Cocktails for Two
Music from Guys and Dolls
Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen may have been born in the mid-1960s, but his atavistic jazz heart is in the 1950s. Stretch that decade a little on both sides to have what some critics and many older fans nostalgically recall as jazz’s golden age. It was the era that saw the emergence of both Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP), tours that combined musicians from swing and bebop in loose jamlike situations, and the LP, providing the longer recording format that could accommodate those types of extended performances on record. The LP also fostered theme albums, and a recurring jazz LP theme was music from a Broadway show.
Both of these CDs are patterned after such 1950s jazz album strategies. Cocktails for Two documents one of those JATP-style one-off meetings of musicians who don’t normally play together, captured at Sunnie Sutton’s Rocky Mountain Jazz Party, a smaller simulation of the JATP format. Music from Guys and Dolls presents a working jazz group doing a Broadway score, but with the added wrinkle of vocals by Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson.
As is quickly established, Allen and baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley are a warmly compatible match. Both have mainstream styles that draw from swing and bebop roots—what Sackville impresario John Norris calls “jazz music’s central tradition”—with Allen heavily indebted to the Four Brothers’ tenor lineage, especially Stan Getz and Al Cohn, with wafts of Ben Webster emerging strongly on ballads, and Temperley leavening his love of Harry Carney with a harder Cecil Payne/Pepper Adams edge. The two share an innate sense of swing that enables sinuous interplay and tandem soloing. Just catch the chase choruses on “Tangerine” or the fluid exchanges on an “I’ve Got the World on a String” arrangement framed with the intro to “Satin Doll.”
The rhythm section is as solid as any on an all-star Verve LP from the 1950s, with two players who were already prominent then, pianist John Bunch and drummer Jake Hanna, joined by jazz’s most catholic bassist, Greg Cohen. The repertoire is familiar, but not overly so, with Oscar Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet” and a finger-snap tempo “Sweet and Lovely” (with a keeper Allen solo), as well as such mainstream warhorses as “In a Mellotone” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” Each saxophonist has a ballad feature, with Allen at his Webster-y breathiest on “Everything Happens to Me” and Temperley unabashedly lyrical—check out his rich countermelody—on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
There’s a Swinging ’50s vibe to Music from Guys and Dolls, from the detailed, spot-on rhythms and rhythmic turns of the Allen-Cohn Quartet to the “heartbeat” tempos so reminiscent of Frank Sinatra’s swinging Capitol albums. The unsung hero of the CD is drummer Chuck Riggs, who always seems to have the right nuance of timbre and dynamics at hand, from rushing brushes to snappy rimshots to crystalline cymbals and crescendo snare rolls. He’s an essential element of this pianoless quartet’s limpidly open, lithe, lilting approach. Guitarist Cohn’s lines and chords have a springy step, like a “Guy” in the play, and Joel Forbes’ bass bounces up airily from the bottom like a flat stone skimmed over a pond.
That this is a working band is evident in the intricate rapport on such instrumental numbers as “Fugue for Tinhorns,” a cat’s-cradle weave of guitar and tenor, “Take Back Your Mink,” an exemplar of easy, group-dynamic swing, and “I’ll Know,” a slow ballad with breathy tenor, translucent guitar and luminous flow. The vocal tracks are also very ’50s and nicely understated: Guys and Dolls for a hip cabaret rather than a Broadway stage. Duets are deftly arranged, with neat tempo shifts and stop-times. Erickson imparts a saloon-singer vibe, pouncing on or lagging behind the beat, equally at home with the bossa of “A Woman in Love” and a “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” with a rave-up Allen solo. Kilgore’s buoyant pop-jazz voice (she’s a worthy successor to Rosemary Clooney in that department) delights in both the swing of “If I Were a Bell” and the hip intricacies of “Adelaide’s Lament.” And don’t miss Allen’s warmly empathetic obligato work with the singers.