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January/February 2008

Carolyn Leonhart And Wayne Escoffery
If Dreams Come True
Nagel-Heyer

Professionally speaking, the amalgamation of saxman Wayne Escoffery and second-generation jazz singer Carolyn Leonhart (daughter of Jay, who can hold his own on vocals nearly as well as on bass) dates to summertime 2004, when Leonhart guested on Escoffery’s Intuition, superbly augmenting the bold majesty of his audacious take on “I Should Care.” Their personal union was confirmed a half-year later, with an informal wedding ceremony at New York’s Poets House. The pair subsequently teamed on Leonhart’s wildly intelligent New 8th Day. But, as advocated by Escoffery in David Adler’s liner notes, it is this disc—Leonhart’s Nagel Heyer debut—that represents “our sound, for the first time.” It would be unfair to suggest that Escoffery elevates Leonhart’s musicianship, for she was soaring mighty high before they ever collaborated. Likewise, he had carved out a singular, post-Coltrane niche for himself well before she was on his scene.

So, let’s split the difference and aver that this duo’s whole is here proven even greater than the sum of its parts. Their shared strength is evident on a refreshingly muscular treatment of the Benny Goodman title tune, and continues along its imaginative way with a roiling interpretation of Benny Carter’s “Key Largo” (nicely freed from the misty, melancholic moors it’s usually tied to) and a petal-soft exultation of the joys of child-like curiosity on Kenny Barron’s “Never Too Soon,” with lyrics added by Leonhart. (Escoffery is also given space to stretch out on his own, on a hazy reading of Hank Jones’ “Angel Face.”) The couple’s combined virtuosity further extends to songwriting, first with the tender, healing “Nothing Left to Say,” and best with the deceptively simple, heatedly urgent environmental warning cry “Earth Calling.”

Originally published in January/February 2008
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