Oddyssey of Nostalgia
The one original on this curiously fresh collection is the title track, a brisk, upbeat workout for brass ensemble sparked by bandleader Mac Gollehon’s cutting trumpet and Warren Smith’s driving yet airy drumming. The easy-breathing arrangement and the tune’s placement after the downbeat “Gloomy Sunday” keep the listener guessing, which may be the point of this oddball, endearing disc.
Basically, Oddyssey (that’s the intended spelling) is a fresh look at Depression-era staples and lesser-known gems from that period. It’s Gollehon’s commentary on today’s similar times, and it’s full of vitality despite its basis. Amina Claudine Myers smokes on vocals and B3 on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”—Gollehon’s arrangement is tasty and spacious—and is positively frisky on Bessie Smith’s “Dirty Nogooder Blues.” Cuban vocalist Olga Merediz imbues “Gloomy Sunday” with just the right measure of darkness, and soars on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People” in a plush, violin-rich arrangement. The date was the last for Melvin Sparks, the soul-jazz guitarist whose fills animate “Nobody Knows You” and give “Over the Rainbow” an unexpectedly romantic twist.
Oddyssey demands patience. There’s nothing uptempo outside the title track; the swing is decidedly understated, the arrangements small-bore and more swing than bop. An album of nuance and detail, it rewards with inventive voicings and expressiveness. It’s daring to bracket a record with “Violets for Your Furs” and “Over the Rainbow,” standards that have been done to death. But in Gollehon’s warm, creative hands they come alive.