrumentation. The front line of his quintet contains Ron Kerber's tonally sweet soprano saxophone and the wordless vocals of J. D. Walter. John Hollenbeck, on his recent album A Blessing (Omnitone), succeeds in making a Theo Bleckman's voice a viable improvising jazz "instrument." Ridl and Walter fail. Walter's oohing and scooby-dooing intrude on the ensemble sound, and when he "solos" and "blows," it sounds like a television commercial.

Originally published in March 2006
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