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November 1998

Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern
Reunion at Arbors
Arbors Records
Ralph Sutton and Kenny Davern
Ralph Sutton and Kenny Davern
Chiaroscuro Records

The Arbors reunion took place after the gathering of the faithful in Clearwater, Florida, in 1997. Such get-togethers clearly bring out something special from the two pricipals. Annotator Ross Forestone has elicted helpful comments on their differences from Davern, who here plays clarinet solely while Wilbur alternates on it to good effect but mostly sticks to soprano. Whatever the significance or proportion of the various influences, that of Bechet may often seem strong in Wilbur's style and Jimmy Noone's in Davern's. Both men are melodists and take pains to establish-and swing-the theme before taking off in variations, just as Ben Webster did. There is nothing demeaning in this, and it gives audiences pleasure. There is, after all, both vanity and satisfaction in impressing other musicians with gymnastic improvisations on intricate chord sequences unfamiliar to the average listener. The staunch rhythm backing in this case by Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Ed Metz, and Dave Frishberg helps an exciting groove when riff choruses are reached. Frishberg is witty, thoughtful, yet not afraid to rumble (as on "The Sheik"). In individual showcases, Davern does a tenderly melancholy "I Want a Little Girl" and Wilbur his moving "Dear Sidney". This last, graceful number should be taken up by others. The unidentified whistler on "Sentimental Journey" must be from Winnetka.

The Chiaroscuro set's trio performances were orignally released on two Chaz Jazz LPs in 1980. Sutton's powerful left hand compensates readily for the absence of bass and guitar. How lucky we are to have still all these able pianists to give pulse and life in the manner of golden yesterdays. Sutton beautifully maintains the tradition of the stride monarchs, and those who mumble about his kind of "neo-classicism" are best ignored. The music here is necessarily looser than on the Arbors record, and Gus Johnson boots the trio with happy energy that sometimes reflects his experience in big bands. Eighteen years ago, too, Davern sounded stronger in some ways, but perhaps less subtle and sensitive. Each of the three men sings once and probably shouldn't have, but the results are mildly comic. Marty Grosz, whose original notes are retained, comes on funny about Claude Hopkins, the composer of "Anything for You," a number that suits Sutton to a T and gets a superior performance.

Originally published in November 1998
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